October 19, 2020

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part V: The administration

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying or satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RockTheRed.com.

Part V: Rate the administration (with grade and explanation):

DAVE: D. George McPhee was the architect of some very good hockey teams. He built division winners and President’s Trophy winners. He built teams that fans wanted to come watch, built around a rock star winger and his band of “young guns”. But since the abject failure of getting bounced in the first round by Montreal in 2010, the team and organization have not only been spinning its wheels, but in reality, been going downhill fast.

McPhee traded away picks and prospects for aging spare parts. He missed on some key draft picks. He overvalued players and failed to develop some to what the organization boasted as their top potential.

Through all of this, McPhee assured us — repeatedly — that he liked this team and it was built to challenge for the Stanley Cup. But his teams never made it out of the second round.

This season, we saw a 19-year old literally fighting to get noticed when he should have spent another season in juniors honing his offensive game. We saw a parade of has-beens, never-weres and teenagers on the blueline, as a perennial problem never did get solved. We saw, for the second year in a row, McPhee’s prized offensive trade deadline acquisition sent to NHL’s Siberia, the fourth line centered by Jay Beagle. Things never came together.

Yet, this team, as flawed as it was, almost qualified for the playoffs despite all the problems. One has to wonder if the Caps had been able to sneak in the back door if McPhee’s contract would have been extended.

The only thing that keeps the grade from being an F for this season is how McPhee shed contracts at the trade deadline and left the new guy a whopping $14 million-plus to work with under the cap for next season. It was too little, too late.

Something McPhee said during his exit press conference really struck me. He opened his statements with a story about his first press conference after he was hired, and he walked to the construction site that would become the Verizon Center. As he stood at what would become center ice, he looked around at the shell of the building and thought to himself, “‘Holy smokes, this place is huge.’ And then it dawned on me that I’ve got to fill this place.”

Not, “Holy smokes, how do I win the Cup?’, but “I’ve got to fill this place.” He filled it, but never with what the fans really wanted all along — the Stanley Cup.

Ultimately, and after 17 years at the helm, George McPhee paid for his mistakes with his job.

KATIE: B+/C.  George McPhee’s statement in February that “we only allow shots from the outside” was entirely false and misleading, since it was clear it wasn’t true. Even if they were only allowing shots from the outside, they were still allowing too many shots. Also, he was supposedly quoted as saying that the Capitals would have 10 more points if they had better goaltending, which was also a fallacy.

McPhee built a good team, maybe not a great team, but he should not be held entirely responsible for Oates’ poor decisions this season. He provided Adam Oates with players, and it was up to Oates as the head coach to utilize those players to attain the best possible outcome.

J.J.: C-. After 17 years, people were tired of George McPhee. To be fair, McPhee’s options for improving the roster were limited by Oates. It’s hard to know what kind of players the team needs if the team has no identity.

You also have to McPhee credit for his trade deadline dealings. McPhee cleared a lot of cap space and put the team on better footing for next year without appearing to totally ‘sell’ on the team’s chances this season. Masterfully done.

Having said that, the roster McPhee put together for this season was severely flawed. The team did not have enough options at left wing or on defense and it showed.

McPhee must also take the blame for the obvious disconnect between himself and Oates. They clearly differed in opinion over how to utilize Dustin Penner, Martin Erat and Tom Wilson. McPhee’s efforts to trade Michal Neuvirth were also hampered by Oates’ reluctance to play him in net.

At some point, McPhee needed to sit down with Oates and make known exactly what his expectations for certain players were. Coaches don’t want to be dictated to, but far too often McPhee and Oates were saying two different things to the media and that does not go unnoticed amongst the players.

SKY: A season ago, in 55 games (including playoffs), the Caps had four regulation wins against playoff teams. A season ago, the Caps went 15-3 in the Southeast division to make the playoffs.  A season ago, George McPhee thought Martin Erat was the answer (even though at the time many said, including myself this was a disaster of a trade).

George McPhee continued to over value the talent on the team and the talent that he traded for.  He lost Cody Eakin and Mathieu Perreault (both playing important minutes in the playoffs) for nothing as of now.  He lost Semyon Varlamov (Vezina finalist) for Chris Brown and Michael Latta.  Oh and I don’t even really have to say more by just saying the word defense.

This team has talent, but not the right talent.  They had no identity the last two seasons.  Dale Hunter is the only one who got these guys going in the right direction because he treated everyone the same and played defense first.

This team has cap room, but has everyone besides Grabovski, Penner and Halak under contract for next season.  John Erskine has another year at almost a $2 mil hit.   Only way to fix this team is to bring in a GM who has COMPLETE control and someone not scared to shake things up and bring in a coach who doesn’t put up with anything and isn’t scared to bench a player like Ovechkin.

HARRY: D+. I was happy with the offseason in general because Washington stayed away from handing out big contracts in free agency, but the decision to trade Mathieu Perreault for nothing so that Tom Wilson could play six minutes a night really irked me and still does.

The trade deadline was handled well, with nothing of significant value going out the door in order to set up a hopeful salary dump this summer. But at the end of the day, the failure of management and ownership to recognize that this team is not a contender and has not been for the last three seasons cannot be ignored.

The men in charge are holding on to the past desperately, laboring under the delusion that any team with Alex Ovechkin on it is a contender. The result is a team spinning its wheels in mediocrity because of personnel and coaching decisions. Despite the solid personnel additions of players like Penner and Grabovski, it’s the job of the GM to hire a coach who will use these players well. George McPhee has hired two unsuccessful coaches following his firing of Bruce Boudreau, and it has finally come to a head. It could be worse, but it needs to be better.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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