This may be the most difficult offseason that George McPhee will endure since he became GM of the Washington Capitals in 1998.
The Capitals exceeded (late-season) expectations in getting one win away from their first Conference Final appearance since that '98 Cup run. However, the end result was still a second-round exit in which Alex Ovechkin came up short from his ultimate dream once again.
Now McPhee is faced with hiring a new coach due to Dale Hunter's departure for just the second time during his tenure. GMGM hired Bruce Cassidy to coach in 2002 following the firing of Ron Wilson, while other coaches such as Bruce Boudreau and Hunter were hired during the season.
The general manager has several decisions to make regarding free agency, and it already appears that Alexander Semin is on his way out of Washington. He has to figure out what to do with the likes Mike Green, and how to resign Jay Beagle. Free agency officially starts on July 1, but McPhee has the ability to sign most of his restricted free agents (Green, Beagle, Perreault, Carlson) before that period begins.
The NHL entry draft in June will also be a major factor, as the Caps have two first round picks due to the Semyon Varlamov trade one year ago. McPhee will have picks 11 (from Colorado) and 16 (thanks, Ted Starkey) to work with, and players such as John Carlson and Karl Alzner have been great first round picks in the recent past.
With so much to do, how will the Capitals handle business this summer?
Find the man in charge
McPhee's first priority (as it should be) will be finding a new head coach to take over behind the Washington bench. Of the four coaches GMGM has hired, none of them had previous NHL coaching experience. This time, it must be somebody with experience.
There are so many dynamics in the current locker room and Hunter laid a perfect foundation for the system that gives the Caps the best chance to achieve a Stanley Cup. He rewarded ice-time to players based on performance, and instilled the necessary mentality in the core players minds that is successful in the playoffs. Washington needs to find an experienced coach that not only has a track record of being good defensively, but also blends a complex offensive gameplan into the strategy.
Capitals 101 is currently very fond of two names: Paul Maurice and Bob Hartley.
Maurice became a head coach at 28 years old with the then-Hartford Whalers, and then led the current Carolina Hurricanes to its first Stanley Cup appearance in his seventh year behind the helm. His first stint in Carolina yielded two division titles and three playoff appearances, and made the Hurricanes a contender.
Following two lackluster seasons coaching the Maple Leafs, Maurice returned to Carolina a second time in 2008 and promptly led the 'Canes to 97 regular season points and his second career Conference Final appearance.
He was fired by the Hurricanes roughly around the same time period as Boudreau after an 8-13-4 start, and has been in hiatus ever since. So you have a better idea of what fans think of Maurice, here is an analysis by 'Canes Country on the coaching abilities of Maurice in his last full season coaching Carolina.
This would seem like a perfect fit for Maurice, as it would be interesting to see what the Canadian can do with a talented roster.
Bob Hartley was hired to coach the Colorado Avalanche starting in 1998, and he was able to secure four consecutive Northwest Division titles in all four of his full seasons coaching the team. In each of those four seasons, Hartley guided the Avalanche to the Conference Finals. Alex Ovechkin has yet to accomplish such a feat.
In 2001, Hartley's Avalanche won the Stanley Cup as Ray Bourque was finally able to hoist the Cup for the first and only time in his prestigious career. After being fired in Colorado, the Canadian was able to guide the then-Atlanta Thrashers to its first playoff appearance in franchise history in his fourth season coaching the team.
He has been overseas coaching the ZSC Lions for the past year, and helped the Lions capture the Swiss Championship on April 17 in dramatic fashion. The man wins titles.
Either of these guys would make for a great fit on the Washington Capitals, in the opinion of Capitals 101. They both have a proven track record of having success in the playoffs, and know what it takes to win a Cup. Dale Hunter instilled a mindset in the Capitals that will come in handy in the future, and now McPhee must find the right man to build on Hunter's teachings.
Following the selection of the new head coach, George McPhee will have to turn his attention to which Capitals to resign and which ones to let go.
Part two comes tomorrow.
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