The Barry Trotz-coached Washington Capitals face off against the Jon Cooper-coached Tampa Bay Lightning in a potentially decisive Game Six Monday night, but the personnel behind both benches could have been a lot different. The Capitals had a reportedly passed over Cooper as a head coach candidate in favor of Adam Oates back in 2012.
Cooper spoke about the near-hiring today when asked about George McPhee, who was the Capitals general manager in 2012. McPhee’s Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Winnipeg Jets from the Western Conference Final Sunday night, and will face the winner of the Capitals-Lightning series in the 2018 Cup Final.
“I just remember when I was not the one brought in, nor should I have been at the time, but there was always something in me that said, ‘Hey, if there was ever a situation, i would definitely go work for [McPhee],” Cooper said, as reported by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski.
McPhee reportedly regrets the decision, telling a Golden Knights reporter today that, “We should have hired him. Wherever he coached, the teams just had terrific records.”
In 2012, McPhee interviewed Jon Cooper for #ALLCAPS head coach. At the time, Cooper had no NHL HC exp. GMGM opted for Adam Oates.
Today, he told @WillieGRamirez, "We should have hired him. Wherever he had coached, the teams just had terrific records."
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) May 21, 2018
Wyshynski noted that McPhee had wanted to hire Cooper for the Caps job in 2012, “but ownership wanted Adam Oates instead.” The Associated Press’ Stephen Whyno concurred with Wyshynski’s analysis that McPhee had wanted to hire Cooper.
Jon Cooper says George McPhee “is at the top of the pyramid” for him. In 2012, McPhee was first NHL GM to interview Cooper for head job. I believe McPhee wanted to hire him. Cooper implied he was not ready at the time.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) May 21, 2018
At the time, Cooper hadn’t coached at the NHL level, though he had just coached the Norfolk Admirals to a Calder Cup championship in his third season behind the bench. After being passed over by the Caps, Cooper started 2012-2013 in the AHL before taking the head coaching job at Tampa Bay in March 2013 in the midst of a lockout-shortened season.
The Caps instead went with alum Oates, who had been an assistant for both Tampa Bay and New Jersey. The Oates-coached Capitals would get bounced from the playoffs in the first round in 2013, then fail to qualify for the playoffs in 2014 for the first time in seven seasons. There were songs written about him.
Oates was fired after the 2014 season, clearing the way for current Caps head coach Barry Trotz.
Photo: Mike Carlson
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