Less than two weeks after missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years the Capitals have decided to clean house.
The team announced on Saturday morning that general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates have been relieved of their duties.
McPhee, who spent 17 years as general manager of the Capitals, was in the final year of his contract, which was set to expire following the NHL draft on June 27-28. He has been linked to management jobs in Calgary. Vancouver and New Jersey.
McPhee, 55, helped orchestrate a hockey renaissance in Washington that began with the drafting of superstar Alex Ovechkin in 2004 and six straight Stanley Cup playoff appearances from 2008-13.
The Capitals won just three of nine playoff series during that span and failed to make this year’s playoffs, finishing with a 38-30-13 record, three points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings.
“This team was too good to be where we are,” McPhee told CSNWashington shortly after the Capitals were eliminated. “I’m disappointed.”
In two seasons behind the Capitals’ bench Oates compiled a record of 65-48-17, but, like the three coaches the preceded him, he fell short in his efforts to make the Capitals a Stanley Cup contender.
Last season, Oates led the Caps on a late 15-2-2 run to get into the playoffs as the seventh seed, but the Caps fell to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, punctuated by a 5-0 home loss to the New York Rangers.
Oates’ departure comes after the Capitals concluded the 2013-14 season with a 38-30-14 record and 90 points, three behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings.
Following the Capitals’ season-ending 1-0 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, several players, including Ovechkin, said they supported Oates’ return next season.
“I trusted him and I still talk to him,” Ovechkin said. “I don’t know if somebody in this locker room feel bad about him, that’s their mind. My mind is we’re still good friends and if something happens I’m always going to ask his advice.”
Asked specifically if he wants Oates back next season, Ovechkin said, “Yeah.”
Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer and Karl Alzner shared similar thoughts about their coach.
“I would go as far as saying that Oatsey is a hockey genius when it comes to the technical side,” Alzner said. “I don’t think anyone thinks the game as good as he does.”
Said Brouwer: “We like having him as a coach. He’s a great guy. He studies the game well. He gives us everything we can do to give us information to win hockey games and that’s all you can ask for of a coach.”
Perhaps the most revealing answer from a Capitals player came from Nicklas Backstrom, who was asked on breakup day if the Capitals could change the way they play without a coaching change.
“That’s a tough question right there,” he said. “We as players need to be better. The coaches have their structure and their system and we as players didn’t execute. We were trying to play as we were told but we weren’t good enough.”
During McPhee’s 17-year tenure the Capitals reached the playoffs 10 times, including a trip to the 1997-98 Stanley Cup Final, where they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in McPhee’s first season as GM.
However, since that trip to the Final, the Caps have won just three of 12 playoffs series, getting eliminated in the first round six times.
With the help of Ovechkin, who was taken first overall in the 2004 draft, the Capitals won five Southeast Division titles from 2008-13, but won just three playoff series in that time.
McPhee’s failure to hire an experienced coach who could win in the playoffs could have contributed to his departure. After firing Ron Wilson in 2002, McPhee hired five straight coaches with no previous NHL head coaching experience – Bruce Cassidy , Glen Hanlon , Bruce Boudreau , Dale Hunter  and Adam Oates .
Under the direction of McPhee, the Capitals were the toast of the NHL four years ago, winning the Presidents’ Trophy with 121 points. But the Caps were eliminated by Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2010 playoffs and they’ve gone backwards ever since.
The Caps’ point totals dropped to 107 points in 2010-11, when they were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. The following season the Caps fired Boudreau, replaced him with Hunter, and finished with 92 points, losing to the Rangers in seven games in the second round.
When Hunter walked away after that season, McPhee conducted an exhaustive search for a head coach, interviewing Jon Cooper, Craig Berube and Mike Haviland, among others, before hiring Oates.