Nothing is ever a guarantee in the world of professional sports, but once the 2013-14 season came to a close, the writing seemed to be on the wall, and today it became official: George McPhee and Adam Oates have been released by the team.
Per the Caps:
ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals will not renew the contract of vice president and general manager George McPhee and have relieved head coach Adam Oates of his duties, majority owner Ted Leonsis and president Dick Patrick announced today.
"George has been a terrific, longtime executive for our franchise, and I’m grateful for his commitment to the Capitals organization for the past 17 years," said Leonsis. "Under his leadership the Capitals won seven division titles, twice were the top team in the Eastern Conference, earned a Presidents’ Trophy and competed in the playoffs 10 times. He was a highly effective manager who is extremely well regarded within our organization and around the NHL. We have the utmost respect for him and his family and wish them nothing but the very best.
"We are also appreciative of Adam’s efforts and thank him for his devotion, work ethic and contributions to the Capitals the past two seasons. He is a smart, tactical coach who improved the performance of several of our players. He is a Hall of Fame player who we believe will be a longtime coach in the NHL. We will help him in whatever way we are able and wish him well.
This is an important time for our organization, and I feel a change is needed in order to get us back to being a top echelon team that competes for the Stanley Cup."
The move comes after the Caps failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007, with a disappointing season that saw the team finish with just 90 points - their lowest point total in nine seasons. And while the team has regressed since their franchise-high 121-point campaign back in 2009-10, this season proved to be a particularly volatile one, with a number of public trade requests and an inconsistent team performance leading to the shortened season.
For McPhee, it ends a 17-year tenure as the team's general manager, one of the longest in professional sports. Under his watch the Caps earned seven division titles and a Presidents' Trophy, but advanced past the second round of the playoffs only once during that time - a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in his first year on the job. He oversaw the trade that brought in Jaromir Jagr and the rebuild that followed soon after, the drafting of the Caps' current core of players and many of the trades that have shaped the team as it stands today.
Timing is everything, and at times it seemed that the team he compiled on paper was a true contender - but at the end of the day, McPhee was never able to get that "on-paper" team to translate onto the ice, a fact which is as much on him as it is on the players he brought in and the coaches he hired to lead them.
Which brings us to Oates, whose time behind the bench was brief but action-packed (to say the least). Early on he seemed to be exactly what the Caps needed, a blend of Bruce Boudreau's free-wheeling style and Dale Hunter's more defensively-responsible (and often snooze-inducing) system. In his first season, a lockout-shortened campaign, the Caps overcame early growing pains and system adjustments to climb out of the League basement and into their seventh division title. He helped revitalize Alex Ovechkin 's career and returned the team's power play to its former glory, impressive feats considering where both Ovechkin and the power play were not so long ago.
But along the way there were bumps in the road, and 2013-14 was marked by increasingly questionable roster decisions and player unrest that started to pile up over the course of this season. Near the end, he seemed unable to motivate his team even when their playoff life hung in the balance (although a reasonable question to ask would be why they'd need motivation in the first place), and then proceeded to throw first his captain, then his goaltender, under the bus as postseason hopes faded away.
With the team having experienced a fairly steady decline in recent years, it was starting to seem as if a change was needed - perhaps not a complete rebuild, but a shakeup of some significance to get things back on track. The severing of ties with McPhee and Oates is exactly that, giving the organization a chance to find a new voice, both behind the bench and in the front office.
And it is just the first move of what is likely to be a very busy offseason in DC, as the search begins for their replacements - and after that, who knows? Stay tuned.