3 Reasons the Washington Capitals Will Never Win the Cup Under George McPhee
George McPhee has been the GM of the Washington Capitals since 1997. In his first year on the job, he got the Caps to the promised land, as he helped guide the club to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance.
For several years, the man known to Caps fans as GMGM seemingly had the Midas touch. He brought the Caps through some of the darkest times in the history of the franchise and made them relevant again.
He saw the Caps through the fire sale of 2003-2004 and the Caps emerged from that a much stronger franchise.
He drafted star players like Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green, all of whom helped transform the Caps into one of the true powers of the Eastern Conference.
He has made some recent draft selections which should set the Caps up for the future, such as drafting Evgeny Kuznetsov and Fillip Forsberg.
Yet for all his good work, GMGM has failed to deliver the Stanley Cup to a city and fanbase that has been desperate to hoist the Cup for 39 years now.
What is worse is that McPhee has not been able to get the Caps even back to the Eastern Conference finals since that great run in 1998. In fact, under McPhee's watch, the Caps have endured a string of playoff collapses that is eerily reminiscent of the playoff disasters that haunted this team throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Three of the past four seasons, the Caps have reached the Eastern Conference semifinals and they have yet to break through. They were the No. 1 seed in the East twice and still could not prevail. The loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs ranks very high on many lists of the biggest playoff upsets in NHL history.
For all the great things GMGM has done for the Caps over the years, the fact remains that the Caps have never won the Stanley Cup under George McPhee, and it is time to accept a sobering reality.
The Washington Capitals will never win the Stanley Cup with George McPhee as the GM.
Here are three reasons why.
When It's Broke He Can't Fix It
A big reason the Caps will never win the Stanley Cup under George McPhee is because when adjustments, acquisitions or personnel have needed to be added in order for the Caps to get to the next level, McPhee has not been able to solve the puzzle.
One area where GMGM has been less than stellar is in the area of free agency. The best you can say about McPhee's track record here is that he has been so-so.
A good article looking at this issue appeared on Japers' Rink a few years ago. When you review the list of free agents GMGM has signed over the years, it is hard to find a name that really stands out as being a solid signing that yielded any true dividends.
Sure, there have been some good players signed by GMGM through the years. Robert Lang comes to mind. Ulf Dahlen was very effective as well. Tom Poti is still with the Caps. Dave Steckel played a key role for the Caps for a period of time. Troy Brouwer is one of the best players on the Caps this year. Joel Ward has been having a solid year as well.
But then you look at the signings that did not pan out quite so well. Players like Dmitri Mironov, Andrew Cassels, Donald Brashear and the oft-injured Michael Nylander, just to name a few. They were all decent enough players. But none of them could get the Caps to the next level—and this was when a younger Alexander Ovechkin was lighting the NHL on fire.
McPhee's track record with goalies and free agency is not good at all. Take Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun for example. Theodore was replaced twice, in consecutive seasons—in the middle of a playoff series no less—by Semyon Varlamov. Vokoun never even played in a playoff game for the Caps, as he sustained what amounted to a season-ending injury near the end of the 2011-2012 regular season.
This past offseason, with players like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter available, McPhee did next to nothing in free agency. With the Caps coming so close to getting back to the Eastern Conference finals a season ago, McPhee's inaction was very puzzling indeed. Would a player like Parise or Suter have made a difference even in a shortened season? I think it is safe to assume they would have.
But it's more than just free agency as far as why the Caps will never hoist the Cup with GMGM at the helm. It's the moves he makes—or in many cases does not make—when the trade deadline approaches that are a concern.
In 2008, McPhee made some great moves that helped the Caps get back to the playoffs (NHL.com). Obtaining Sergei Fedorov and Cristobal Huet were strokes of genius that helped the Caps go on a tear at the end of the season and capture the first of four consecutive Southeast Division crowns.
But then look at what McPhee did at the trade deadline in 2010. The Caps were on top of the world at the time and were en route to the Presidents' Trophy. But McPhee made moves for Scott Walker, Eric Belanger and Joe Corvo. All of them were good, solid players. Walker was supposed to add some toughness. Belanger was a faceoff expert. Corvo would add some depth to the defense.
But none of it worked as expected. The addition of these players did not change the fact that the Caps, as a team, did not have the experience and leadership necessary to excel in the playoffs and they suffered a historic upset loss to the No. 8-seeded Montreal Canadiens.
The next season, GMGM tried to remedy these issues at the trade deadline, as he acquired Jason Arnott—who had won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2000—and Dennis Wideman. Again, Arnott and Wideman were good, solid players who looked like they could be the answer and help the Caps get to the next level.
They couldn't. The Caps did win their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers in five games but were then embarrassed and swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference semifinals.
Last season, with the Caps fighting for their playoff lives, McPhee did nothing at the trade deadline. It was almost as though he had the attitude that if the Caps were not going to be a top seed, then it made no sense to try and make them better.
It has to make any Caps fan very nervous as to what, if anything, GMGM will do with this season slipping away.
Thus, one of the big reasons why the Caps will never win the Stanley Cup under George McPhee is that he just does not seem to be able to pull the right strings to help the Caps truly succeed. He has had good intentions, but good intentions will only get you so far.
It is results that matter and, so far, McPhee's results have not been too good.
Too Much Reliance on Alexander Ovechkin
If you watched the Caps' disappointing 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night, then you already know there are some serious issues with Alexander Ovechkin.
His effort against the Flyers was atrocious—and that might be a bit kind. It was so bad that NBC Sports analyst Mike Milbury absolutely ripped Ovi for his lack of effort in a way that I have never heard anyone speak of the Great 8 before.
Just watch the video. You will hear things like an "awful display of hockey" or "eight-year-olds don't do this" or "no fight in this guy" or "get up and act like a man for God's sake."
Go back in time a few years—can you possibly imagine you would ever hear such things said about a two-time winner of the Hart Memorial trophy and a man widely regarded, not so long ago, as the best player in the world?
Is this the same guy who during the 2007-2008 season led the league in goals and points and captured the Art Ross, Rocket Richard, Lester B. Pearson and Hart Memorial Trophies, the first player in history to win all four major awards in one season?
George McPhee apparently thinks so, and this is the second reason why the Caps will never win the Stanley Cup under McPhee. He just relies on Alexander Ovechkin too much.
When Ovi was setting scoring records and dominating the NHL, some criticism was leveled at GMGM for not putting the right players in place to surround Ovi with the type of talent he needed to win the Cup.
But now, you have to wonder if McPhee is just holding onto the past and expecting the Ovi of old to suddenly reappear and start dominating the NHL again. All of the evidence, however, suggests that just might never happen.
The fact of the matter is that since Ovi hit a a career-high 65 goals during the 2007-2008 season, his goal total has gone down every season up through the 2011-2012 campaign. Even then, Ovi only scored 38 goals, quite a bit below the standards Ovechkin set for himself many years earlier in his career.
McPhee needs to recognize this reality and build a team that is not so focused or reliant on Ovechkin. Instead of building a team around Ovechkin, McPhee needs to build a team that recognizes the fact that the Great 8 is not so great anymore. He is still a very good player and, when he wants to be, can still be a dominant force.
But like another Alex who recently left Washington, lately, Ovi only seems to want to play half the time—and that is just not nearly enough for the Caps to compete any longer.
Until the day that George McPhee decides to try and build a truly balanced team—with Alexander Ovechkin as a greater part of the whole as opposed to being the whole team—then the Capitals will not win the Stanley Cup.
He Won't Help the Caps Find Their Identity
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.
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.