Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee admitted Thursday that he was hesitant in regards to hiring assistant coach Calle Johansson this summer.
Speaking at the USA Hockey National Hockey Coaches Symposium in downtown Washington, McPhee shared his philosophies on coaching and management, highlighting his own experience with the Caps' recent coaching search as an example.
"It starts with your head coach, and determine who your head coach is and what his strengths and weaknesses and then try cover some of those weaknesses with people around him," McPhee said. "We have a first-year coach in Adam Oates, brilliant player, really talks the game unlike anyone I've ever talked to, brilliant interview. He wanted Calle Johansson as an assistant and I was a little concerned about that because he didn't have the experience coaching, either."
The Caps hired Johansson July 18, which gave them two coaches with no NHL experience in their respective roles; Oates, with three years as a NHL assistant coach to his credit, had never been a head coach at any level, while Johansson was an assistant in Sweden for one season in between his regular job as a television analyst.
McPhee added Thursday that for the third member of the coaching staff, "we had to get...a guy with experience." Less than a week after hiring Johansson, Washington hired Tim Hunter, a former Caps assistant and veteran of over 1,000 games behind the bench, to balance out the staff.
During the same Q&A session, McPhee also discussed last season's coaching change. The Caps fired Bruce Boudreau in late November after a 7-0-0 start gave way to a 5-9-1 tailspin and replaced him with Dale Hunter, who ultimately left after one season.
According to McPhee, despite outside pressure to release Boudreau following Washington's second-round playoff series loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last May, he did not feel a change was needed until last season.
"Changing coaches is obviously a difficult thing to do - I would love to have one coach behind the bench and never have to make a change," McPhee said. "We played pretty well under Bruce Boudreau, liked him a lot, loved the way he coached. There were a lot of people calling for a change after we lost a year ago and I didn't think it was his fault. I felt in Round 2 that year with Tampa, we lost three of our top four defensemen and just weren't good enough on the blueline. We were missing two in that first series and in the second we were up to three and four in some games. We weren't good enough. People were calling for a change. I didn't think it was right. I tell you it's hard. It's hard when you feel like the only one who's got the guy's back."
"I really [have] to be quite honest, I didn't feel like a change was necessary after the season, but when we got back to camp, I felt it then," he continued. "Something didn't feel right then. It had something to do with, 'Here we are, it's now our fifth year with this coach, we're a good team, but we haven't pushed through the playoffs. What's going to be different this year?' We tried accountability from the players, we tried to change things a little bit without changing personnel. Things didn't go the way we hoped. You can see when the players aren't with this coach anymore. It's pretty obvious."
"When you become a manager, you fantasize about a lot of things, having this and that, you never think about having to fire people. That's not what you think about on the job. It's an awful thing to do. You try not to hurt too many people, but sometimes it happens."
McPhee also talked about his management approach, saying that he prefers to step back and give the coach some breathing room to operate.
"With Dale Hunter, for example, I didn't expect him to play that defensively," he said. "Once we got going, I allowed the coaches to coach the way they wanted to coach. Their necks are on the line, I don't want to be telling them what to do and turn around and fire them for making the wrong decisions. It's your team, do what you have to do. I try not to talk about what I'm seeing unless they ask. My history has been leave these guy alone."
Thanks to SB Nation D.C.'s Ted Starkey for providing the audio of McPhee.
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