Capitals' future remains in holding pattern

Capitals' future remains in holding pattern
April 24, 2014, 3:30 pm
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(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

For those anxious to know the fate of Capitals general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates, Thursday proved to be another day of waiting.

As promised, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is conducting a thorough examination into what led to his team missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. The fact he's doing it in the midst of a giddy playoff run by the Wizards might illustrate the belief that patience sometimes pays off.

Leonsis' evaluation, now in its 11th day, has included private interviews with players, assistant coaches, and scouting and training staff, along with lengthy conversations with McPhee and Oates, each of whom were at Kettler on Thursday.

McPhee, 55, is working under the final year of his contract, which is set to expire at the end of June. Oates, 51, has one year remaining on his three-year contract.

McPhee’s situation is an interesting one because, as a pending “free agent,” he could be evaluating his future outside of Washington. With his contract set to expire, McPhee has been linked to positions in Calgary, New Jersey and Vancouver in recent weeks.

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In 17 years as the Caps’ GM McPhee has guided Washington to the playoffs 10 times, but his teams have not reached the conference finals since going to the Stanley Cup Final and being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1998, his first year as general manager.

If McPhee is retained it will be interesting to see if his staff is fortified with an additional assistant general manager and if he decides to keep Oates for a third season.

Clearly, Oates made it a priority to re-invent Alex Ovechkin, moving the 28-year-old captain from left wing to right wing and watching him win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player last season and the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer this season.

But at what expense? Ovechkin finished with a team-worst minus-35 rating, underscoring his defensive deficiencies and accentuating his reputation as a one-way player unwilling to backcheck.

If Leonsis determines that McPhee and Oates can no longer work together – a notion Oates disputed last week – he has three choices.

He can renew McPhee and allow him to hire his fourth coach in four years [Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter in 2011-12, Oates from 2012-14].

He can retain Oates and find a replacement general manager willing to keep him behind the bench at least one more season.

Or, he could decide to clean house and begin the search for a new general manager, who could request the right to hire his own coach and manipulate the Capitals’ current roster any way he sees fit.

According to an NHL executive, it is not uncommon for teams in search of new management personnel to contact other NHL teams to request permission to speak to potential candidates, even if those teams are still involved in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

With McPhee and Oates still under contract that process has not begun.

However, with the NHL draft scheduled for June 27-28 in Philadelphia, it is imperative that a management team be in place by the start of June.

Will it be one headed by McPhee? Only the people behind those closed door know for sure.