The Washington Capitals checked off two items from their offseason to-do list over the weekend in Pittsburgh, using 10 of their 11 draft picks to stockpile the farm system, and using the 11th pick to acquire a second-line center for next season, acquiring Mike Ribeiro from Dallas Friday.
Now, with the draft and trade talk in the rear-view mirror, Capitals General Manager George McPhee has one big item coming up next: selecting the team's next head coach.
"We're going to switch gears [after the draft] and get back to that," McPhee said Friday night. While McPhee didn't set a specific timetable for the hire, with free agency opening on July 1 and development camp slated to begin on July 9, it seems that the hire will be made in short order.
"We've talked to a lot of people," he said. "We've exhausted the process and we're done with all of the interviews and we're going to have to make a decision in the next little while."
With over a month gone since Dale Hunter announced he wouldn't return for the 2012-13 season, and McPhee narrowing down a number of candidates having interviewed for the vacancy, the list reportedly is centering around three names, one NHL assistant, one AHL head coach, and a former NHL assistant.
The most familiar name to Capitals fans reportedly in contention is former Washington center Adam Oates, who has spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach with Tampa Bay and New Jersey.
Oates, who turns 50 this summer, has served as the Devils' assistant - under three different coaches - the last two seasons. Oates came to New Jersey with John MacLean to begin the 2010-11 season, then after MacLean was fired due to the Devils' poor perfomance, Oates stayed on with replacement Jacques Lemaire to close the campaign. He was retained under new coach Pete DeBoer this season, and Oates helped the Devils rebound from a difficult season nicely, reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2003.
Oates' biggest strength as a potential head coach is his ample hockey knowledge. DeBoer gave Oates credit this season for helping the Devils select shootout lineups, and New Jersey was the league's best shootout club this season with a 16-6 mark. Oates also has a history with the team and McPhee, as he played in Washington from 1997 to 2002 - all but one full year coming under McPhee, and was one of the team's assistant captains during the team's 1998 Stanley Cup playoff run.
Still, Oates hasn't been a head coach at any level in his three-year stint behind the bench, and with a roster expected to advance deep in the postseason, there wouldn't be a big learning curve with Washington as he might get with other rebuilding clubs.
Another candidate rumored to have strong consideration is former Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland, who was fired in May by head coach Joel Quenneville, with the head coach citing dysfunction as the reason for the surprising move.
Haviland has had head coaching experience in the minors, winning the ECHL's Kelly Cup in 2004-05 with the Trenton Titans, and also having coached Chicago's AHL affiliates in Norfolk and Rockford before getting promoted to an assistant coach with Chicago in 2008. Haviland was an assistant with the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup team, and is credited with the development of some of Chicago's young stars who helped achieve that championship.
With a key aspect of the Capitals' job being able to help keep the improved team focus that Dale Hunter helped install during the postseason, it would probably be trickier for Haviland to translate that same methodology to Washington, with only ex-Blackhawk Troy Brouwer being familiar with Haviland's methods and not coming in with the respect in the locker room that Hunter brought in.
One dark-horse candidate who has gotten attention in recent weeks is Jon Cooper, who has an impressive 94-44-18 record in two seasons with Norfolk. Cooper's Admirals had an amazing run to cap this past season, going 43-3 after February 5 en route to the franchise's first Calder Cup this spring. With the Admirals gaining the attention of the hockey world with their run, so too has Cooper's name gotten increased consideration for NHL jobs.
Like Haviland, earning the team's respect will be crucial for Washington's new coach, and he will need to translate the success he had in the American League to the next level.
While the three men reportedly under consideration have no NHL head coaching experience between them, neither has any coach McPhee has hired since 1997, with Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter not having any NHL experience before becoming Washington's head coach.
Trying to find the right fit for his team and his players is what is making it a long process for McPhee, although he has said he enjoys the extra time the offseason allows to hire a new coach.
"The issue is not trying to find a competent guy," McPhee said. "I'm confident there are lots of them. It's which one is best."
And, after over a month of speculation, it appears sooner than later Capitals' fans will know McPhee's decision.