The Capitals have been the proverbial Goldilocks when it comes to their selections of head coaches in the past few years.
Three seasons ago, when it was decided Bruce Boudreau had been too offensive and maybe too nice to his players, George McPhee fired him and replaced him with Dale Hunter, who was considered too defensive and too non-communicative with his players.
Adam Oates was supposed to be the perfect hybrid, a former Hall of Fame player who would play aggressively offensively and sound positional defense.
“At the tail end of Bruce, it was nice and wide open and that didn’t work,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said before the end of the regular season. “Dale’s was a strictly defensive system and that wore on guys and that didn’t quite work. We tried to find a happy medium to those two.”
Oates wasn’t that happy medium. Under his direction, the Capitals led the NHL in power-play percentage two straight seasons, but were outscored 248-226 at 5-on-5.
“When guys want to cheat a little bit or guys overcommit to defense you get yourself out of position,” Brouwer said.
[RELATED: A long list means a long wait for next GM]
So, after three coaches in three seasons, the question needs to be asked. Is it the coach? Or is it the players?
The Capitals’ defensive breakdowns were glaring this season. But was that the result of the coaches making things too complicated? Or was it the fact that the Caps had a revolving door of defensemen with 14 different blue liners?
During the team’s breakup day two weeks ago, Brooks Laich said he thought the Capitals were closest to winning a Stanley Cup during the 2012 playoffs, when the Caps were eliminated in the seventh game of the second round against the New York Rangers.
But after that series Alex Ovechkin was disenchanted with the way he was used by Hunter and players wondered if his collapsing defensive system could work long-term.
“It worked at the time, but who knows if it would have worked over a long period of time?” Brouwer said. “Guys were OK with it because it was working. But if you play like that consistently for a long time it wears on you.
“It’s tough to try to go down on one knee and stand in front of a [Zdeno] Chara or [P.K.] Subban or [Shea] Weber shot. Those are tough to handle and if you take one of those it stings and it’s not as exciting to go down the next time to block that shot.
“I know guys would do it because that’s how we were coached, but it was a little bit of a relief not to do that. Still, we need to block shots.”
By all accounts the Capitals need a coach with structure and experience there is one candidate, Barry Trotz, who has both. Trotz built a reputation for playing a very structured system in his 15 years behind the bench of the Predators, where he coached caps right wing Joel Ward.
With coaching positions expected to open under new management teams in Toronto and perhaps Vancouver, and others possible after these playoffs, the Caps may not be the only team in search of a coach, which means they may be forced to act quickly if they are intent on hiring Trotz or Team USA coach Peter Laviolette.
“Typically, you have a GM in place and get his input,” Patrick said.
But Patrick also noted that before McPhee was hired as general manager in 1997, Ron Wilson was a hot commodity as a coaching candidate and the Caps hired him without a GM in place.
Could the same happen this summer with Trotz, or would the Caps consider hiring Nashville assistant general manager Paul Fenton and have him bring along Trotz as a package deal?
How about Laviolette, who is itching to get back behind an NHL bench after being fired by the Flyers three games into this season? Or John Stevens, an assistant with the L.A. Kings who, like Laviolette, has a previous working relationship with Flyers assistant GM Ron Hextall?
What would be your plan?