Welcome back to "Capital Letters," a sporadic feature where I answer any and all questions relating to the local professional hockey team.
The Capitals may not be in the playoffs, but if you squint hard enough at all of the blown two-goal leads so far, it's like they're there! Your questions.
It is believed that "The Great One" is interested in becoming President of Hockey Operations, the new hotness among NHL front offices (Trevor Linden in Vancouver, Brendan Shanahan in Toronto) and a position that Washington currently does not have.
Gretzky would in theory oversee the yet-to-be-named general manager and, to borrow from Linden's job description, be responsible for "all hockey operations, including the coaching and scouting staffs, player procurement and development, and minor league affiliations and operations."
Gretzky, who took in a game with team owner Ted Leonsis in November, has front-office experience with the Phoenix Coyotes, though his time there could be aptly described as tumultuous. Gretzky, however, did have success at the international level, serving as executive director of Canada's gold medal-winning Olympic team in 2002. (Canada finished seventh under his guidance in 2006, in case you needed to be plummeted back to reality.)
The major hang-up, I believe, will be how the Capitals go about restructuring the balance of power if Gretzky is indeed hired. The franchise already has a president, Dick Patrick, who guides the team on a daily basis. I would imagine that Patrick would have to yield some of that power in order for Gretzky to be able to do his currently nonexistent job.
Also, a coach reporting to a general manager who reports to a president of hockey operations who reports to a president who reports to an owner is a convoluted hierarchical ladder.
I am sure something can be figured out if the situation arises, but that something is something to keep an eye on as the Capitals navigate this pivotal offseason. Or something.
On a personal note, if we are guaranteed regular Paulina Gretzky appearances, then I am completely sold.
This question was posed to me Monday before the Nashville Predators hired Peter Laviolette to replace Barry Trotz, exemplifying the dangers of due diligence.
With no firm timetable set, the Capitals' search for replacements for general manager George McPhee and coach Adam Oates may take a while. Patrick, however, did not rule out hiring a coach first, citing the franchise's decision to hire Ron Wilson before hiring McPhee in 1997.
“When [McPhee] was hired, we’d hired Ron Wilson as the coach prior to that because he was available and he was a hot commodity and we’d identified him as a coach we wanted,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to lose him because we weren’t ready at that point to make the decision on the new general manager.
"But I’d say, generally speaking, we’d prefer to have the manager in place and his involvement with selecting the coach. But it could happen otherwise.”
Frankly, it might have to happen otherwise if Washington has its sights set on one of the in-demand coaching candidates (Trotz, John Stevens, Guy Boucher, etc.) Of course, the risk in doing that is then hiring a general manager whose on-ice philosophy does not mesh with the coach's, and the last thing that the Capitals need is yet another season without a discernible identity.
The Capitals would like to have at least a general manager in place by the NHL Draft in late June, but Leonsis and Patrick did not seem too uneasy about the idea of having director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney oversee the draft if need be. Simply put, it would be in the organization's best interest for that option not to be required.
As evidenced by the two-week investigation that ultimately led to a regime change last month, the Capitals are willing to be patient, but patience is not always a virtue in situations such as these. If there is any lead in Washington's GM/coaching search, then they need to get it out.
All five of those players are sure to fetch lofty contracts this summer on the open market, Do I think that the Capitals have a chance to land one of them? Sure. Everybody's got a price.
There is only one, though, that I think that Washington should pursue: Paul Stastny.
Signing him will not come cheap as he will be one of the most sought-after free agents available. He currently carries a salary cap charge of $6.6 million and I would imagine he will earn a raise as potential suitors line up. The Capitals have money available -- roughly $14.3 million -- so they could place a bid.
A gifted playmaker, Stastny would be a welcome addition to a Capitals team with tenuous center depth. The Avalanche are so deep and talented at that position that they could mitigate what would be a sizable loss for most teams, though I would imagine they will re-sign him.
As you all know, the real position of need is defense. That market is slim this summer, which means that the Capitals might have to get creative to bolster that area.
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