As the second day of Free Agency kicks off, there are more questions than answers in the nation’s capital. The team has lost Mike Ribiero to the Phoenix Coyotes and Matt Hendricks to the Nashville Predators. General Manager George McPhee has been in Washington a long time. He’s made some good moves, terrible moves and everything in between. This upcoming season is a telling one for the known reasons. The Capitals were embarrassed in a Game 7 on home ice in the first round and they move into a larger division with more difficult opponents.
Many of McPhee’s decisions are under high scrutiny and it comes down to the philosophy that he has imprinted on this team. It will be a real gut check time as he will need the players he believed in to become the players they were meant to be. In short, McPhee has tried to draft savvy, re-sign his draft picks that play well and make trades for quality veterans with draft picks or prospects. Not an altogether bad plan but it’s had some flaws and some moments where McPhee (aka GMGM) has deviated. Here’s a couple examples of the philosophy in action.
Under re-sign draft picks that play well, we have Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. After a 100 point season, Backstrom was signed long term at 6.7 million a year. Jonathan Toews gets 6.3 million. McPhee will need Backstrom to become more than just a great puck handler and distributor. Johansson showed flashes, quite literally, with his speed and the team is committed to resigning him. Consistency will be key. Jeff Schultz was one of these until the Caps bought out his contract last week. Karl Alzner falls under this category as well.
Make trades for quality veterans with draft picks or prospects. Think Troy Brouwer and Martin Erat. Brouwer has turned out well but, Erat and his 4.5 million salary will need to produce or this trade could become epic. Filip Forsberg will likely play for Nashville soon, and the Caps need a second line center. For historical perspective, the Capitals made a somewhat similar move (philosophically) when they traded Tomas Fleischmann to Florida for Dennis Wideman.
A deviation from the plan occurred when Washington signed Joel Ward to a pricey free agent contract two years ago. While three million isn’t isn’t the worst price in the world and Ward is one guy who does produce in the playoffs, the Caps might need that three million more than they need Joel Ward right now.
In fairness to last year’s Caps, they did not have Brooks Laich and his 4.5 million salary. Laich will certainly help, but again, GMGM will need him to be a deciding factor or this looks kind of bad moving forward. No one questions the committment to resigning Alzner, Johansson and Kundratek. Hendricks ended up getting two million and it’s good for him. With the Capitals cap situation they need to save money wherever they can and Hendricks role can be replaced cheaply with a prospect. Fans loved him but sometimes it just has to happen. Signing Ribiero long term would defnitely have been risky but, who will the Caps put at center now? There are no impact free agents. Did the Caps know this would happen the whole time? There must be another trade in the works…
Either way, GMGM has a lot to prove this year and so do the players he gave the franchise to.