McPhee's State of the Caps AddressPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Caps general manager George McPhee addressed the media at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on May 14, the day Dale Hunter resigned as Washington’s bench boss. Exactly a month later, McPhee talked to the media at Kettler again on Thursday, discussing a variety of topics for the better part of half an hour. McPhee didn’t say which players the Caps will be targeting next week at the 2012 NHL Draft. He didn’t say who the Caps’ next coach would be or when the hiring would be announced. McPhee also didn’t mention who the team would be targeting in free agency starting July 1. That will disappoint some, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone. So while he didn’t say anything that you can file under “what people want to hear,” he did expand on and give limited insight into a broad range of subjects and topics. I recommend watching the press conference in its entirety on Caps365, but here are some highlights: The team will decide later today – and the deadline is today – whether to take the second-round pick it is due from Colorado in the Semyon Varlamov trade in the 2012 or the 2013 draft. The pick this year is the 54th overall, a choice that originally belonged to Boston. Next year’s pick would be Colorado’s own. The debate is whether it’s better to take the pick now and get the player into the system, or whether it’s better to wait for what could be a higher pick in what could be a better draft. One additional factor: the Caps do not have a second-round pick of their own in the 2012 Draft; they dealt it to New Jersey for Jason Arnott on Feb. 28, 2011. Also, if the Caps were to end up making a deal involving one of their top two picks – the 11th and 16th selections – in the 2012 draft, they might like to have a pick in the second round to help make up for it. “It seems like an easy decision,” says McPhee, “but they’re never easy. Part of the thought process is the pick this year is at 54. If we wait a year, it might be higher. It might not, but it might be higher. Is it worth the wait, or do you just go ahead and pick.” As of now, the Caps expect to exercise their two first-round picks in the 2012 Draft, but McPhee also says that the team is open to discussions in other directions. The Caps dealt last year’s first-round pick to Chicago in a swap that brought winger Troy Brouwer to the District. “Where we were picking,” says McPhee of last year’s draft, “we were concerned with the mock drafts that our scouts were doing that we weren’t going to get a real difference maker at the end of the first round. It didn’t look like a top player would fall to where we were picking. That’s why we made the decision to trade the first pick for Brouwer. I thought it was great example of our amateur department working real well with our pro scouting department. We made a decision that worked real well for us. “This year, we like the draft a lot. We like what we think we can get at 11 and 16.” The league’s general managers start to assemble in Pittsburgh for the draft early next week, and having all of them together in close proximity generally leads to trade talks and in some cases, trades. Last summer, there were 18 trades involving players (not including the annual slew of deals that involve draft picks being traded for draft picks) beginning the day before the draft and leading up to the start of free agency on July 1. “It’s a real busy time for trades and everything else because as we’ve all learned,” begins McPhee, “trades are real difficult to make during the season now. When you’re in a [salary] cap world, it’s just hard to do. We’ve certainly experienced that. What you find is that GMs are far more forthcoming in terms of talking about what they want to do with other clubs [in the off-season]. “It used to be you could call a club and some GMs would say ‘I’m trying to do this or that,’ but most guys would hold things pretty close to the vest because they didn’t want everyone to know what they were doing with their ammunition. But now most teams say, ‘Listen, I’m deep here or there and I’m trying to move this for that.’ Guys are much more open about what they want to do, to get the message out to other clubs because this is the time to deal.” McPhee is still in the process of determining who Washington’s next coach will be. He has enjoyed the interviewing process, and likes being able to take his time and not have an artificial deadline for the hiring. He almost certainly won’t have a coach in place before next week’s draft, and still has no firm timetable for the hiring or the announcement. “It’s going great,” says McPhee of the hiring process. “It really is. It’s been a real enjoyable process. It’s a fun process doing it in the summer. Obviously, if you have to do something mid-season, it’s much more difficult. There are fewer people available to talk to, so there are some real limitations and some time constraints. “When you do it in the summer, it becomes a real thoughtful process, real comprehensive, you can talk to a lot of people and come up with a plan for how you’re going to do it. We’ve enjoyed it. There are some terrific people out there; some real good candidates. We like where we are in the process, we like how it’s gone so far. We’ll just keep working away until we’re comfortable making that final decision. “There’s no need to have an artificial deadline to have it done before the draft or have it done by summer camp. The Devils hired a guy in August last year and they ended up in the [Stanley Cup] final. I think in terms of housekeeping, some people like to get it done before the draft but I just don’t think it’s that important. What’s important is hiring the right person and really being able to come to your team with a terrific head coach knowing that you’ve done a comprehensive job in the summer talking to these people.” McPhee and his hockey operations staff are forging ahead in a “business as usual” fashion despite the lack of a collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players for next season and the uncertainty as to whether the season will start on time and what the salary cap will be when it does. McPhee says that his department is operating under a self-imposed cap, but would not reveal that figure. There is no news to report one way or another on impending unrestricted free agents Alexander Semin or Dennis Wideman. While McPhee dealt Tomas Vokoun to Pittsburgh and reached out to both Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern to inform them they would not be a part of the Caps’ plans for next season, he did not have similar conversations with Semin or Wideman. They might be back, or they might not. That’s how it was left at season’s end and that’s how it is now. “Jeff’s a local kid we’ve liked since we saw him in college,” says McPhee. “And Mike Knuble should be in the Good Guy Hall of Fame. They just don’t come any better. For those reasons – they are good guys, they’re veteran guys – we felt it was right to let them know as early as we could, so that they could prepare for their futures and decide what they want to do. With everyone else, you usually make those decisions after the draft because everything is sort of a fluid situation. We’re still trying to sort our what we’re going to do.” It sounds as though assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jim Johnson are unlikely to be retained, though McPhee did not definitively close the door on either of those men being with the organization next season. McPhee also said that the team was balancing what the interests of its staff for the coming season with the career needs of Evason and Johnson. I take that to mean that the Caps won’t stand in the way of either man taking an offer elsewhere. The fan base and the media both seem to have a great deal of unease surrounding 20-year-old Russian prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Caps’ first-round pick (26th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Kuznetsov has signed a two-year contract with a KHL team in his native Russia. McPhee does not feel anger or anguish about the decision, and his stance is simply, “We’ll wait.” The Caps’ general manager says he is not at all eager to trade Kuznetsov’s rights, either. “It wasn’t much of a surprise,” says McPhee of Kuznetsov’s decision to stay at home for a couple more seasons. “We would have liked to have had him. But if he’s not ready to come over, then it’s probably not a good thing for him to come over because he’s not going to play the way he needs to play. But they all come over eventually. If he comes over in a season or two, he’ll be more mature and bigger and stronger. “Obviously we were prepared to wait when we made the pick. We’d like to have him [now], but he’ll be here at some point. And it will be worth it.” Finally, the Caps have sent out qualifying offers on Friday out to all seven of their restricted free agents: Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Mike Carman, Mike Green, Zach Hamill, Kevin Marshall and Mathieu Perreault. Of those seven restricted free agents, three – Beagle, Green and Perreault – are eligible for arbitration.
By this time next week, the Caps’ organizational cupboards will have received an injection of new talent. Washington holds 11 choices – the most among all NHL clubs – in the 2012 NHL Draft, which will take place in Pittsburgh this Friday and Saturday. The Caps own the 11th and 16th overall choices,