"We were left with the overall impression that the team wasn't trending toward being able to compete for a Stanley Cup," Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said in a news conference at the club's arena. "And that was just a clear signal and why it was time to make those changes."
In other words, the club wasn't getting any better than it had been in previous years. The man paying the salaries wants that trend reversed, so the men responsible for guiding this team to the promised land were given their terminations yesterday.
For the first time since 2007, the Washington Capitals missed the post-season. The fact that this happened in the newly-aligned NHL divisions and conferences shouldn't surprise anyone as even casual fans lamented that this team that routinely won the Southeast Division wasn't that good. They had a pile of talent, but this team seemed to underachieve for large parts of seasons over the last few years. When you have one of the best players on the planet in the lineup night-in and night-out, it's not hard to see why changes may be necessary.
Asked if there were any untouchables on this team in terms of on-ice employees, Leonsis took the high road in saying, "I'm not the general manager. So If the general manager comes with something, we would listen to the general manager."
That statement alone says a lot about the franchise. From trading away Sergei Varlamov and Filip Forsberg to the Martin Erat debacle to firing Bruce Boudreau, hiring and firing Dale Hunter, and then the hiring of Adam Oates, the path behind McPhee was littered with potholes and mistakes that you'd expect from a rookie GM, not a man who had been on the job for seventeen years. Many of his trades seemed to be made in panic to try to keep up with the Joneses, but none have panned out quite the way the franchise expected or needed them to pan out.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau was fired after he tried to implement a defensive system that, ultimately, the players never bought into and the team was bounced repeatedly from the playoffs. That's the same Bruce Boudreau who led the Anaheim Ducks this season to their best finish ever and the top-seed in the Pacific Division by a large margin with a solid defensive game.
Head coach Dale Hunter came in with a no-nonsense approach when it came to defence, and the players revolted. Offensive players like Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green couldn't fall into their respective roles on the team, and it cost Hunter his job after the Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs.
Adam Oates, in being named as the head coach, was supposed to bring back the offence to Washington while guiding the team into a better defensive presence. Defence was the weak link again in the last two years, and it cost the Capitals a playoff spot this season as they were routinely fishing the puck out of the back of the net. It didn't help Oates that he leaned on Alex Ovechkin hard, and Ovechkin responded by posting his worst five-on-five stats of his career and an incredible -35!
While McPhee led the team to a Stanley Cup Final berth in 1998 and saw the team capture the President's Trophy in 2006, there were far too many collapses and disappointments as a franchise under McPhee. Mr. Leonsis may have said it best when he told reporters that it was time for "a fresh set of eyes".
Adam Oates' tenure was cut short due to some of the moves McPhee made as a general manager, but ultimately no one has been able to get this Capitals squad - whose care players have remained the same for the last six years - to play defence. Oates was supposed to find the balance between offence and defence, but he missed that mark greatly.
"We were a continuously improving playoff team until we weren't. And the last two seasons showed us that we need to improve. And that's what it came down to," Leonsis said. "[Capitals president] Dick [Patrick] and I said, 'We have to make that gut check. Do we have to change? And where do you start?' And you start with the coach and the general manager."
The search for Washington's new GM and coach starts now. Expect a complete change to the mindset under which this team is run. Whoever the GM is that is named will have a tall task on his hands when it comes to making some of the offensive players take a defensive approach to their jobs.
Will he have the guts? We shall see.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!