Another key reason why the Caps wont win the Cup with George McPhee at the helm is that he is not helping the team find its identity.
I have said many times that ever since the Caps lost the 2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Montreal Canadiens, they have suffered an identity crisis.
Simply put, the team does not know the style of hockey it is supposed to be playing and this uncertainty has had a profound effect on the team and its chances for success.
Think back to that 2009-2010 team. That team finished with 121 points and became the first non-Original Six team to crack the 120-point mark. They led the NHL in goals with 318. Defense was an afterthought for that team. They were more than content to just outscore the opposition as opposed to playing any defense. Most of the time, the thought of playing defense seemed just downright annoying.
But in that playoff disaster against the Habs, when the goal-scoring well ran dry, the Caps did not know how to get down and dirty and do what had to be done to win that series. They suffered an inexcusable upset of mammoth proportions.
What did GMGM do in the aftermath of such an epic fail? Not much, actually. He seemingly just punted the ball to Bruce Boudreau to figure out what to do. Boudreau and the Caps struggled to find their identity. Boudreau knew his team could not just overpower the opposition and hope to win the Stanley Cup.
But at the same time, Boudreau never could quite figure it out. In 2010-2011, the Caps again grabbed the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and, this time around, the Caps would win their opening-round playoff series against the New York Rangers before finally suffering a demoralizing sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But the Caps struggled to find the scoring touch from the previous season, as they finished with 14 points fewer than the prior season. They scored 94 goals less than the previous season. They did give up 36 fewer goals, but the team never seemed to really hit its stride as it had done in 2009-2010.
McPhee then helped to further exacerbate the Caps' identity issues when he fired Bruce Boudreau early into the 2011-2012 season. The Caps started strong with a 7-0-0 record, but then things went south and the team began to struggle. There were benchings of star players like Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. McPhee fired Boudreau on Nov. 28 and brought in former Caps captain and star Dale Hunter to be the new coach.
Hunter's defense-first mentality was a huge shift in philosophy for the Caps, and they struggled mightily with it. The team continued to falter as the regular season progressed. The Caps actually gave up 32 goals more than the previous season and they did not win the Southeast Division championship for the first time in five years.
Hunter's system, though, would pay off in the playoffs, as the Caps learned how to play playoff hockey. The Caps upset the defending champion Boston Bruins and then almost pulled off the same feat against the top-seeded New York Rangers.
But McPhee could not persuade Hunter to return to the Caps and build on this success (Washington Post). Instead, McPhee hired another former Caps great in Adam Oates to be the coach (ESPN).
It's not that Oates was or is a bad hire. But the issue is that Oates was brought in to try and bridge the gap between the playing styles of Boudreau and Hunter. It is as though McPhee wants the Caps to be a hybrid, figuring that if they are, then the team will achieve the balance necessary to succeed in the regular season and in the playoffs.
The problem, however, is that the Caps are now trying to learn their third system in less than two years—with a long lockout wedged in the middle. This shortened season is a good example of how the Caps just don't know who they are supposed to be.
They could not score goals earlier in the season. The Caps did not score more than three goals in a game for their first 11 games. Their defense and goaltending were terrible as they yielded at least three goals in nine of those first 11 games. Instead of being balanced, the Caps were just awful on both sides of the puck.
Yes, things have improved over the past nine games and the Caps have gone 6-3-0 to give the team some hope for the playoffs. But what sort of team will the Caps be in the playoffs and what sort of style will they try and employ?
Once again, the Caps will have to make a significant adjustment to their style of play once the playoffs start, and it is going to be very difficult for the Caps to succeed against the best teams in the Eastern Conference like that.
Until George McPhee actually helps the Caps discover what sort of team they are supposed to be, the Caps will not be able to win the Stanley Cup.