Tag Archives: George McPhee

George McPhee, Capitals Must Trade For Second Line Center This Summer

The second-line center position has been the proverbial white whale for the Washington Capitals since Sergei Fedorov left at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season. Since then, the Caps have seen Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Tomas Fleischmann, Jason Arnott, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson try and ultimately fail to provide a long-term solution behind Nicklas Backstrom.

With the Caps holding two picks in the first round of the NHL Draft Friday, free agency looming July 1 and the hopeful long-term fix – Evgeny Kuznetsov – not available for at least two years, the aforementioned white whale has transformed into the elephant in the room: Washington will go another season without a second-line center if they do not trade for one.

Despite having the 11th and 16th overall selections in this weekend’s draft, it is unlikely that either of them will make an impact in Washington for at least two seasons. Meanwhile, the depth of unrestricted free agent centers this summer is incredibly shallow. Phoenix Coyotes center Daymond Langkow ($4.5 million salary cap hit last season) saw time at second-line center last season, but he was pushed down to the fourth line after the team acquired Antoine Vermette from the Columbus Blue Jackets; Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll ($3.6 million) is a solid third-line center that can adequately fill in at 2C, but quite frankly, after winning the Stanley Cup this season, re-signing is the likeliest option.

Calgary Flames center Olli Jokinen ($3 million) is inconsistent at best and is certainly not the scorer that he used to be, while Buffalo Sabres center Jochen Hecht ($3.525 million) is recovering from a concussion. Coincidentally, it looks like Arnott may actually be the best available free agent option at center, which, after a injury-plagued season with the St. Louis Blues, is saying something.

Making a trade is necessary and it should be one that removes General Manager George McPhee from his comfort zone. There might not be a more thrifty general manager in the NHL than McPhee, who has the uncanny ability to turn nothing into something (after all, he acquired Fedorov for Theo Ruth). Yet, if McPhee wants to dramatically improve his club by finally filling a huge hole, he must make a big splash.

The most valuable pieces to do just that are both first-round draft picks and Mike Green’s negotiating rights. Trading away Green, a restricted free agent, might be a risky move because of what looks to be the inevitable departure of Dennis Wideman, but the Caps have puck-moving defensemen in John Carlson, already on the top pairing with Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov, who could step into a larger role (not to mention that there is a shortage of quality unrestricted free agent offensive defensemen). Any combination of the draft picks and Green’s right could fetch the elusive second line center that has disconfigured Washington’s depth chart for three years.

When asked June 14 what he felt were the Caps’ biggest needs, McPhee did not budge, saying that “if I tell you that, then that’s all we’re gonna hear about for the next two months.” Perhaps McPhee had a point, but if he does not make an effort to rip the band-aid off the second-line center position and continues to look for the short-term fix, he is going to be hearing about it for a lot longer than that.



Filed under Capitals, NHL, NHL Draft, Opinion

George McPhee, Capitals Taking Time Hiring New Head Coach

It has been exactly one month since Dale Hunter stepped down as Washington Capitals head coach and the team – just one of two with a head coaching vacancy – is still looking for the right person to fill that position.

Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, General Manager George McPhee provided an update on the search.

“It’s going great,” McPhee said. “It really is. It’s been a real enjoyable process. It’s a fun process doing it in the summer. Obviously, if you have to do something midseason, it’s much more difficult. There are fewer people available to talk to, so there’s some real limitations and some time constraints. When you do it in the summer, it becomes a real thoughtful process, real comprehensive. You can talk to a lot of people and come up with a plan on how you’re going to do it. We’ve enjoyed it. There’s some terrific people out there.”

“There’s some real good candidates and we like where we are in the process,” McPhee continued. “We like how it’s gone so far. We’ll just keep working away until we’re comfortable making that final decision.”

That decision, according to McPhee, will likely not be made before the NHL Draft, which begins June 22, but the list has been “narrowed down a little bit.”

