LAS VEGAS – He had danced around the details of his long-awaited conversation with his new head coach, but when Alex Ovechkin faced the subject of change within the Washington Capitals organization, he spoke with frankness.
“The whole organization made a big step, fire [general manager] George [McPhee], fire [coach] Adam [Oates],” the star forward and captain said Monday at media availability for the NHL awards. “The organization wants to improve.
“Thank God they don’t fire me yet,” he added, drawing laughs from the reporters around him. “I’m still here with a Capitals jersey.”
Indeed, Ovechkin is still here, nearly at the midpoint of his 13-year, $124 million deal with the Capitals, having played for four coaches since coming to Washington in the summer of 2005, including three since 2011.
But this offseason also brought something unfamiliar: In declining to renew McPhee’s contract, the Capitals overturned their general manager position for the first time since 1997, which also happened to be the last year Washington hired a head coach with NHL experience.
The Capitals bucked that trend by bringing in Barry Trotz last month, and the longtime Predators coach flew to Las Vegas to meet with Ovechkin over dinner Saturday night. But Ovechkin has yet to sit down with McPhee’s replacement, former assistant general manager Brian MacLellan, who has been with the organization for 13 seasons, mostly scouting the professional ranks from his home in Minnesota.
“I saw him a couple times, because he was working with George and he knows basically all the situation in the team and around the team,” Ovechkin said. “I didn’t talk to him yet. His job right now is to think what we can improve. I’m pretty sure sooner or later we’re going to talk to him and we’re going to talk about something. It’s all about me and him.
“The organization made a huge step to change it. It starts with the coach and GM. We still have the same team, same group of guys right now. New coach going to bring new system. We’ll see how it goes.”
Exactly how the new regime affects Ovechkin – Will he move back to the left wing? Will Trotz demand a bigger emphasis on two-way hockey? — won’t be revealed until camp opens in September.
“I can tell you nothing, but we’re going to see how it goes into training camp,” Ovechkin said. “[Trotz is] going to explain to everybody. It’s not about just me. Everybody has to change. We’re going to be in that kind of position.”
Between now and then, Ovechkin will return to Russia, rehabilitate a right-leg injury still healing from when he hurt it at the IIHF World Championships in Belarus and keep the lines of communication open with Trotz.
But the change in Washington is bigger than simply bringing in another coach. As a rookie GM, MacLellan has an offseason of decisions to tackle:
- Assistants to hire under Trotz, perhaps more than goaltender coach Mitch Korn.
- Prospects to draft next weekend in Philadelphia.
- Free agents to interview and trade offers to ponder, particularly for a top defenseman and a veteran backup goalie. The Capitals have salary-cap space with only one unrestricted free agent to consider re-signing – Mikhail Grabovski.
Ovechkin knows all this well.
“It’s going to be new season and it’s going to be brand-new day for me,” he said. “New coach, new GM. We’ll see what’s going to happen with the team, the system, all that kind of stuff. Going to be an interesting year.”