It is June 16th the NHL entry draft is only 6 days away and the Washington Capitals have no Head Coach. General Manager, George McPhee is saying what he is supposed to say in terms of stressing that his search is a deliberate one designed to get the absolute right guy.
Well any GM would say that but here are some things to bear in mind. Any Head Coach worth a damn will want some input into who the Caps draft especially since they have a couple of high picks. The Caps could also trade those picks for a veteran player that could have an immediate impact. What Coach worth his salt would not want to have a say in that? Yes we know McPhee has the final say but wouldn't McPhee turn to his coach at some point and ask...what do you think you need to get this team over the hump? That is why this delay in hiring a coach is odd especially for a playoff team loaded with talent. One would think coaches would be falling over themselves for this gig. They might be but from what I gather the Caps are not as popular a place to land as they might have been a few years ago. In fact, voices outside of Washington see this job as a fish bowl like Montreal.
I don't think we are asking the right question with regard to this situation. The question that needs asking is what role does Alexander Ovechkin play in the selection of the next Caps coach? Well the last two Caps Coaches may provide a clue as to why the Caps remain coachless now. Some of the Caps Coaching candidates may pick up a phone and call Bruce Boudreau or Dale Hunter to find out what that job is really like. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this organization from the front office to the locker room?
Bruce Boudreau might say that how you treat Alexander Ovechkin may determine how long your tenure is. Boudreau tried to light a fire under the entire team and his superstar by benching him and got hammered both by Ovechkin and the media. Ultimately Bruce lost the lockeroom because he became white noise even though Bruce orginally implemented a style of play that Ovechkin thrived in. Boudreau correctly came to the realization after a couple of playoff early exits that the aggressive offense first style of play would not earn the Caps a cup. His downfall started the moment he started moving away from that aggresive offensive style. Ovechkin and Semin's numbers dropped like a hot rock through snow and the rest is history.
Enter Dale Hunter who played the exact opposite style that Bruce Boudreau implemented. Hunter correctly focused on defensive responsibility and creating chances by being solid in your end of the ice first and foremost. Eventually Dale benched Ovechkin for significant portions of playoff games because Ovechkin proved himself more of a liability than an asset within the team's defensive scheme. When Dale benched Ovechkin all of the focus was on that situation. It is my personal opinion that this situation effected Dale's decision not to come back. Dale realized that everything he does with Ovi will be picked apart and scrutinized to the point where it will effect your coaching. In the end Dale decided it was not worth the drama.
Potential Coaches have to be asking themselves if they have a system Ovechkin is both willing and able to function within? Can they communicate with him, discipline him and teach him to play within their system? No one is asking Ovi to become a Selke Candidate but not being a consistent weak link on defense is a more than reasonable expectation.
It has been my experience that the truth lies somewhere between the polar opposite points of view. I write this knowing some will quickly dismiss it as Ovechkin hating (which is not true). I believe he was setup to fail by an organization that wanted to exploit his abilities to make more money and not to earn Stanley Cups.
I have been a Caps fan since the beginning and a hockey fan for even longer. I have seen great players come and go. In my opinion Ted Leonsis made the mistake of building his franchise around Ovechkin instead of building a franchise around time tested building blocks like an unwavering commitment to winning, accountability-responsibility throughout the entire organization and a commitment to the community. The Caps organization is built to sell tickets and merchandise but they are not built to earn Stanley Cups. If you don't believe me look at the organizational chart. The only hockey person in the organization is George McPhee and he has not won squat. Dick Patrick is the President and he hasn't won jack either. Meanwhile the New Jersey Devils organization has a guy like Larry Robinson who earned five Stanley Cups as a player and one as a coach acting as a defensive assistant. A guy like that should be the Caps Team President. Robinson has forgotten more about winning hockey than everyone in the Caps organization to include running laps around McPhee. The lack of hockey people that have actually earned a cup is why the Caps are looked at as a joke of a franchise outside of the Washington DC media bubble.
When Leonsis chose to build everything around one guy instead of time tested principles he gave Ovi a vote in who coaches this team. This is not fair to him and definitely not a situation that allows for any franchise level consistency in terms of winning. The scary thing is the Ovechkin era will come and go and if Leonsis does not change this franchise dramatically he will have absolutely nothing to show for it.