As we celebrate the Capitals' 40th anniversary, let's take a moment to...
Strategic Hockey: The McPhee Timeline
Tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues is significant for one glaringly obvious reason, but in the mass of Dale Hunter/Bruce Boudreau analysis some details have been lost.
Jaroslav Halak, the man who is partially responsible for Boudreau’s firing, returns to the scene of his 2010 larceny. Ken Hitchcock comes into Washington with only 22 days on his Blues tenure. Guy Boucher is now the longest-tenured coach in the Southeast Division with the additional firing of Paul Maurice in Carolina.
Also lost in all of this: the enormous weight on George McPhee‘s shoulders. Of all the reaction interviews his was probably the most genuine (aside from Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich), probably a result of the relationship between him and Boudreau and knowing that several men’s jobs are his responsibility.
“Bruce and I had a meeting at 6:15 this morning, and he was a class act, all the way. He said the right things and actually made me feel better,” said McPhee, “Bruce has got such a nice way about him and he made me feel better about the decision and, you know, if the worst thing you can say about a guy is he’s a hell of a nice guy, then he must be a great guy. And Bruce has been a great guy here.”
And while the firing has a personal aspect, it is a business decision. And if Boudreau’s countdown began after the Montreal series, then it’s easy to see that McPhee is nothing if not a businessman.
April 28, 2010: The Capitals are embarrassed out of the playoffs by the eighth-seed Montreal Canadiens. In past years, this would have been excusable, but the President’s Trophy winners and their fans are disappointed by the lack of output by key players.
July 28, 2010: Among defensive and “toughness” criticisms, McPhee trades Stefan Della Rovere for D.J. King of the Blues.
September 14, 2010: After a public tirade against the McPhee and the Caps’ organization, Eric Belanger, who lost teeth (by choice) on the bench in the playoffs, signs with Phoenix.
October 1, 2010: Despite endearing himself to fans, Jose Theordore signs with the Minnesota Wild after not living up to expectations in Washington.
November 30, 2010: With only four goals in 23 games, Tomas Fleischmann‘s history with the organization loses its clout and he’s shipped off to Colorado in an exchange anticipated to boost the Caps’ blueline. Scott Hannan arrives in Washington just in time for the team to start its eight-game losing streak.
While calls for Boudreau’s head reach HBO, McPhee stands behind his coach.
January 27, 2011: Alexander Semin, unlike his high-scoring buddies is signed to a measly one-year, $6 million deal. Probably the right price, but not the years expected for a team’s core scorer.
February 27, 2011: After being shipped off the the eventual Cup-winning Bruins team to the L.A. Kings, Marco Sturm signs with Washington.
February 28, 2011: McPhee makes some last minute trade-deadline moves and brings in defenseman Dennis Wideman and center Jason Arnott among more defensive and center criticisms (and Mike Green injuries). David Steckel is sent to New Jersey in exchange for Arnott, while prospect Jake Hauswirth and a 2011 third-round pick are sent to Florida for Wideman.
May 3, 2011: The week-long rest after eliminating the Rangers from the quarterfinals is not enough to explain the sweep of the Caps by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Once again, Boudreau’s effectiveness comes into question, but McPhee refuses to budge.
June 29, 2011: Instead of increasing Washington’s pool of first-round draft picks, McPhee opts for more grit and trades the 26th overall pick for Troy Brouwer.
July 1-2, 2011: In a series of blockbuster moves, McPhee trades the injury-prone Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for 2012 first-round and 2012/13 second-round picks. He signs forwards Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern, defenseman Roman Hamrlik, and goalie Tomas Vokoun.
July 8, 2011: Loveable, but injury-prone Eric Fehr is sent to the newly moved Winnipeg Jets in return for Danick Paquette and a 2012 fourth-round draft pick.
Over the summer, McPhee allows Arnott, Hannan, Sturm, Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley, Andrew Gordon, Brian Willsie, and Tyler Sloan to walk away from the team.
October 31, 2011: Enforcer King is placed on waivers and eventually sent down to Hershey.
November 28, 2011: Boudreau is fired as head coach. Assistant coaches Dean Evason and Bob Woods remain on staff. London Knights’ coach and former Caps captain Dale Hunter is named as his replacement.
With several core players facing free-agent status this summer (Knuble, Semin, Green is a RFA) and the short-term contracts of many others, it will be interesting to see what player moves McPhee makes in the next few months. Considering his last move, it will even more interesting to see how these players react.