McPhee’s Moment

Is this the most important day in the NHL executive career of Capitals’ General Manager George McPhee? You could make a compelling case that it is.

Publicly, McPhee is standing solidly behind his 33-20-10, second-place-in-the-Southeast squad. (The team’s 20 regulation losses before March are 5 more than the team lost in regulation all of last season.) But what are the consequences of another super short stint in the postseason? Isn’t this franchise at a bit of a competitive crossroads?

And if so, is it overstatement to suggest that there are ominous signs abounding? What comfort do you take from the team’s longstanding mediocrity this regular season? After beginning the year 14-4-1, the Capitals since November 19 are at 19-16-9. If it weren’t for the strong start the team would be in a dogfight just to qualify for the postseason.

A year ago at this time McPhee was the toast of the league, engineer of what would go on to be the best-ever Capitals’ club in regular season achievements. But since that President’s trophy winning Capitals’ club was stunned by Montreal in last postseason’s opening round, McPhee’s star has dimmed: He allowed a key roster weakpoint — second-line center — to go unfilled in the offseason, and to be staffed by an audition of mostly unready rookies throughout the season. The absence of consistency and productivity at the position has weakened the Capitals’ attack generally and helped render impotent what was once the league’s best power play.

Most importantly, perhaps, his club appears to be one without an identity: they lunchpale it one night, winning with grit and guile and a commitment to accountability in their own end, then follow soon thereafter with lifelessness — they’ve been shut out an astounding nine times already this season.

A year ago the Caps were no. 1 in the NHL in scoring; this morning they’re outside the top 20 (22nd). A year ago they boasted the league’s best power play; this morning it’s 25th. The PK is better, but it had nowhere to go but up. Stats tell some of this team’s story, but they don’t tell what’s most troubling and vexing: why this team doesn’t show up at all some nights, as with last Friday’s 6-0 molestation by the Blueshirts at Verizon Center. A compelling case could be made for McPhee to tinker or more today solely to try and change the dynamic in the room, seeking to infuse it with some veterans boasting notable postseason pedigrees . . . seeking to infuse it with some hockey heart.

It’s difficult to fathom the Capitals as presently comprised making serious postseason noise without remedy for the center of the ice for the club. The team’s first-unit power play has become relatively easy to defend by virtue of the preponderance of right-shooting skaters on it — the unit has a ton of its shots blocked as opposing PKers sag and slide and congest predictable shooting lanes. Wouldn’t be a bad idea for the GM to try and acquire a depth defenseman capable of bringing it from the point with a left-handed shot.

And there is this to consider, too: Every team surrounding the Caps in the East’s top eight has made at least one notable move toward improvement in the leadup to the trade deadline.

And there is, too, urgency for the GM from the vantage of the opportunity that is there for his team’s taking given the relative parity among the East’s top eight teams. There is no runaway-dynamo of a club in the East this season; Philly is strong but not without its own question marks. The East this spring is very much for the taking for the club of the GM who perhaps does the best work among his peers at re-shaping his roster by 3:00 today.

To try and make sense of Deadline Day madness, I’ll take part in a 2-hour long radio and podcast recap of the day, focusing on the Caps’ — and the league’s — alterations in total, with some of my best buds in pucks: studio host Sky Kerstein of 106.7 the Fan, Ted Starkey of the Washington Times, Brian McNally of the Examiner, and Ed Frankovic of Baltimore WNST. You’ll be able to listen live on 106.7 the Fan’s HD2 channel from 7:00 – 9:00 tonight, and the program will then be podcasted on 106.7’s site a bit later.We’ll delve into where we think this Caps’ team is post 3:00 today, if any moves put them over the top, keys to the Caps contending in the postseason, and how far we think they’ll go. We may even get a Caps’ player or two to join us in the fun.

First, though, here’s a look at what Washington hockeyblogdom is saying about the Caps on this huge day.

  • Mike Vogel gets as inside the thinking of the Capitals’ GM as anyone in town. The Caps made a run at Mike Fisher, and all three young goalies are immune from any and all trade talks this year. McPhee is also highly unlikely to part with a no.1 pick in any dealings today.
  • Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease says it’s time for management to take a risk: “This team could be primed for something special — but most likely not as currently constructed. It’s time for GMGM to lay all of his cards out on the table — and show everybody that he’ll do something more than just tweaking the roster.”
  • Rock the Red reminds us that McPhee “has a knack for making moves that nobody sees coming.” The good crew there also offers a helpful analysis of the budget limitations likely to restrain McPhee a bit today — unless he gets creative. That blog, though, doesn’t seem to see the urgency of McPhee’s needing to making an impact in the middle of the second line that I do. The Red Rockers remind that the last time the team needed an impact center — in 2008 — McPhee went out and landed one: Sergei Fedorov. The second line hasn’t been stable and consistently productive since Feds left.



This entry was posted in 106.7 the Fan, Eastern Conference, Ed Frankovic, George McPhee, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, New media, NHL trade deadline, Radio, Sergei Fedorov, Sky Kerstein, Ted Starkey, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to McPhee’s Moment

  1. Philip Schneider says:

    I fundamentally disagree that the Caps are at a competitive crossroads. They are positioned extremely well going forward with the kids coming and their low cap hits to be able to resign their RFA’s in the next couple of years and continue making a run for the Cup every single year. Mortgaging the future (which is what you are asking GMGM to do) is exactly the wrong way to go about being “generationally competitive” (to use Ted’s term).

    If our team shooting percentage was even 1 pt higher we’d probably have 6 more points, be in 2nd place in the conference and no one would be worried.

    Correcting luck based issues (low shooting %) by trading our future away is a terrible idea.

