- Every Coach Before 1981
Sadly, every coach in this group didn’t have a chance. The expansion draft was a joke and the Capitals had the poorest stock of players in the NHL. In the first season the Caps went through THREE coaches! Jim Anderson and Red Sullivan both lost their jobs in the inaugural 1974/1975 season and GM Milt Schmidt finished the season as both GM and Coach. He did not finish the next. Tom McVie finished that 1975/76 season and two more before losing his job at the end of the 1977/78 season. Danny Belisle took the reins in the 1978/79 season but did not finish the next. Gary Green, took over during the 1979/80 season. The NHL Network analyst was the youngest head coach in NHL history at just 26 years of age. For reference sake, Alex Ovechkin and Eric Fehr (Rest in Pittsburgh) are both 29, three years older than Green when he took over the Caps. Green lasted until the 1981/82 season where he won only one of the first thirteen games. Roger Crozier, the interim GM, sat behind the bench in interim for one game after the firing of Gary Green. He then went back to GM duties as Bryan Murray took over the next game.
- Dale Hunter 2011/12
He didn’t even want to coach the Caps and tried to convince GMGM not to hire him. GMGM wanted him because of his history as a player with the team. Eventually, Hunter gave in and finished the season after GMGM let go of Boudreau. At the time Hunter coached and owned a Juniors team, the London Knights. He was used to coaching kids and having them do whatever he said, no explanation needed. Professionals who are experienced need a different kind of leadership. While the Caps won the first round, it was in OT of Game 7, and they lost in the next round. He did not return next season because he wanted to return home.
While he did bring a mental toughness to the team, his lack of communication and explaining to players his philosophy eventually wore down players, most notably Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin had done what Hunter had asked of him defensively. Instead of rewarding Ovechkin for this, Hunter kept Ovechkin off the ice at the end of games and in all defensive situations. He did not positively reinforce his players’ work ethic. He also didn’t explain to his players why, which might have made things much easier.
- Glen Hanlon 2003/04 – 2007/08
Hanlon started in the middle of the 2003/2004 season and saw the dismantling of the Caps. During his tenure the Caps were rebuilding and never saw the playoffs. He taught the young team the fundamentals of team play and defense. The Caps were expected to make that push into the playoffs in the 2007/08 season. It became apparent during the season however, that we was only able to coach defense to the team, and his coaching was actually stifling his team’s abilities and possibly hindering the growth of his star players. His successor Boudreau did not have those issues.
- Adam Oates 2012/13 – 2013/14
Adam Oates coached the lockout season of 2012/13 and guided the Caps into the playoffs. He revived Alex Ovechkin from the shot blocking, packing it in, defense first, coaching by Hunter that had hurt his offense. He also improved his confidence.
Unfortunately, his genius came at a price. He micro managed everything. He slotted players to play on the side of their handedness. E.G. Right handed players only played Center, Right Wing, or Right Defense. This was so important that a lesser player, with the proper handedness would be put in place over a better player with the wrong handedness. The Caps defense was terrible, but insisting upon this did not help.
Oates’ micromanagement also stretched into goaltending, which is NOT his area of expertise. As a result, he had Braden Holtby play a sit back in the next style which suited the way he wanted to play team defense. Holtby plays an aggressive style and switching him to fit Oates’ system ruined his confidence. Oates had a tendency to switch goaltenders quite a bit, showing a lack of confidence in any one goalie.
But that wasn’t Oates’ worst crime. GMGM had traded Filip Forsberg to Nashville for Martin Erat. The hope was that he might bolster the top two lines or maybe even a checking line. Oates’ stubbornness with his systems and handedness meant that the only thing Erat often bolstered was the healthy scratch list. Erat didn’t even get a chance to show his abilities to the fans, staff, or fellow players. Worse, not playing Erat looked like a direct snub of his GM. As a result, the organization looked fractured to players, staff, fans, and eventually the owner. Ted Leonsis cleaned house after the season, firing both GMGM and Adam Oates.
- Bruce Cassidy 2002/03 – 2003/04
Yes, he did make the playoffs in his first year and promptly lost 4-2 after winning the first two games. But that doesn’t tell you half of the story. It was a team that wanted to return to better form after missing the playoffs the year before. They were motivated to perform better and it showed. Unfortunately, while the Caps had a decent start to regular season that year, rumors of discontent and a lack of respect for Cassidy started mid-season. It was a team of veterans, legends even; and Cassidy handled them like the other teams he had coached, which were teams full of players just learning and trying to make the NHL. Cassidy treated them like kids, using a heavy hand instead of treating them like veterans and motivating them with respect. According to some, he was berating star players; and instead of training and coaching, he was spending a great deal of time drilling basic techniques. After the Caps’ second loss to Tampa in the playoffs, Cassidy’s motivating techniques worked in reverse and the Caps lost four in a row to close out the year.
At the start of the next season, many of the players didn’t even want him back. Training camp and preseason were contentious. After 25 games and an 8-16-1 record, it was apparent to everyone that the players did not like, and would not perform as a team for Cassidy. The team couldn’t fire him fast enough. He has not been a head coach in the NHL since. Then the team then began their fire sale that would lead up to the Lottery draft of Alex Ovechkin. To be fair, some believe (including myself) the Caps would have had a great season if Michael Nylander was not hurt at the start of the season, for they looked great in the preseason, and the Cassidy had begun to change his coaching style.
Special Dis-Commendation: GMGM – George McPhee
It would be incomplete to not mention him. After all, he did hire most of the coaches on this list. Here is an interesting fact: Every coach he hired except for Ron Wilson, had NEVER been a head coach in the NHL before. That’s right, none of them had experience. It should also be noted that only one of those rookie coaches, Bruce Boudreau, was hired by another team to be a head coach.
Let’s break them down. Ron Wilson, eventually hired by the Leafs, but currently not a head coach in the NHL. Bruce Cassidy, currently coaching in the AHL. Glen Hanlon, coached Latvia and now coaches in Europe. Bruce Boudreau, currently coach of the Ducks. Dale Hunter, he is back with his OHL team that he owns, the London Knights. Hunter really never wanted to coach this team and his abilities work well on Junior players, not NHL veterans. Adam Oates, he was “co” head coach with Scott Stevens, under Lou Lamoriello, who acted as head coach and then GM. The Devils replaced them with John Hynes this offseason.
What makes the Oates hiring unpalatable to me, is that GMGM hired Oates after considering him and Jon Cooper, the current head coach of the Lightning. In the offseason of consideration, Cooper had just finished what is possibly the greatest season by a team in professional hockey. The season before, the Norfolk Admirals went 55-18-1-2, winning the last 28 regular season games in a row, a North American professional record. They continued to dominate in the playoffs winning 15 of 18 games, including sweeping the Conference Finals and Calder Cup Finals. Despite this, GMGM hired Oates, partly because of his experience as an NHL assistant coach, and partly because of his ties with the Capitals. (Oates demanded a trade away from the team as a player and was stripped of his Captaincy as a result.) As mentioned before, Oates isn’t a head coach in the NHL, and Cooper just lost the Stanley Cup Finals. Quite a difference.
By Lincoln Cajúlis