In his own exit interview with reporters on Monday, deposed Capitals general manager George McPhee had a lot to say. Over the next few posts, we’ll break down his closing remarks on his 17-year career in Washington into bite-sized pieces for your consumption.
Here’s Part Three of McPhee’s farewell news conference:
On whether a team built around Alex Ovechkin can win the Stanley Cup:
I don’t really want to answer questions about individuals, I’m going to duck those because, you know, this is supposed to be about me saying thanks and so long. I blame no one for anything that’s gone on here in this year not working out. I was the manager and it was a difficult year. We didn’t play anywhere near what we were capable of but we got 90 points. Just a little improvement and it’s a 100-point team next year and probably a lot more. I don’t want to be negative about anything. You raise different people’s names and say this person isn’t doing this or that, I’d like to pass on that kind of stuff.
On Ovechkin being a primary player on the team and in the league:
Yes, and if you’re asking me if we could win with him, I believed we could win with him.
On why the Caps were never able to get over the playoff hump the past five years:
Sometimes that just happens. I really thought that group for five years could do it and I thought we had to reset a little bit the last year or two, but it’s ready to go again. I think the best team we faced this year was Boston. They had their adversity. They were up three-zip on Philly in one series [in 2010] and lost, they’ve lost tough Game Sevens and everything else, but one year they won it. Now they’re comfortable knowing that they’ve got that frame of reference: ‘We’ve done it before and we can do it again.’
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I remember their GM [Peter Chiarelli] telling me, it wasn’t until there was four minutes to go in Game Seven in Vancouver – I think they were up 4-1 in the game or something – he said, ‘Geez, we’re actually going to do this. We’re going to win it.’ I think they went through three Game Sevens in that run. I remember the first series, against Montreal. Montreal scored late, they went into overtime and Montreal had great chances, two or three chances, and one was an open net and the puck went wide. If it doesn’t go wide maybe everything there changes. But they got through it and they won the Cup and now they’ve sort of come of age. The GM’s done a really good job there, it’s a good team. Detroit was that way at one time. They won one [Stanley Cup] and then they got even better.
We didn’t catch that break. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. This team is young enough and the veterans are at the right age here. You’ve got experienced players with young guys coming in. It’s the perfect combination, that’s what you need. It’s not all about free agents and everything else. It’s a good group of solid veteran players, plus young kids coming in to push up from the bottom and that’s where I think this team is. So, they may not have done it in Phase One, but Phase Two is right there and they’re going to be good.
On if he’s surprised Adam Oates was fired as well:
Nothing surprises me in this business. That’s unfortunate, but it’s unfortunate for Adam because it was a short tenure. I’ve been lucky. I had 17 years.
On when he felt the Capitals needed to hit the re-set button:
It’s hard to get specific because when you’ve been in a place a long time one year sort of blends into the other and as the guys on my staff will tell you, I don’t have a very good memory, so it’s good that I don’t look back much. I just felt like we had a real good run there for five years and I certainly loved working with Bruce and loved working with Dale. That might have been it – when Dale didn’t come back. I thought he did a tremendous job of making this a team and sort of re-setting after that, getting a new coach, I just thought we were a little thin on players coming into the system.
But when you think you can win a Cup you owe it to the players in the room and all your fans, you’ve got to go for it. So I was trading second-round picks and prospects, and second-round picks and prospects and at some point you get a touch thin. It doesn’t mean we weren’t good teams the last two years, we just weren’t injury proof. When you’ve got good young guys coming in, if you lose a guy you can pull somebody up and you keep winning games. At one time we were calling up the [Tomas] Fleischmanns, Brooks Laichs, [Karl] Alzner, [John] Carlson, those guys. Now they’re veterans and I didn’t have a complete group like that to go to again. When you’ve been doing it for a while your instincts tell you some things and I thought we were a playoff team. I thought this should have been our seventh year in a row of making the playoffs and I’m disappointed we didn’t. But it doesn’t mean it’s not a good team. Those kids are sort of here now to help and it’s unfortunate the last two years that we lost a guy like Brooks Laich [groin issues] for almost the entire season both years, then Jack Hillen [broken collar bone, broken leg] almost the entire season both years. Those guys were very good for us, good veteran players and I didn’t have the kids to fill in.
And it’s hard to make a trade in this league during the season now, but that would have required giving away some future and I didn’t want to do that. Last summer was really tough because there was sort of gridlock around the league, it was hard to make any moves.