    All this talk about “hockey heart”? C’mon. What the heck is that. I’ll take Semin’s slapshot over some 3rd line center’s 10 goals and grit any day of the week. Also getting tired of all this piling on of Sasha. He had a massive amount of shots in the 1st round last year. He did not DOG IT or NOT TRY. He was simply unlucky.

    Eventually we will get the breaks and be in position to win not just 1, but multiple Cups. You think Philly is going to be in that position? Pronger is old and will be gone or an albatross soon. And they will not be able to get their 3 1st rounders for him back. And they are capped out. Just like the Hawks, just like (to a lesser degree) the Pens.

    Granted, it’s a huge pain in the ass everyday to have to deal with the fact that two of these 3 teams have already won Cups, but I’ll take the Caps roster (present and future) going forward any day and twice on Sunday’s over any of theirs and over any other in the league (with LA possibly being the only exception).

  2. Sasha shouldn’t be praised for flinging 40-foot slapshots with no traffic on net and otherwise not contributing in any way during last year’s playoffs. Not all shots are created equal and the high shot totals do not paint a picture of how terrible he really was against Montreal.

    I think the Caps’ windows is shorter than most people think it’s going to be. The core of this team moving forward should be Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlznerson and Green/Schultz. Everyone else is moveable, and beyond those players the Caps have too much money tied up on the wings right now. They need to retool their non-core roster construction.

    It won’t happen, but I’d love to see Semin traded for a center like Stastny. It’s a dream scenario for the Caps but ultimately I think Semin is simply too inconsistent and unreliable to invest the money it will require.

  3. Ben is right. Especially in paragraph two of his response. The Caps have Green and Semin locked in for one more year each, that’s it. And what if Ovi’s best years are behind him (it’s possible)?

    And Philip, for more discussion of ‘hockey heart,’ please survey the men and women who’ve laid out large coin for Caps’ home games this season and been on hand for the debacles. They definitely have some thoughts to share with you. Lastly, who do you imagine the 7th-seeded Rangers would most want to see in round one?

  4. Stunned Duck says:

    Well, no, I don’t think Ben is right in his second paragraph. The Caps’ window is as long right now as it is possible for a team’s window to be under a cap. That the only thing “locked in” right now is Ovie is a red herring; the team is very well managed under tha cap and has plenty of capacity to keep this extraordinary, and extraordinarily young, core together for a long time.

    I suspect GMGM fundamentally views this situation from the opposite end of the telescope than you. The natural peak of this group, if we can use such a term, is roughly three years away. It’s irresponsible to look at this squad and decide that you *have* to maximize this year’s chances at the expense of future possibilities.

    Furthermore, the Caps’ problems this season are, as you have noted, structural and fundamental:
    – The emotional core of the team is Ovechkin and Semin, brilliant players who simply do not embody the discipline and sacrifice necessary for playoff success.
    – The team’s most natural leader, Carlson, is a rookie and in no position to actually lead.
    – The veterans on board are good soldiers but do not bring to the table what Federov brought as a character exemplar.
    – Apart from Ovechkin and Semin, the team’s most important talents (Green, Backstrom, Carlson, Alzner, Varlamov, Neuvirth) have an average age of roughly 22.

    I don’t think GMGM *can* make moves that will change this team into a Cup winner this season. Even moving Semin (a concept I wholeheartedly support) is unlikely to bring back a package that solves this situation right away. It’s not just a matter of line 2 center. It’s a matter of all the synergies up and down the roster. He could sack Boudreau in the hope of bringing discipline in at the coaching level, but that is a risky move at this stage that could backfire badly and may not be able to deliver the needed culture change in the short time span available.

    None of the above is to suggest that GMGM is *right*, per se, if he wants to stand pat. But I think the problem is much more difficult than “everybody else has improved, why can’t we push hard right now?” The crossroads this team has reached is not one, IMO, where the correct choice leads to a cup this year. The wrong moves could kill the potential dynasty, and the right moves are going to be hard to pull off.

  5. McKinley2 says:

    Just trying to figure out which #2 center from last year (Morrison? Belanger?) is missing this year that you are attributing as the reason for the PP drop-off. Can’t disagree that the team could use an upgrade over MP (I’m fine with MoJo) but the first unit players were and are the driving force behind the success of the PP. They just haven’t all been able to stay healthy or get it out of neutral this year.

  6. Mike says:

    Why are the 3 goalies untradeable?

    We have 3 NHL Caliber Goaltenders. 1 NHL Caliber Center.

    What are we going to do, platoon 3 goalies to a Stanley Cup. The Flyers put in a new scrub every year and have success. They don’t believe in even having 1 good goalie. Yet, we won’t trade any of our 3.

    McPhee is terrified to truly take a risk, and make a big move. He loves this little low-risk, low-reward type deals.

    Prepare to be underwhelmed today.

  7. Dave says:

    Stunned Duck’s sober analysis is correct. And I’m surprised to find someone who views the situation almost exactly as I do. Bravo, sir. (Negative points for the use of the word synergies, though.)

  8. Philip Schneider says:

    The 3 goalies are untradeable right now because we don’t know yet which one will be our long term solution. Just look at what the Leafs did a few years back with Rask and Pogge. They thought that Pogge was the answer and ended up dealing one of the best young goalies in the league. We cannot let that happen to us. Having said that, I do think that we’re getting to the point where we can say that Varly is above average (how much is another story) as he is closing in on facing enough shots to where his real long term save% WILL indicate his true talent, but of course with Varly, he is always hurt. So hard to trade Nieuvy when your #1 can’t stay on the ice.

    Anyway, good discussion here of what we might/should do. I love the Sturm pickup for nothing. That’s a great move by GMGM. Let’s hope there are more like that coming. And let’s hope Shero is off drunk somewhere today.

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