Adam Oates knows the wolves are at his doorstep.
He knows that when a team with a $65 million payroll and the NHL’s leading goal scorer fails to make the playoffs, someone usually pays the price.
He’s just hoping it’s not him.
“All you can really do, and all I focused on, is doing my job,” Oates said Sunday when asked about returning next season. “Doing the best I can and don’t worry about it.”
There were several missteps along the way to the Capitals’ 38-30-14 finish, which left them three points out of a playoff spot.
The Capitals blew 13 two-goal leads and allowed 29 quick-strike goals within two minutes of scoring themselves. They finished the season 24-30 in games decided in regulation and were a baffling 0-25-7 in games in which they scored two goals or fewer.
[RELATED: Ovechkin says he wants Oates back]
Many of those stats fall on a coaching staff that before last season had little or no experience behind an NHL bench.
“I’d like to think that our staff prepares very well,” Oates said. “Every coach has his own philosophy. I talked about what I wanted as a player – communication -- and I still feel that’s a very, very important thing.
“I feel as a coach, you have 23 guys to prepare as best you can. You want to work on every detail you can and make guys better. That’s all you can do.”
If given the chance Oates would probably point out that he helped Alex Ovechkin return to the 50-goal scorer he was four years ago. And that he helped Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera establish career highs in points. And that he helped develop defenseman John Carlson into a U.S. Olympian.
Until then, Oates said he plans on meeting with each of his players individually to address some of the areas they will need to improve if they hope to become better hockey players.
“It’s a funny thing,” he said. “While I’m waiting to talk to you guys, the Masters is on and they’re talking about Tiger Woods changing his golf swing, right?
“The best golfer in the world is changing his golf swing. You’ve got to work on your game. They’ve got to get better. I’ve got to get better. You meet in the middle.”
The job performance of Oates is not the only one being reviewed by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who in a blog on Thursday promised a “comprehensive review” of the team, a review that will include “appropriate voices.”
This much is clear about the roster Oates was given this season.
Nine different players made their NHL debuts. Fourteen different defensemen took turns on the blue line.
Two players – Dustin Penner and Jaroslav Halak -- were acquired at the NHL trade deadline. Both made minimal impacts on a team that spent the final 87 days of the regular season out of a playoff spot.
The question that needs to be asked – and answered – is whether Oates was given a team good enough to make the playoffs and failed, or whether the team he was given by general manager George McPhee deserved the fate it got.
The answer to that question will determine the futures of the Capitals’ coach and general manager.