From Alzner to Varlamov, we took a look at and graded the 2009-10 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2010-11. Now that we've covered the players and the coach, it's time to take a look at the architect of the team: General Manager George McPhee.
General Manager / Washington Capitals
July 2, 1958
In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
[Since a coach's season is hard to quantify beyond a team's regular season numbers and projections about prospects and draft choices, we figured we'd have a roundtable discussion on what McPhee did well and what he may not have done so well. Feel free to weigh in on any of these points in the comments.]
J.P.: Alright, let's wrap our raps with the master architect of this year's team, General Manager of the Year finalist George McPhee. Simple question with probably a not-so-simple answer: from a personnel perspective, were the pieces there for the Capitals to achieve their ultimate goal this past season?
David M. Getz: I certainly think so. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the Capitals were the archetypal Stanley Cup team, that they didn't have holes, or that they should be happy enough with their personnel that they don't make changes this offseason, but I do think they had the talent to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
J.P.: Agreed. And the depth of the organization is simply astounding - count the number of guys who were called up from Hershey during the season without the team missing a beat. Granted, they were largely lower-line guys, but the fact that there are plenty of players with recent Caps experience still playing hockey on June 11 is quite impressive.
That said, you'd have liked another quality blueliner to have been added to the mix, and a better second-line center option, but it wasn't for a lack of trying that those holes persisted - McPhee gambled and ultimately lost on Joe Corvo, Brendan Morrison and Eric Belanger. Given the market realities surrounding each of those acquisitions, one wonders how much more GMGM could have done.
BeccaH: Agreed. The team has a good blend of skill and grit, experience and youth; there are holes for sure and there are areas that should be addressed over the summer, but that’s true of even teams that go on to win the Cup.
And really, all you have to do is look at the team that ended up winning it all – the Hawks are not built all that differently than the Caps. Maybe they have a bit more depth at center, maybe we have the better forwards overall. Their defense might be a bit tighter, our goalies were probably a bit better (especially when taking both into consideration). But I really see a lot of similarities between the two teams, which tells me that the team McPhee’s built is capable of achieving the same thing.
J.P.: Actually, I'd quibble with one point there - experience, especially as it pertains to the blueline. We thought it was a problem a year ago, and that seemed to play out this season. When Tom Poti (who's not exactly Chris Pronger when it comes to experienced, veteran leadership) went down, the Caps were left to turn to... Shaone Morrisonn? It would be nice to get a been-there-done-that guy for the Top-6 going forward, especially with a quartet of young blueliners in need of some mentoring.
BeccaH: Well, I’d say the mix of youth and experience was a more general thing. Obviously I’d like to have added a Fedorov-type figure to the blue line but I’m not sure someone like that was available at the time; it’s definitely an area to look at this summer, when more options might be open to the Caps. In other areas, though, McPhee really did seem to be trying to get guys with experience, veteran guys with leadership ability like Knuble and Morrison. That’s the mix that I liked.
J.P.: No doubt.
Obviously it's hard to talk about the team GMGM put together and focus the discussion on what he's done in the past twelve months, but let's try anyway. First, give me McPhee's best move of the past year (and everyone has to pick something different).
Tuvanhillbilly: Hmm. I'd say that getting Nylander to Grand Rapids was cause for much joy and celebration.
I know everyone is going to say Knuble so I went with something else.
BeccaH: Mike Knuble was by far the best move of the past year – it directly addressed what was a huge issue for the Caps over the last two years, the lack of guys willing to pay the price to score the goal. We have plenty of guys who can shoot and pass and make plays out of nothing and really put on a show; but when those plays don’t end up in the back of the net, you need someone picking up the trash and Knuble was that guy. He was exactly who I hoped we’d get over the summer, and McPhee made it happen (at a pretty decent price, too).
Besides that net presence, he’s also just a great leader and a great voice in the locker room - and I really see him as being someone guys looked up to, especially players made in the same mold like Fehr and Laich. He almost felt like the team’s conscience this year, as strange as that may sound. He was this very calm guy who at 38 routinely put his body in the line of fire for the good of the team. And he wasn’t shy about calling out his young teammates when they screwed up, either, even his captain.
DMG: I love the Knuble signing, but if I have to pick one move that trumps the others (especially if the Knuble signing is off the table), I'll go with Backstrom's extension. Mean Lars is one of the ten best forwards in the league, and should continue to be for a long time. But I really like it not just from a talent perspective, but from an asset management standpoint as well.
