Washington Capitals: Top Coaching Candidates and Why They Would Be the Best Fit

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IJune 8, 2012

Washington Capitals: Top Coaching Candidates and Why They Would Be the Best Fit

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    The 2011-12 NHL season was a wild ride for the Washington Capitals.   Franchise legend Dale Hunter took over for Bruce Boudreau at Thanksgiving, but the Capitals fared no better under Hunter, and only qualified for the playoffs after the 81st game of the season. 

    The playoffs, however, were a brand-new season.  The Washington Capitals went toe-to-toe with the defending Stanley Cup champions and defeated the Boston Bruins in a thrilling seventh game in what was statistically the closest playoff series in NHL history. 

    The ride ended in the next round, however, as the Caps fell in seven games to the New York Rangers, a team that was just a little better at executing the same system.   

    Then came the real heartbreak.  Less than 24 hours after the 2-1 defeat in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, Dale Hunter told General Manager George McPhee the news that McPhee—and all Capitals fans—had been dreading since November: Dale would be leaving the Capitals to return to London, Ontario, to tend to his family.  

    George McPhee was hoping that the captain of the 1998 Washington Capitals would also lead the team to the Stanley Cup Finals as head coach, but to no avail.  

    Now, the Washington Capitals are seemingly back to square one.  But George McPhee is less concerned and plans to take his time in looking for Hunter's replacement. 

    And who could that replacement be?  Here are 10 strong candidates, each with a grade on how well they would fit the Washington Capitals. 

10. Mike Keenan

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    This coaching legend appeared in four Stanley Cup Finals with three different teams.  Mike Keenan even led the New York Rangers back to the Promised Land, piloting the Broadway Blue Shirts to their first title in 54 years.  He has coached 20 seasons in the NHL, and his last coaching job was with the Calgary Flames in 2009. 

    But Keenan has a well-earned reputation for being uncooperative with both players and management, even when the team is playing well.  He was fired by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1987 after leading them to the Stanley Cup Finals, and abruptly resigned after accomplishing the same feat with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1992 and the New York Rangers in 1994.  

    Plus, "Iron Mike" may have lost his playoff magic.  He last appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals 18 years ago, and that was also the last time he advanced past the first round. 

    Playoff success would not be a guarantee with Mike Keenan, and organizational disruption would be too much of a risk.   

    GRADE: D

9. Tom Renney

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    Tom Renney has been a head coach in the NHL for eight seasons, compiling a 260-255-9 record.  He is 11-13 in the playoffs, all with the New York Rangers from 2006-2008.  He was recently fired by the Edmonton Oilers after two seasons, both resulting in last-place finishes. 

    Renney could still be a good coach in the NHL, and he has never coached a team the caliber of the Washington Capitals.  But George McPhee will not entrust the success of this franchise to an average coach like Renney. 

    GRADE: C-

8. Marc Crawford

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    Marc Crawford has coached 15 seasons in the NHL, most recently with the Dallas Stars from 2009-2011. He won the Stanley Cup in 1996 with the Colorado Avalanche in just his second season as an NHL head coach. 

    But since then, he has only advanced as far as the Conference Finals, and he missed the playoffs each of the last five seasons he was coaching in the league.  

    Crawford was recently interviewed by the Montreal Canadiens for their head coaching vacancy, which eventually went to Michel Therrien.  Marc is actively pursuing other coaching vacancies, including those in Washington and Edmonton.  

    Marc Crawford has plenty of coaching experience, and has achieved the playoff success that George McPhee and the Capitals so desperately crave.  

    But Crawford is an overbearing and controversial coach whose message has been tuned out by his teams in the past.  McPhee will look for a different messenger.

    GRADE: C+

7. Ron Wilson

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    No one on this list has a deeper connection to the 1998 Washington Capitals than Ron Wilson, the man who coached them. 

    Wilson coached the Capitals from 1997-2002, appearing in the playoffs half the time.  However, 1998 was the only season under Wilson when the Capitals advanced past the first round.

    Ron also holds the dubious distinction of coaching the last team to be swept in the Stanley Cup Finals.  

    In total, Ron Wilson has coached 18 seasons in the NHL.  He appeared in the playoffs eight of those seasons, and 1998 was his best finish as a coach.  

    He has not appeared in the playoffs since 2008, however, when he was coaching the San Jose Sharks. He was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs 64 games into the 2011-12 season, after four seasons behind the bench.  

    For George McPhee to rehire a former coach would not be unheard of in the NHL.  Earlier this week, the Montreal Canadiens did just that, bringing back Michel Therrien for his second stint with the club. 

    Don’t expect George McPhee to do the same, although he's not adverse to a familiar face.  

    GRADE: C+

6. Mark French

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    Mark French is a long shot, but not a shot in the dark.  