McPhee added that the Caps are “not necessarily” looking for a coach with previous NHL experience either as a head coach, associate head coach or assistant coach (all four of McPhee’s coaching hires – Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau and Hunter – did not have NHL head coaching experience upon their respective arrivals in Washington).

“We’re wide open,” McPhee said. “There are really some terrific people. Without getting into names, there are veteran people that have been terrific, there have been young people that have been terrific. We’ll let you know when we get there.”

Reported candidates included Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice, while New Jersey Devils assistant coach Adam Oates, Los Angeles Kings assistant coach John Stevens and Norfolk Admirals head coach Jon Cooper have also gained steam as potential replacements,

Two other possible candidates are already members of the Washington organization: assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jim Johnson. Yet, McPhee said Thursday that he does not believe that either of them will return next season.

While McPhee was characteristically tight-lipped Thursday, he did reveal what kind of style that he would like the Caps to play next season. McPhee was impressed with the compete level that Hunter instilled and wants that to continue along with the defensively-responsible style of play, but wants to speed things up as well.

“I think the whole league is obviously trending towards an uptempo style of play,” McPhee said. “Everyone wants to do that. It’s not necessarily the style of play that’s most important. If you’re the coach, you’ve gotta sell this to the players and have them buy in. That’s what works, if you can get everybody to buy in.”

“We really liked the way that the team competed,” McPhee continued. “That was something that we were trying to get to – to have them compete like that – and they were terrific. They played their guts out. We want to maintain that kind of commitment and play a little more uptempo. It’s the compete we want.”

McPhee has hired four coaches since becoming General Manager, but it has been 10 years since he hired one during the summer (Hanlon, Boudreau and Hunter were all hired midseason). Now that he has that luxury, he plans on taking his time.

“There’s no need to set an artificial deadline to have it done before the draft or have it done by [development] camp,” McPhee said. “The Devils hired a guy in [mid-July] last year and they end up in the finals. I think in terms of housekeeping, some people like to get it done before the draft, but I just don’t think it’s that important. What’s important is hiring the right person and really being able to come to your team with a terrific coach and knowing that you’ve really done a real comprehensive job in the summer talking to these people.”

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Missing Postseason Will Help Capitals’ Future

For the better part of three years, there has been one mantra that has been attached to the Washington Capitals: their season will be judged on postseason success. That is what happens when a team runs roughshod over seven months of the regular season before losing it all in a matter of weeks, even days.

This season, however, may be over in that same matter of weeks. After a 5-0 loss to the cellar-dwelling Carolina Hurricanes Monday, the Caps sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, only one point behind the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs and two points behind the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, but only six points ahead of the last place Hurricanes entering Tuesday.

Those odds are definitely surmountable, but frankly, the best thing that could possibly happen to this current Washington team is missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Consider a macro look at this season so far, particularly since late November when Washington dismissed head coach Bruce Boudreau. Since then, the Caps have played 37 games under Dale Hunter and have won consecutive games just three times (for what it is worth, they have not won consecutive games since January 9-13). Yet, it seems that whenever the Caps put on a spirited performance in between forgettable ones – a 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins January 24 or two 3-0 shutout victories over the Montreal Canadiens January 18 and February 4, for example – everything rotten is forgotten. The Caps’ painfully-apparent lack of depth at center without Nicklas Backstrom is not as noticeable and praised for pulling together without its star playmaker; one electrifying, vintage goal from Alex Ovechkin means that he is on his way back to prominence.

None of those things, however, are true. They only stand to temporarily assuage the fears of those optimistic Caps fans with glimmers of hope in their eyes and put a proverbial bandage on the obvious problems surrounding the team: a lack of identity, killer instinct or determination. Making the playoffs would only do the same thing on a much larger scale.

