Caught up with former Capitals assistant coach Dean Evason on Thursday. He interviewed for Washington’s open head coaching position earlier this month, but was later told the team was headed in a different direction.
But when general manager George McPhee broke the news to Evason, who had been with the organization through three other head coaches and seven years, he also had some good news: Nashville Predators general manager David Poile had asked permission to speak with Evason about an opening at his AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.
Evason finished his meeting with McPhee and returned that call “within the hour.” Earlier this week he was hired by the Admirals, where he will serve as head coach for the first time at the professional level. I’d wager we’ll see the 47-year-old in the NHL again soon. For now, he’s more than happy to develop as a coach at the AHL level – as countless NHLers have before him.
“Do I think I was ready for the Washington job if that was available? Yeah, I think we would have been fine,” Evason said. “I think there was a lot of positives to that situation. But I certainly believe in the process and the steps – same as the players – to learn and develop as a coach at each level before you get to the highest level and give yourself the opportunity to have success when you do get back to the greatest league in the world – and that’s the NHL.”
Evason repeatedly thanked McPhee for the chance to interview and to spend seven years in one spot – a rare bout of stability for an NHL assistant coach – but said he was looking forward to testing in Milwaukee everything that he’s learned working for Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter – even if he’s disappointed that won’t happen here.
“It’s just the thought process of having someone fresh and new not within the organization,” Evason said. “I believe, obviously, that being here for seven years I’ve seen what works and what hasn’t worked. I’ve seen a lot of positives and a lot of negatives and I believe that I was in a position where I could have pushed the right buttons and played the right system and know the group – how to treat them and how to get the best out of each and every player. But that was out of my hands.”
Evason interviewed with McPhee and Brian MacLellan, the team’s assistant general manager and director of player personnel, earlier this month. He said he wasn’t aware who the leading candidates were – Adam Oates, Mike Haviland and Jon Cooper are reportedly in the running, though there could be another name or two in the mix that hasn’t leaked yet. But Evason did get an idea of what the organization is looking for in a coach.
Told of comments by soon-to-be former Caps players Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern, who both believe a new coach should implement a system somewhere between the polar extremes of early Boudreau and late Hunter, Evason agreed. He even told Washington’s brass exactly that. Whether they go that direction we’ll soon find out.
“I felt that way and that’s what I presented to them. Again, I’ve seen the positives of how we played with Bruce, I’ve seen the positives of how we played with Dale,” Evason said. “I believe that there’s a happy medium between the two. And there’s no question that this group of players had the talent and the level of commitment to win. There’s a happy medium there that hopefully the new coach finds for the success of the Washington Capitals.”
Previously, Evason spent six years coaching junior hockey in the Western Hockey League in Vancouver, Kamloops and Calgary. A Winnipeg, Manitoba native, Evason had a 14-year NHL career, including 17 games over two seasons with the Caps, who drafted him in the fifth round in 1982. He was drafted by Poile and was linemates with Nashville assistant general manager Paul Fenton when both played in the AHL with Binghamton. They later played together in the NHL is Hartford and San Jose.
“I think that’s what makes organizations strong in that they have that thought process right through the organization,” Evason said. “Not just at the NHL level, but in their minor league systems. I certainly feel that Nashville has that going for them.”
Evason thought he’d have a few familiar faces with him in Milwaukee. But Kyle Wilson, a former Caps prospect who played in two games with the team in 2009-10, was traded to Tampa Bay last week while defenseman Tyler Sloan, who appeared in 99 games with Washington over the course of three years, is not expected to return to the Nashville organization. Evason did coach 25-year-old Milwaukee winger Brodie Dupont in 2004-05 in juniors when he was the co-head coach of the Calgary Hitmen.
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