Washington Capitals GM George McPhee set off a bit of a firestorm in social media this afternoon after a seemingly innocuous comment inflamed a fan base desperate for confirmation of activity to improve the team.
In a press conference intended to update the media on the state of the Caps free agent activity, which there’s been precious little of other than signing depth forward Joey Crabb, McPhee stated that he liked the team ‘as is’ and stated — rather emphatically — that the Caps were not going to wade into the uncertain waters of the free agent pool.
“I don’t expect to do anything here. I don’t see a whole lot out there. We’ve explored a lot of things. We didn’t expect to do a lot in free agency. And we haven’t.”
McPhee cited plenty of reasons for his opinion, including the lack of top-quality talent available, the nature of overspending during the early July period known in the industry as “Free Agent Frenzy,” and the lack of value in an unstable market, especially with the possibility of a work stoppage on the very near horizon.
Specifically asked about some of the contracts being doled out in the last few days, and in regards to the very few big-ticket players still available, McPhee made no secret what the Capitals plans are in regards to roster construction.
“Everybody wants to do something, but you’ve gotta be careful, because we all know what it’s like to feel like you’ve got to do something, you do something, then at the end of training camp or the end of October, you’re looking at the guy and saying, ‘Why did we do that?’ Better to be nimble and flexible, and we are right now. We’re not going to commit to anything that doesn’t make sense to us.”
When prompted on the fact the team seems to have quite a bit of flexibility with the salary cap, McPhee responded, “It’s $20 million of space this year, but what’s it look like in the future and how long are you committing to? Do you want 15-year deals, 10-year deals on the books? That’s not a direction we want to go in right now.”
It’s obvious the potential work stoppage and new CBA is playing into the organization’s way of approaching roster construction. But try telling that to an angst-ridden and downright jumpy fan base.
Last week, when McPhee traded Cody Eakin and a second round pick for Mike Ribeiro, the long-coveted second line center, McPhee was a genius. Fans heralded the move as almost akin to actually getting blood out of a turnip, or turning water into wine. Today? Those same fans turned on him, taking his words that indicated comfort in the players that he’s already put together and twisting them into some sort of referendum on his inadequacies as an executive.
McPhee might have been a little too casual when he said he liked the team “as is” and “we’re in pretty good shape here.” He was obviously speaking with just a handful of reporters in the middle of summer at the team’s practice facility at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Maybe he forgot just for a moment that there’s a large, opinionated and educated fan base hanging on every word that comes out of that building. But the bottom line is: He’s correct.
This team is in pretty good shape. It’s not perfect. But it will be returning the nucleus of a squad that was one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals. It could use a dynamic scoring winger (but apparently not one named Semin), but what team couldn’t? It could use a quality stay-at-home defenseman to add quality depth at the blue line, not just another warm body.
But these things don’t necessarily need to be acquired before the Fourth of July. There’s plenty of time before camp, or the start of the season, or the trading deadline to assess both the team’s needs and the market, That is, assuming a work stoppage doesn’t wash any of those dates out. But that’s hard to explain to a fan base impatient for the first Stanley Cup winning season in franchise history. McPhee wants that too, but he has to take more into consideration than the wailings of an overanxious fan base.
“You can survive the loss of a player but it’s hard to survive bad contracts,” McPhee said. “Sometimes you can do something at this time of year that handcuffs you for years. We haven’t done that we’re not interested in doing that.”
McPhee’s right. This free agent pool is crappy. P.A. Parenteau and Jiri Hudler both got four-year deals for $4 million per year. Honestly, the Caps have better players that them already on the roster — for much less money — if they are utilized properly.
No one knows what the Caps needs are better than George McPhee. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll address them in the proper manner under terms he, and the organization, are comfortable with. That might not play well with a jumpy fan base, but what are you going to do? Root for whoever signs Zach Parise?
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.