Team owner Ted Leonsis said in July 2011 that the Caps “will make the playoffs…10 to 15 years in a row.” If his words come up empty, however, it might be better for his entire organization. In Leonsis’ 10-point plan to rebuild a franchise, the first point is as follows:

Ask yourself the big question: “Can this team – as constructed – ever win a championship?” If the answer is yes – stay the course and try to find the right formula – if the answer is no, then plan to rebuild. Don’t fake it – really do the analytics and be brutally honest. Once you have your answer, develop the game plan to try to REALLY win a championship. Always run away from experts that say, “We are just one player away.” Recognize there is no easy and fast systemic fix.”

Unfortunately for Leonsis, one of those “experts” resides within his organization.

General Manager George McPhee made it clear February 16 that he does not plan to make moves before Monday’s trade deadline until he knows where Backstrom stands in his recovery from a concussion suffered January 3. While a decision to stand pat at the deadline could be the best possible decision – acquiring a rental while possibly mortgaging the future would be just another temporary fix – McPhee believes that the return of Backstrom will suddenly alleviate any problems. It would certainly help, but then again, Backstrom’s return would just hide the inadequacy of the centers below him again.

McPhee has been the general manager since 1997, meaning that he is largely responsible for cultivating the “country club atmosphere” that finally forced Boudreau to inject some semblance of accountability into a team that had and continues to have none. That lack of accountability is not solely on the players; for example, Ovechkin would not have a “rock star” attitude if he was not treated like one within the organization and staunchly defended at every turn. Hunter will surely absorb much of the blame for a lost season, but he is nothing more than a scapegoat. He simply inherited a team that has transformed from “The Greatest Show On Ice” to a mere sideshow.

When Leonsis and McPhee’s attempt to win with high-priced talent 10 years ago failed, they held a fire sale to scorch the roster in order to start a youth movement. Ten years later, that same youth movement has become the high-priced talent. For a team that was selected by many to win the Stanley Cup not only this year, but in years previous, a season ending in early April as opposed to the customary late April/early May would require swift and immediate action, but not only to the roster this time.

This problem has seeped its way all the way up to the front office and an extra month to start the cleansing process will ultimately help Washington.

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The End Of Development Camp Is Anything But For Capitals Fans

(All photos by Cheryl Nichols/Caps News Network)

By Adam Vingan

Red-clad fans filled the stands and many others stood alongside the boards to get a closer look at the players skating on the ice. Music blared during warm-ups and the atmosphere was definitely electric. As the start of the game neared, the public address announcer did his best to whip the Washington Capitals fans in attendance into a frenzy.

The preceding description sounds like a regular season game at Verizon Center, but it was actually for a somewhat meaningless scrimmage in the middle of summer. The only thing missing was a light show.

On an unseasonably cool July day in Arlington, Virginia, it made sense that people wanted to spend it outside. Yet, the reason why what seemed like thousands of people were standing outside Kettler Capitals Iceplex Saturday morning was to go stand inside a freezing ice rink. The last day of the Washington Capitals’ Prospect Development Camp was the last chance for most people to see organized hockey for the next six weeks, so they came in droves. At 8 a.m., the line to enter Kettler for the team’s annual equipment sale stretched from one end of the parking deck to the other. By the start of the final scrimmage at 10 a.m., those same fans were packed in tight, which caught the participating prospects off guard.

“When we were walking on the ice for warm-ups, I was just like, ‘Whoa,'” prospect Travis Boyd said. “This is a little summer camp and we got the fans packing in this place, so it was a lot of fun.”

Team Red (Group B) took the best-of-three scrimmage series with Team White (Group A) in a 5-2 victory Saturday that featured six different goal scorers and three fights. If that was not exciting enough, the capacity crowd ate it all up, oohing and aahing at every shot, save, hit and punch. And it was not the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Michal Neuvirth, Brooks Laich or Matt Hendricks (even though he was in the building) that the fans were fawning over. It was over the players that could very well be the future of the franchise.

“The fans here seem great,” goalie prospect Brandon Anderson said. “I’m excited to play here hopefully one day.”

