Following the Capitals’ loss in game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals last Saturday, the thoughts of many people immediately turned to Washington head coach Dale Hunter. Would he be back? Would he choose to come back, or would General Manager George McPhee make the decision for him?
Monday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, we all found out. McPhee announced at his end-of-season media availability that Hunter would, in fact, not be back as the head coach of the Capitals, deciding instead to return home to London, Ontario. And that was that.
With Hunter’s departure, however, the Capitals don’t have a coach. They need one, the sooner the better. To set the stage for the appointment of the next coach, I’ve prepared a list of job requirements, or qualities, that I’d like to see in the next Washington bench boss.
The ability to fix Alex Ovechkin: As we all know, Capitals winger and captain Alex Ovechkin is a shell of his former self. Ovechkin’s point output plummeted to 65 this year, down from 85 the previous season and 109 the season before that. His corsi rating has also taken a nosedive, and it was the 7th best out of the 11 forwards who played 50 or more games for the Capitals this year – against the second easiest competition on the team. Goal scoring, since the lockout, has gone down, as have power play opportunities. But the Capitals, and probably their success, are tied to Ovechkin because of his contract and his status as one of the faces of the NHL. In all likelihood, he isn’t going anywhere, and no NHL team, particularly one that is as heavily invested in one as the Caps are in Ovechkin, can win when it’s star player isn’t doing what he’s supposed to. This is a big problem, and “team play” or not, getting Ovechkin on track is an important, and difficult, task.
A winning pedigree: Unlike when Bruce Boudreau was appointed in the fall of 2007, the Capitals are not “coming in” to their stage as a team with serious Stanley Cup aspirations. They are in that period, and they may be nearing the end of that window. As such, I feel as though a coach who has won the Stanley Cup, as a player or behind the bench, is a key quality McPhee should look for when hiring his next coach. The Capitals have never had a Stanley Cup champion, in any form, as one of their head coaches, and having that could really help them get over the mental hurdle that they seem to have about getting far in the playoffs and eventually winning a championship. From my standpoint, I would just feel more confident in the Caps’ ability to get it done if they had someone behind the bench who had, and I know that many feel the same way. This could be especially important when you consider that next year, there could only be one Stanley Cup winner (Troy Brouwer) on the roster.
Balance: All defense doesn’t work in today’s NHL. All offense doesn’t work in today’s NHL. It’s time to find a balance between the two and use that system in order to try and win a Stanley Cup. This balance requires strategy, careful planning, and the proper deployment of players, and it also requires a system that forces puck possession, predictability, and strength in all three zones, not just one or two. Playing into this is the ability to fix the power play, which has been very anemic over the last two seasons after two seasons of dominance.
Tough love: Though I may not have agreed with Dale Hunter’s tactics or system at all, one thing that I absolutely applaud him for is his system of accountability and his ability to get the team to play together by making everyone equals. You have to play together to win, and the ability to instill this into the current Capitals was a big part of them getting as far as they did. The coach has to be in charge, without a doubt. There can be no usurping of the coaches authority by any players, star or otherwise. I feel as thought that was sometimes a problem under Boudreau, but not Hunter. That must continue. Also – you may say that this contradicts my first point. It doesn’t. You can help fix and help your best player on the ice without letting him be in control off of it.
Experience: This is not a job for a rookie NHL coach, and certainly not another Junior coach. Whoever the next coach of the Capitals should, to me, be one who has at least coached at the AHL level, but preferably one who has coached at the NHL and, as mentioned above, has a winning pedigree.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to find someone available who has all of these attributes; most of the coaches like this are signed up somewhere else. But they are all important in some form or another, and finding someone who possesses them is, I feel, key to the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup. A good coach is a key ingredient in any Championship drink, and this only scratches the surface of all of the pieces of the decision that McPhee will make when naming his man.
I will publish my list of possible candidates in the next week.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.