Depending on who and what you believe, the Capitals are close to hiring Barry Trotz and either Ray Shero or Paul Fenton as their next coach and general manager.
Craig Button and Caps assistant general manager Brian MacLellan are also believed to be candidates for the vacant general manager’s job, but neither has a working history with Trotz, pushing all prognosticators in the direction of Shero, who worked with Trotz for eight years in Nashville, and Fenton, who spent the past 16 years with Trotz in MusicCity.
Whoever is the Capitals’ next GM, it appears he’ll have Trotz as his head coach. Hockey Night In Canada analyst Elliotte Friedman reported over the weekend that Trotz has informed other NHL teams [Vancouver, Carolina, Florida?] that he is “no longer available” as a coaching candidate and that it is believed he is “closing in” on a contract with the Capitals.
Whether Trotz’ next boss is Shero or Fenton or someone else, the Capitals’ new general manager will face quite a few decisions in the weeks leading up to the June 27-28 NHL draft.
What to do with Alex Ovechkin?
Not everyone in the NHL believes the Capitals can win a Stanley Cup with their 28-year-old captain and when Caps owner Ted Leonsis was asked last month if anyone on the Caps’ roster is untouchable he said that decision lies in the hands of the next general manager.
Fact is, Ovechkin’s no-trade clause takes effect on July 1, at which point he can give the Caps 10 NHL teams to which he will not accept a trade. Ovechkin also gets a raise next season, when his annual salary jumps from $9 million a season to $10 million and remains there for the next seven years.
Asked about Ovechkin last month, Capitals president Dick Patrick said that if the Caps had two of him they probably wouldn’t be firing George McPhee and Adam Oates after failing to reach the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
That would suggest that the directive to the next GM is to try winning with Ovechkin, not without him.
Will there be complete autonomy?
Any NHL owner that tells you his general manager has the final say in all hockey personnel decisions isn’t telling the whole truth. When it comes to players like Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos, ownership would absolutely want to be consulted if a general manager is considering trading a superstar player.
That said, it appears Shero’s dismissal in Pittsburgh had a lot to do with the autonomy he desired under the ownership group of Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, along with team president and CEO David Morehouse. If he felt stifled in Pittsburgh, Shero almost certainly would want the green light to make the moves he believes necessary to turn the Capitals into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and that includes gauging other teams’ interest in Ovechkin.
Let’s not forget that at this year’s NHL trade deadline Shero tried hard to land Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler, who has two years and $10 million remaining on his contract with the Canucks.
Should he use the Caps’ final compliance buyout?
That Capitals used up one of their two compliance buyouts on defenseman Jeff Schultz last season and can use their other one within 48 hours after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final.
Center Brooks Laich [three years, $13.5 million] and defenseman Mike Green [one year, $6.083 million] are potential buyout candidates, but if either of them can be traded for valuable assets that remains an option.
How to fill the void on the blue line?
The Capitals’ No. 1 need this offseason is a reliable and experienced defenseman who can take some of the load off John Carlson and Karl Alzner. That will need to come either via trade or free agent signing.
If Shero is calling the shots, would he sign familiar faces in Matt Niskanen and/or Brooks Orpik?
And what about the goaltending?
Now that Jaroslav Halak is on Long Island and Michal Neuvirth is in Buffalo, will the new GM be OK with Braden Holtby [105 career NHL games] and Philipp Grubauer [19 career NHL games] as his goaltending tandem?
Or will he seek an experienced backup, the way Shero did two summers ago when he acquired Tomas Vokoun from the Caps and signed him as a backup to Marc-Andre Fleury?
No matter how you look at it, this will be one busy offseason for the new man in charge of Washington’s hockey team – whoever that may be.