    French is currently the head coach of the Hershey Bears, the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals. He won the Calder Cup championship during the 2009-10 season, his first as head coach of the Bears.  That team also set a franchise record with 60 regular-season wins. 

    Hiring a minor-league hockey coach with no NHL experience is not uncommon.  In fact, George McPhee has already done it once when he hired Bruce Boudreau on Thanksgiving weekend during the 2007-08 season.  Boudreau also happened to be coaching the Hershey Bears at the time. 

    The hiring of Mark French would not have the same desperation as the hiring of Bruce Boudreau, who inherited a Capitals team that had the worst record in the NHL at the time.  Instead, this move, no matter how sentimental, would be a step backwards for the Capitals. 

    GRADE: B-

5. Craig Berube

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    Craig Berube is another alumni of the '98 Caps who, like Hunter, built his reputation on physical play during 17 seasons in the NHL.  He is ranked seventh all-time in career penalty minutes.   

    Berube has been an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers since 2008, after two seasons as head coach of the Flyers' AHL affiliate.  Craig will likely earn his first head coaching job in the near future, and has even said he is "interested" in the Capitals' head coaching vacancy, despite receiving no job offer so far.   

    George McPhee may eventually interview Craig Berube due to his coaching experience and strong ties to the franchise.  Berube may even receive a recommendation from Dale Hunter, who is still a very good friend and kept in contact with Berube throughout the season.  

    But don't expect McPhee to hire Berube, as he is not the best fit for the Washington Capitals.  Craig Berube is more intense and outspoken than Dale Hunter, and this Capitals team has responded poorly in the past to coaches who lose their cool. 

    GRADE: B

4. John Tortorella

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    John Tortorella is the winningest American-born coach in NHL history, and he just led the New York Rangers to their deepest playoff run since 1997, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the arch-rvial New Jersey Devils.  

    Tortorella led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the only Stanley Cup title in franchise history, back in 2002. 

    John Tortorella would be a very intriguing hire for the Washington Capitals, especially if George McPhee is looking to continue the same system the Capitals played under Dale Hunter. 

    But Tortorella is a taskmaster, and his unwavering intensity would grate on this Capitals team. Washington would digress as a result.   

    GRADE: B+

3. Jacques Martin

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    Jacques Martin is the calm, sedate version of John Tortorella.  

    The two coaches both emphasize defense, shot-blocking, neutral-zone pressure and fore-checking.  The only difference between the two is that the Canadian-born Jacques Martin virtually fades into the bench, choosing to coach in a much different manner than his American counterpart.  

    But he's had similar levels of success.  Martin was fired by the Canadiens after 32 games of the 2011-12 season, but has coached in the NHL for 17 seasons.  He has a .551 winning percentage, and reached the playoffs 12 times. 

    Jacques Martin engineered one of the most miraculous runs in NHL playoff history in 2010, a performance painfully recalled by Capitals' fans. 

    Martin led the Montreal Canadiens to an upset of the President Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, followed by an upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Canadiens eventually fell short of the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers.  

    Jacques Martin may not be out of a job for very long.  He has the coaching philosophy, playoff experience, and personal demeanor that George McPhee is looking for.  

    GRADE: A-

2. Dave Tippett

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    Dave Tippett is perfect for the Washington Capitals.  

    In his nine years as head coach, Tippett has compiled a .617 winning percentage and 33 playoff victories with both the Dallas Stars and the Phoenix Coyotes

    Over the past three seasons, Tippett has turned the Phoenix Coyotes into a defensive-minded, hard-working, unselfish TEAM that truly plays as a unit.  The Coyotes are able to succeed with Tippet's system despite having few—if any—recognizable stars.  

    This success has translated into the playoffs as well.  The Coyotes have qualified for the playoffs each year Tippett has been behind the bench.  And this season, Tippett led Phoenix to its first series victory in franchise playoff history, as well as their first trip to the Conference Finals. 

    George McPhee wants the Washington Capitals to have what the Phoenix Coyotes have.  To do so, he needs to hire Dave Tippett.  

    GRADE: A

1. Adam Oates

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    If Dave Tippett is George McPhee's trump card, then Adam Oates is his wild card.  

    George McPhee has already shown a proclivity for staying within the Capitals family regardless of previous coaching experience, and hiring Adam Oates would not stray from that tendency.  

    Like Dale Hunter and Craig Berube, Adam Oates was a member of the 1997-98 Capitals, whose run to the Stanley Cup Finals is still the most successful season in franchise history. 

    Oates has been an assistant coach in the NHL since 2009, and has spent the last two seasons with the New Jersey Devils.  Adam is gaining invaluable coaching experience at this very moment, as his Devils are currently facing the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals. 

    Adam's cerebral nature and even-tempered personality would suit the Capitals, and his experience as both a player and a coach would be trusted by the team.  The hiring of Adam Oates as head coach would be a fitting transition into a new era for the Washington Capitals. 

    GRADE: A+