Six-Pack of Questions: Will McPhee return after this season?

Six-Pack of Questions: Will McPhee return after this season?
April 11, 2014, 12:15 pm
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Penn Quarter Sports Tavern Six Pack of Questions

Welcome to our weekly edition of Penn Quarter Sports Tavern’s 6-Pack of Questions, where we aim to keep it real while answering your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals.

Let’s get started.

@martirosofff Any hopes/rumors about GMGM losing his job?

Here’s what we know: George McPhee has been the Caps’ general manager for 17 years and, unless they did it very, very quietly, the Caps have not renewed him for next season. Ted Leonsis said in a blog post on Thursday that he wants to conduct a “comprehensive review” of what happened this season. In my opinion, that doesn't sound like a vote of confidence for the general manager. It was clear all season that the Caps had defensive deficiencies that went unaddressed, with 14 different blue liners suiting up, four of them for the first time in the NHL. At last month’s general managers’ meetings, McPhee was asked about his future and he quipped, “The hockey gods will get you if you worry about your next job while you've got one." Leonsis needs to decide if the Caps need a complete culture change. That could come by overhauling the roster, hiring a new coach, hiring a new general manager, or all three. This is only my opinion, but it is entirely possible this becomes a mutual breakup, with McPhee electing to take his career in another direction. Either way, it will be a fascinating next few weeks. 

@OV3CHK1NG If Caps were willing to blow up the core, which of Ovi, Backy and Green is most likely to get dealt?

Nothing like being direct. Alex Ovechkin has seven years and $70 million remaining on his contract [he’s getting a raise from $9 million to $10 million next season] and beginning July 1 he can give the Capitals a list of 10 teams for whom he will not play. I don’t see the Capitals shipping Ovechkin out of town, although I do think he holds more value now than he will in his future. That said, I don’t see Caps owner Ted Leonsis allowing his general manager to trade the greatest goal scorer in franchise history, even if he will be getting paid $10 million at the age of 35. Same goes for Nicklas Backstrom, who in my opinion is just as valuable as Ovechkin. Backstrom has six years and $43 million remaining on his contract. That leaves us with Mike Green, who has one year and $6.083 million remaining on his three-year deal. Of the three, I think Green is the most likely to be wearing another team’s jersey next season.

@AloeCap10 Who do you see as offseason free agent targets for the #Caps? And please tell me at least one is a gritty top4 dman.

We agree on this. The Caps need a gritty top 4 defenseman. The question I have is this: Do you add someone like gritty but aging defenseman Brooks Orpik, a 33-year-old veteran who will be unrestricted on July 1, and pair him with Mike Green? Or do you use Green in a potential package to land an even better defenseman who has one more year remaining on his contract? I have to believe that if George McPhee could have acquired a top-notch defenseman at some point last summer or this season he would have pulled the trigger. Looking ahead, unless you really like 35-year-old blue liner Andrei Markov, there is no stud defenseman on the free-agent market this summer. Maybe Andrew MacDonald? Matt Niskanen? To get anyone like Shea Weber, the Caps would need to get really creative.

@wvufish Why do you think there is such a clear lack of communication between [Adam] Oates and GmGm?

Since I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors I can’t assume that’s true. NHL general managers and coaches talk on a daily basis and I’m sure there is a clear line of communication between the two. That does not mean McPhee and Oates agree on how players are used, which is often the case among coaches and GMs. McPhee acquired Marty Erat last season as a top-six forward, but Erat began this season in the bottom six and almost immediately asked to be traded. It’s also my opinion that McPhee wanted to see defenseman Dmitry Orlov in the lineup earlier this season and Oates thought he needed to improve his defensive play before getting into the lineup, resulting in a long trial and error of other defensemen on the Caps’ blue line. And when Dustin Penner was added to the roster at the trade deadline, it wasn’t long before he found himself unhappy on a fourth line. That’s not necessarily a lack of communication, but could indicate a difference of opinion on how players should be used.

@ChrizR Any news on Grabo resigning?

Along with Dustin Penner, Jaroslav Halak, Julien Brouillette and Tyson Strachan, center Mikhail Grabovski is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. I’ve been told he’s seeking $5 million a season and if he doesn’t get that from the Capitals he’ll try getting it somewhere else. If Grabovski had not missed 24 games with a left ankle sprain the Caps would have had a better chance at making the playoffs and he might have had a better chance of staying in Washington. In 56 games he has 13 goals and 22 assists. Over a full 82-game season that would equate to 19 goals and 32 assists. I’m not sure any team would pay $5 million for a 19-goal scorer, but if the Caps can re-sign him in the $4 million range they might consider it. The Caps also need to look at how they view forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. Is he a left wing, right wing or center? That could depend on who’s coaching the team next season. And what about guys like Andre Burakovsky and Riley Barber? Are they ready to make the jump to the NHL? If so, Grabovski may not fit into the Caps’ long-term plans.

@john_worldflyer I wonder if [Jaroslav] Halak expected [Adam] Oates to just say he was "under the weather.” I'm glad Oates called him out.

This was one of the strangest “he said, he said, he said” stories I’ve ever covered. See if you can follow along. On Monday Halak told us he had a “mix of emotions” about playing the team [St. louis] that traded him to Buffalo for a goalie [Ryan Miller] they thought gave them a better chance to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe it was a poor assumption on our part, but we all thought Halak wanted to face the Blues. On Tuesday, Oates announced he was starting Braden Holtby and said Halak wasn’t “a hundred percent comfortable” facing his old team and “we can’t afford that.” On Wednesday, Halak’s agent, Allan Walsh, jumped to his client’s defense, saying that Oates misrepresented Halak’s feelings and betrayed the trust between player and coach by making a private conversation public. And on Thursday Oates said he’s always been honest with reporters and was telling the truth in this case. By then, Halak was tired of the whole thing and refused comment. Since Holtby has played well and won each of the Caps’ two games since the Goalie-gate, it’s a safe assumption he’ll play the Caps’ final two home games. But the way this season has gone, nothing is a safe bet.   

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