The Washington Capitals were busy during this weekend's NHL Draft, selecting 10 players while also acquiring a veteran forward from the Dallas Stars in Mike Ribeiro.
The Caps have the players, but the question still remains: who is going to coach them?
General Manager George McPhee said over the weekend that he is done interviewing potential successors to Dale Hunter -- who stepped down May 14 after completing the 2011-12 season that Bruce Boudreau began before he was fired in late November -- and "might" be able to wrap up the search this week.
“If we do, that’d be nice, but I can’t promise anything,” McPhee said Saturday. “They’re really good candidates. The hard part is picking the best one or the best fit because they’re all terrific.”
Who could those candidates be? Of course, McPhee has not tipped his hand, but those in the know have reported that there are three men that stand out as the most likely to become Washington's 16th head coach.
The former Cap from 1997-2002 is currently an assistant coach for the New Jersey Devils, last season's Eastern Conference champions. Oates has been an assistant coach since 2009, when he started with the Tampa Bay Lightning before leaving for New Jersey the following season.
Oates was in charge of the Devils' power play, which dramatically improved from 28th in 2010-11 to 14th in 2011-12. He is also credited for helping transform forward Ilya Kovalchuk from a one-dimensional scorer into a more balanced player, a problem that another certain Russian forward currently playing in Washington might have. Perhaps Oates could put his experience in that regard to good use.
Haviland, like Oates, has never been a NHL head coach and was responsible for his team's defensive and special teams play, but has experience being a head coach in the minor leagues. Haviland, however, has won a Stanley Cup as an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 (as is, Washington's current roster currently has one Stanley Cup winner on it: Troy Brouwer, who happened to be on that Blackhawks team coached by Haviland).
Speaking of Brouwer, he spoke highly of Haviland late last season.
“He’s a good guy, a down-to-earth guy,” Brouwer said. “He’s more of a players’ coach but has a stern side to him. He’s a guy that everyone I played with respected. He could fit in [with the Capitals] very nicely.”
The dark horse in the coaching race, Cooper was at the helm of one of the greatest single-season performances in professional hockey history. As head coach of the AHL Norfolk Admirals, Cooper led his team to 28 consecutive victories and a 43-3 run to end the season as the Admirals won their first Calder Cup championship.
Cooper, a former lawyer, has been a winner wherever he has coached; he has won four championships and three regular-season titles among the AHL, United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League while also earning Coach of the Year honors in all three leagues.
While Cooper may not have any experience coaching in the NHL, something must be said regarding the fact that he was able to lead a team with a constantly revolving roster (as is the nature of the AHL as players are called up to and assigned from the NHL) to record-setting heights while also keeping his players grounded. According to those players, Cooper's easygoing personality and passion for the game had something to do with that.
"This coach here is a players coach," Admirals forward and AHL MVP Cory Conacher said. "That definitely helps. It makes things more comfortable for us players. He has a great relationship with all the players, both with the team and individually. That really helps. He gives us the time off when we need it, and we do team events. We’ve gone fishing and gone to baseball games and all that stuff as a team, and that’s important for bonding."
“Our coach absolutely loves to win,” Admirals defenseman Mike Barberio said. “I think his passion for winning rubs off on his players. He’s won at every level he’s coached and I don’t think that’s an accident.”
Oates, Haviland and Cooper would all bring a different dimension to Washington, but one thing they all share is the fact that none of them have been head coaches in the NHL. That, however, should not come as a surprise to those who follow the Caps closely; they have not hired a coach with previous NHL head coaching experience since Ron Wilson in 1997.
Yet, all three are promising candidates and one of them could be the Caps' coach within the next week.
“I might be leaning one way, but we’ll see,” said McPhee. "I’ve got a few more questions to ask next week, not of these people but of people who know them.”
Thanks to SB Nation D.C.s Ted Starkey for providing audio of McPhee.