Not only did it catch the eyes of the prospects, but the Caps’ brass as well. Head coach Bruce Boudreau watched intently from up close and seemingly enjoyed the game as much as everyone else, judging by the smile that fans saw from the other side. Coincidentally, Boudreau’s arrival in Washington coincided with the team’s return to rocking the red. He has witnessed the Caps’ resurrection first hand and Saturday’s crowd only confirmed that in his mind.

“The first thing I thought of was, ‘This is totally incredible,'” Boudreau said. “And then the second thing I thought of was anybody that doesn’t think Washington is a hockey town has not been here. I don’t know how many people you can put in here, but they were three deep standing. It made me very proud to be coaching Washington right now.”

With Development Camp over, prospects returning home and players signed and re-signed, the Caps’ front office will finally begin their much-deserved summer vacation. But even though they will leave Washington behind for about a month, the fervent fanbase will continue to support them all year long. It has become customary in these parts.

“This is pretty remarkable,” general manager George McPhee said. “When you’re six to eight people deep in every crevice in the building, it’s pretty neat. Nothing like hockey in July. Especially Caps hockey. It’s pretty cool.”

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Danick Paquette Looks To Make First Impression A Lasting One At Development Camp

(Photo credit: Cheryl Nichols/Caps News Network)

By Adam Vingan

There is no debate regarding whether the Washington Capitals have been buyers or sellers since the 2011 NHL Draft. Within the last three weeks, the Washington Capitals have made several moves and completely overhauled their roster in the process. Between June 24 and July 6, the Caps brought in Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun, while losing Boyd Gordon, Semyon Varlamov, Marco Sturm, Matt Bradley and Jason Arnott.

The latest transaction made by General Manager George McPhee occurred July 8, when he traded forward Eric Fehr to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2012 fourth-round draft pick and prospect Danick Paquette. Unlike the aforementioned additions, Paquette is far from guaranteed a roster spot on the Caps, let alone their farm teams. That is why just three days after being traded to Washington, Paquette arrived at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Monday to take part in Prospect Development Camp.

“It was a strange a little bit, but when I heard it, I was pretty happy to be traded to Washington,” Paquette said Monday. “I didn’t know what to expect about the team, but when I talked to everybody and my family, everyone was happy, so I’m pretty happy.”

Arriving in Washington for camp was just part of a “crazy” weekend for the 20-year-old (he turns 21 July 17) Montreal, Quebec, native. After learning about the trade Friday, he arrived in Washington late Sunday afternoon to join his fellow prospects.

“I got a call from Kevin [Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg GM] and he told me I got traded,” Paquette said. “I asked him where and he said Washington. [McPhee] just called me and gave me all the information and asked me if I could get down and I said, ‘Yes, I want to come here and see everybody and meet the people.'”

While every prospect involved in Development Camp has something to prove, Paquette is at a disadvantage as he is literally brand new. A third-round selection of the Atlanta Thrashers (64th overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft, Paquette scored 13 goals and added seven assists in 59 games for the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators last season. Yet, Paquette made a name for himself during his time with in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Paquette amassed 94 goals and 81 assists in 251 career games with Lewiston and Quebec, but was known for his fists as much as his scoring touch. During his second season with Lewiston (2007-08), Paquette scored 29 goals, but also accumulated 213 PIM. Paquette outdid himself in 2008-09, finishing with 25 goals and 25 assists in 61 games (including eight power play goals and six shorthanded goals), but earned 230 PIM, including a five-game suspension during the playoffs.

“I’m an agitator,” Paquette said. “Sean Avery, a little bit. I can score some goals. I can fight. I can hit everybody. I can do everything I can do on the ice to help my team [and] be a good teammate.”

In his last season in the QMJHL, Paquette finally struck a balance between being aggressive and out of control. He cut down his PIM significantly (230 to 136) and scored a career-best 36 goals and 29 assists in 64 regular season games with 12 coming on the power play and six being game-winning goals. But his reputation as an agitator returned last season with Gwinnett, where he finished seventh in the ECHL with 179 PIM, which also happens to be the highest of any prospect taking part in this year’s camp.

