Capitals owner Ted Leonsis promised a thorough review of his organization after it missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Over the course of 11 days, Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick did exactly that. They conducted interviews with as many members of the organization as possible, including general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates, to determine what course to take for a team that has been trending in the wrong direction in recent years.
In the end, Leonsis and Patrick determined that both McPhee, the general manager for 17 seasons, and Oates, the coach for two, needed to go. On Thursday, according to Leonsis, he met one final time with McPhee and Oates. On Friday, he and Patrick compared notes and the two men decided a change was due.
“I’ll just say that we were left with the overall impression that the team wasn’t trending towards being able to compete for a Stanley Cup,” Leonsis said. “And that was just a clear signal and why we felt it was time to make those changes.”
Leonsis and Patrick offered immunity to everyone interviewed — players, front-office members, coaches etc. — in return for information about the state of the franchise. It was a way to make a final call while still not “emotionally wounded,” Leonsis said. McPhee and Oates were informed of the decision Saturday morning. With his contract ending, McPhee could have decided to leave on his own. That wasn’t the case, according to Patrick.
“George really, really liked his job here,” Patrick said. “He did a very good job here. He wasn’t looking for any changes. It was a decision that was reached by Ted and me.”
McPhee did not respond to a text message and phone call, but he will be made available to the media Monday at Kettler Iceplex. Oates also did not respond to a text and phone call, but the team did release a statement on his behalf.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ted Leonsis, Dick Patrick, George McPhee, our coaching staff, the players and everyone involved with the Washington Capitals organization,” Oates said. “It was a tremendous honor to coach the Capitals these past two seasons. It is a great franchise with a wonderful fan base that will always be close to my heart. I’m grateful for the opportunity they provided me and wish them nothing but the best in the future.”
With no timetable set, hiring a new coach and general manager could take a while, according to Patrick. The rest of the front office remains in place. And while Patrick insisted employees like assistant general managers Don Fishman (director of legal affairs) and Brian MacLellan (player personnel), among others, will remain, there also is no telling in which direction a new general manager might go. Patrick also wouldn’t rule out hiring a coach before hiring a general manager.
“When [McPhee] was hired, we’d hired Ron Wilson as the coach prior to that because he was available and he was a hot commodity and we’d identified him as a coach we wanted,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to lose him because we weren’t ready at that point to make the decision on the new general manager. But I’d say, generally speaking, we’d prefer to have the manager in place and his involvement with selecting the coach. But it could happen otherwise.”
Patrick did call it “a long process” that began Saturday. The Caps already have an initial list of candidates to contact. But many of those potential hires are under contract with other teams, and permission must be granted to interview them. That gets complicated during the playoffs, as teams are reluctant at times to let employees interview elsewhere while their Stanley Cup hopes are still alive.
With the rest of the front office still in place, Patrick and Leonsis don’t believe they have to rush to hire someone before the NHL draft on June 27 and 28 in Philadelphia. Patrick did say he thought the process would move faster than that. But for now, the current staff can run the draft, which includes the No. 13 overall pick and eight total.
Then the new general manager and a fourth coach in four seasons will attempt to fix the Caps.
“It concerns me greatly. We’ve lurched from many systems,” Leonsis said. “But at the end of the day, they’re hockey players and they just need to be on the same page and coached and healthy, and so we want to all be in it together. Obviously, we hope that we have a new coach and a new general manager and they’re with us for a long time because I believe in continuity. I think that continuity is really, really important. I’m not proud that we’ve had so many coaches in such a short period of time.”
• Brian McNally can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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