Oh, to be a fly on the wall of those exit interviews conducted by Ted Leonsis over the past two weeks.
For the first time in his 14 years as owner of the Capitals, Leonsis closed the door behind him and, along with Capitals president Dick Patrick, asked members of the Capitals to speak their minds.
Completely confidential and completely unfiltered.
“When we spoke to all of the individuals, we said, ‘We know this is uncomfortable and you should be able to tell us whatever you want or tell us nothing, but whatever you tell us is just going to be between me and Dick because we’re seeking out information,’” Leonsis said.
Apparently, Leonsis and Patrick didn’t like what they heard in those exit interviews, which culminated on Thursday when first, Adam Oates, and then George McPhee, had their final say as coach and general manager, respectively.
On Friday, Leonsis and Patrick met with each other, exchanged notes, and decided McPhee’s contract, which was due to expire at the end of June, would not be renewed, and that Oates, whose contract runs through next season, would be fired.
“Honestly, it came down to, after all of the work we did and the due diligence, Dick and I sat down and said, ‘Do we think this team with this leadership can compete for and win a Stanley Cup going into next season,’ and our answer was obviously no,” Leonsis said. “That’s why we made the change.”
Patrick confirmed that McPhee, who spent 17 seasons with the Capitals and reached the playoffs 10 times, had not asked to leave. McPhee has been linked to the opening general manager’s position with the Calgary Flames.
“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 reached by Ted and me [Friday] and George was advised [Saturday].”
Interestingly, McPhee and Oates were the only two people to lose their jobs on Saturday, which means the Capitals’ entire coaching, scouting and training staffs will remain intact, at least until a new general manager decides everyone’s fate.
Patrick said it would be nice to have a new general manager in place before the June 27-28 NHL draft in Philadelphia but said it is more likely that position will be filled following the draft and that the Caps have the people in place – namely himself, assistant general manager Don Fishman and scouting director Russ Mahoney -- to handle the draft without bringing in a new general manager.
“It’s not something we’re a slave to,” Patrick said, “because the organization is set up that we can handle the draft without bringing in anyone new.”
The burning questions following Saturday’s house cleaning may never be answered.
What did the people interviewed by Leonsis and Patrick see as the problems with McPhee and Oates?
Did some side with the general manager and others with the coach?
And what kind of influence, if any, did Alex Ovechkin have on Saturday’s changes?
Leonsis declined to divulge that information, but his actions on Saturday made it clear that the answers he received were consistent and resounding.
Leonsis said he considered three alternate options– keeping McPhee and firing Oates; keeping Oates and relieving McPhee; and keeping both McPhee and Oates – before deciding it was best to fire both.
“It was a tough decision,” Leonsis said. “Today’s not a happy day for me. These are men I respect and I admire.
“… George is a great executive. There’s been a hundred general managers in the NHL that have come and gone since George joined the Washington Capitals and George was very, very intent on building a great team.
“We went through a lot together. Let’s not forget that rebuild process was dramatic. I watched a great executive go through some really, really hard times and he built that team quickly. But we just didn’t get there. George is going to go someplace else and do great. Adam Oates is going to go someplace else and do great.”
When the Capitals hire their next head coach he will be the fourth in four years, following Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter and Oates.
“I’m not very proud of that,” Leonsis said. “I think it’s a real issue. It’s very hard for players to gel going from system to system to system. It concerns me greatly.
“We hope we have a new coach and a general manager that are with us a long time because I believe in continuity. I think continuity is really, really important and I’m not proud that we’ve had so many coaches in such a short period of time.”