Paquette took to the ice for the first time with Group B Monday afternoon and looked eager to make a good first impression. He possesses deceptive speed and a powerful slap shot, but looked most comfortable along the boards and in front of the net. Paquette seemed right at home when participating in drills that involved scrums along the boards and he came away with the puck on more than one occasion. Paquette, according to Hockey’s Future, “is a perfect example of a player that teams love to have on their own side, but hate to play against.” He is far from one-dimensional and will annoy teams not only with his pest-like behavior, but his knack for finding the back of the net.

Last weekend may have been a whirlwind experience for Paquette, but it pales in comparison to his entire season. Paquette was part of a Thrashers organization that was in limbo throughout most of the season as rumors regarding relocation ran rampant. Paquette did his best to focus on the season at hand, but could not help but wonder about his future.

“You don’t know what’s going on with your career and even where the team’s going,” Paquette said. “You can’t do anything because it’s not in your hands, but in your head, it’s just ‘What’s going on with me?’ It’s crazy.”

But now that he is a member of a Washington franchise that is beginning to establish itself as a perennial Stanley Cup contender, Paquette is excited about the opportunity to play, no matter where he goes.

“It’s a big franchise,” Paquette said. “Everyone knows Ovechkin, so everyone in the world knows the Capitals. It’s a great organization and they take care of the rookies and every guy that gets called up here. Everyone loves it here. It’s a great city, it’s a great time, so I’m pretty happy. With everything that’s going on in Washington, I will not say that they are better than before, but they have more, really good players and everyone wants to come here. For sure, I want to be a part of the Capitals, but if I don’t make it, I want to be a part of the Hershey Bears and a big aspect of this team and hopefully I can come back for the Capitals one day.”

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Joel Ward Looks To Establish Himself As A Washington Capital

By Adam Vingan

Joel Ward is far from being a household name. That’s what happens when you play hockey in a market like Nashville: one that may be growing exponentially, but is still unheralded. In fact, Ward and his former employer have a lot in common. This past postseason, Ward and the Predators put themselves on the map as they advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. And just like the Predators broke through, so did Ward as he led Nashville with seven goals, six assists and 13 points in 12 playoff games.

Ward was able to turn his two-week coming out party into a four-year contract worth $12 million with the Washington Capitals Friday. According to General Manager George McPhee, 16 teams – over half of the NHL – were interested in Ward’s services.

“They were very high on my list,” Ward said in regards to Washington. “One of the teams I’ve actually had a chance to visit the city before and it’s been one of the teams on my list. I like the way they’re made up and with the skill level they have, if I can help on the back end, so to speak, that’s going to be a positive thing. I’m looking forward to it. I always like what the Caps do every season, and I just hope I can kind of come in and help push them over the edge.”

Ward’s story is one of a journeyman who did not play his first full NHL season until he was 28 years old. Ward spent four years at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada -and has since become their most notable hockey alumnus – before joining the Houston Aeros of the AHL. After 11 games with the Minnesota Wild in 2006-07, Ward spent the entire 2007-08 season in Houston before being signed by Nashville as an unrestricted free agent.

During his first season in the “Music City,” Ward made plenty of noise, scoring a career-high 17 goals. His production has wavered since then (13 goals in 2009-10, 10 in 2010-11), but his presence was definitely felt. Think of Ward as a poor man’s Tim Thomas. Thomas did not crack the Boston Bruins’ lineup full-time until he was 31 years old. And most hockey fans know how Thomas’ career has ended up so far.

While it may a stretch to continue comparing Ward’s career to Thomas’, the former, much like the latter, became relevant in the postseason. McPhee said Friday that he would rather have a player like Ward who “gets 10 or 15 [goals] in the regular season, but delivers in the playoffs than someone who gets 25 and doesn’t.” And Ward, who has nine goals in 18 career playoff games, relishes that opportunity.