It's hard for me to imagine a team winning the Cup with a few marquee players and, obviously, marquee players are hard to come by, by virtue of the fact that they're...well, marquee players. If an asset's both rare and essential to your success, you want to make sure you have it, and by locking Backstrom up (and obviously with Ovechkin under contract until 2021), the Caps have established their long-term core, and are in a position to make changes to the supporting cast and the team's needs change.
J.P.: I'll go a little out-of-the-box here and go with having the cajones to call-up John Carlson and run with him, despite the fact that by doing so, he started the clock on Carly's free agency a little sooner than he might otherwise have. Having Carlson in the lineup gave the Caps the best chance to win in the present at the expense of the future, and it was a symbolic move if nothing else (and it turned out to be a lot more than that) that the can won't be kicked down the road any longer - that the time to go for it is now.
On the flip side of that coin, GMGM's worst move of the past year (same rules - everyone's gotta pick something different).
DMG: Worst move? I'd have to say the acquisition of Joe Corvo, as much for the price as for the asset. It's not that Corvo was bad, per se, but he was mediocre and played with a lot more temerity than I would have expected out of a guy a team looking for a deep playoff run picked up at the deadline. I do think he was better than Pothier, but I'm not sure he was enough of an improvement to warrant moving Osala and a second round pick, assets that probably could have been parlayed into something useful this summer.
BeccaH: Aside from the Corvo trade, I’m not sure there were any moves I would term "worst". The other trade deadline acquisitions didn’t necessarily pan out the way we hoped, but neither did the season – and while we have the benefit of hindsight, at the time they didn’t seem so bad.
So in that case I’d say that McPhee’s worst move was one he didn’t make: not bringing Karl Alzner up more often, particularly before the playoffs. Tyler Sloan played 40 games this season and John Erskine played 50; Alzner played 21. Both of them bring certain skills and advantages but nine times out of ten I’d still say Alzner is an upgrade on either of them. And while I get the benefits when it comes to the salary cap and I understand the desire to not rush him into the League (particularly when he struggled at times while with the team), I’m not wholly convinced that it wasn’t in Alzner’s best interest – and the team’s - to get him more playing time with the Caps.
J.P.: I'll go with the Sloan extension. Not terribly costly and certainly manageable, but I don't really understand the timing or the commitment to a guy who's simply not a good NHL hockey player.
Lastly, what does GMGM need to do this offseason to better-prepare his team for 2010-11?
DMG: Well, I think the biggest needs are obviously positional: there's a huge hole at second line center that needs to be addressed one way or another. The ideal solution would probably be Patrick Sharp: he can play center, but he can also play the wing if it turns out Marcus Johansson is actually ready to play in the NHL, his cap hit's a manageable $3.9 million, his contract's up at the end of the 2011-12 season, and there's reason to think Chicago will shed salary this offseason.
I think the defense corps could still stand to be shored up, although I'm more in favor of searching for a top four guy the market overlooks (think Derek Morris or Dennis Seidenberg last year), or a reasonably priced veteran with an expiring contract. I'd be hesitant to agree to any decently sized contract longer than a year and almost certainly avoid anyone who wants more than two, given the high expectations for Carlson and Alzner.
Beyond that, I think there needs to be a slight change in approach. Specifically, the Capitals need more guys they can count on to provide value game in and game out. That means fewer guys like Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison, whose offensive skills are decent, but are inconsistent and who don't bring much when they're not scoring, and more guys like Matt Bradley and , who hit the opposition and make them work hard every shift. It means getting guys like Tyler Sloan and John Erskine where they ought to be on the depth chart: in a reserve role.
I don't know if the guys to do that are in Hershey, or if they'll have to come from outside the organization, but I am confident the Capitals need guys who are going to make life difficult for their opponents on every shift.
J.P.: Well damn. Couldn't have said it better myself, so I won't. Let's turn it over to the readers, shall we?
The Vote: Rate McPhee below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance for the season - if he was perfect, give him a 10; if he was average, give him a 5 or a 6; if he was terrible, give him a 1. Note: This is a different rating system than our normal "relative to expectations" system.
The Discussion: What do you want to see McPhee do this offseason to get the Capitals better prepared to challenge for the Stanley Cup next year? If the Caps see another early-spring exit in 2011, will (or should) McPhee's job be in jeopardy? What would it take for him to earn a 10 next season?