When the 2013-14 regular season came to a close Sunday evening, it marked the first time in six seasons that the Caps found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in - and kicked off an offseason that will likely be full of tough decisions to be made about the future and direction of the organization.
The biggest of these decisions lies squarely on the shoulders of owner Ted Leonsis, who will have to decide whether the team will go forward with, among others, their current general manager and coach. And, understandably, it's a decision he's not going to rush. While many of us have already fired one or both in our minds, it can't be easy to admit that the man who has been at the helm of the Caps for 17 years needs to go. It can't be easy to decide that the team's bench boss, a Hall of Famer who returned Alex Ovechkin to goal-scoring glory and the third head coach in five years, is not the right voice to be instructing the Caps any longer.
That said, easy decision or not, it's one that needs to be made and made soon.
Because as the old saying goes, he who hesitates is lost. You snooze, you lose. Time and tide wait for no man. Choose your favorite cliché about wasted time and wasted opportunity, any one of them would apply. The fact is that as soon as the season came to an end for the Caps, the clock started ticking - and the longer Leonsis waits to make a move, the more limited his options become.
For one thing, if George McPhee or Adam Oates (or both) is to be let go in the near future, the Caps will not be the only team looking for a replacement general manager and/or head coach. Brian Burke has already stated that he will not serve as Calgary's GM next year (although he could actually be thinking of bringing in McPhee, so there's that). Vancouver's Mike Gillis was let go a week ago; with a new team president in Toronto, Dave Nonis could soon follow. Meanwhile Nashville is looking for their first new head coach ever, and any number of teams could be parting ways with their coaches in the coming days.
There's just a limited number of people available who can step into either role, and an increasingly large number of teams looking for those people. Add in the fact that team president Dick Patrick isn't necessarily assured a spot with the team going forward, either, and that's a lot of vacancies to fill from a small number of potential applicants. Wanting to make the right decision is key, but you also want to get the right person for the job... and the longer the organization waits, the less likely it is that the right person will still be available.
That same issue presents itself at the player level, as well. While the bulk of the Caps' roster is already signed through next year, there are a few players set to become unrestricted free agents. Odds are that Dustin Penner and Jaroslav Halak will hit the open market come July 1, but one of the team's top priorities should be re-signing soon-to-be free agent Mikhail Grabovski before he can do the same. And although he's expressed interest in staying in DC, Grabovski has also stated point-blank that he wants to wait and see who the GM and coach will be next year before committing to the team. The fact that there is a question mark hanging over the organization and its future has become a crucial issue in locking up an asset, a piece that the team desperately needs... and that's a big problem.
And while it may matter less from a selfish, Caps-centric perspective, keeping both McPhee and Oates in limbo reduces their options, as well, should they ultimately be cut loose. Both will probably land on their feet with other teams, but there are no guarantees in this business; the longer they're left hanging, the fewer the options available to them.
There are just so many elements hanging in the balance while the decisions are being made. There are people waiting on those decisions before they make their own. The ripple effect of an ongoing delay is one that could impact any number of things, whether it's contract negotiations or future trades or candidates for positions that may not be available.
Leonsis may choose to hang on to McPhee, or Oates, or both, and give them one more year to right the ship. That's obviously up to him, and if that's the case, all we can do is join him in hoping that it's the right call. The problems with this team likely won't be fixed overnight regardless of who is put in charge of fixing them. But whether that remains McPhee and Oates or another GM and another coach, it's important that whoever is in charge is given time to establish a plan for moving forward, and to start projecting some sort of stability onto an organization that is rapidly being seen as an unstable one.
Because this summer will already be a busy one for the team, and the focus shouldn't be on this lingering question - the focus should be on figuring out a way to make this season's disappointment a one-time thing. And it needs to start now.