“I love playoff hockey,” Ward said. “It’s such a fun time of the year. Anytime knowing you’re going to make the playoffs every year and being consistent at it and have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, it’s always a good feeling, and that was one of the things I was looking forward to and one of the reasons I signed with Nashville. Again, I think everyone thrives on it. You want to try hoist the Stanley Cup, and that’s what I’m going to try to do and hopefully bring that to D.C.”

Much like Matt Bradley before him, the less you hear about Ward, the better he is playing. Ward’s not flashy; he is an industrious player with a never-quit work ethic. As he said himself, Ward will “play in all different areas of the game, five on five, four on four, whatever the case may be, killing penalties, blocking shots or power play.” He just “[wants] to be on the ice and help my team win.” There is not much more a team or a fanbase can ask for.

Ward’s penchant for playing his best when the lights are brightest (along with his grit) will only help Washington get over the proverbial hump. Last season, Ward led Nashville over their hump – the first round – and he will look to do the same for the Caps next season in getting them past the second round for the first time since 1998.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge as I’m sure all the guys are of winning the Stanley Cup,” Ward said. “It’s everyone’s dream, and I just want to contribute and help out and be part of it.”

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Filed under 2011 NHL Free Agency, Capitals, NHL, NHL Offseason, Player Profile

The Hour Of Troy Brouwer

By Adam Vingan

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee made it abundantly clear that he was less than thrilled with the talent pool in this year’s NHL Draft class. As Friday’s first round slowly trudged along and the best available prospects began to disappear, McPhee stuck with his conviction and traded away the Caps’ 26th overall pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Troy Brouwer.

The Caps and Blackhawks did not officially announce the trade until around the 20th pick of the draft, which made it seem like the Caps might actually select a player despite McPhee’s hesitation. Yet, when asked about the trade afterwards, McPhee admitted that it was done before the Edmonton Oilers selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the No. 1 overall pick. Long before, as in earlier this week. McPhee’s response to why he waited so long to announce Brouwer’s acquisition? “Just a little drama, I guess.”

The consummate poker player strikes again.

“Even if this was a better draft, this the kind of guy you would’ve liked to insert into our lineup,” McPhee said to the media. “By 20, 21 all the guys we had interest in were gone, so it played out beautifully for us.”

Indeed it did. Brouwer is the kind of player that the Caps needed: a two-way player that can score (39 goals in his last two seasons with the Blackhawks) as well as he can throw his body around (he was fifth in the NHL with 262 hits last season). He can play with or without the puck and will certainly wreak havoc in front of the opposing team’s net. He can play both wings and knows what it is like to play on the top line, having complimented the finesse of Chicago’s top superstars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

(Editor’s note: not to mention that he is also a FORMER ADMIRAL. I’m sorry. It had to be done)

Brouwer is set to become a restricted free agent next Friday, July 1, but the Caps would not have traded for him if they were not planning to sign him. He just completed a two-year,$2.05 million contract; his current cap hit is $$1,025,000 and it should not get much higher than that.

With Brouwer’s impending arrival, the Caps’ roster is about to shaken up even more so. Brouwer now gives Washington nine free agents to negotiate with that can be considered “regulars.” Matt Bradley’s days as a Cap are now surely numbered and Brouwer might be a “Plan B” if the Caps cannot re-sign Brooks Laich.

Of course, the biggest intangible that Brouwer brings to Washington is Stanley Cup experience; he is now the third current Cap (Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble) to have won a Stanley Cup. But what makes Brouwer different (and possibly better) when it comes to this experience is that his is fresh. Arnott won the Cup in 2000, while Knuble only played in three playoff games for the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98. Brouwer won the Cup a year ago and had four goals and eight points in 19 playoff games. Brouwer knows what it is like to win a Stanley Cup in today’s NHL, which cannot be said about the rest of the Caps’ current roster.

With their general manager not sold on any talent, the Caps decided to get a player that can make an impact now. Instead of selecting a prospect that probably would not have appeared in a game for Washington for at least a year, the Caps got a player that is a year removed from a Stanley Cup.

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