Tonight we saw the Washington Capitals get eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-2-back seasons only this time the series went the distance. The Capitals team that was iced tonight were majority built by former Washington General Manager George McPhee.
The purpose of this analysis is to take a look back at McPhee’s time as the Capitals builder. McPhee took over as Washington’s GM back in the 1997-1998 NHL season fresh off of his stint with the Vancouver Canucks where he was Pat Quinn’s Vice President of Hockey Operations and the organizations Alternate Governor.
In his first season with the Capitals organization, McPhee had a very successful campaign as the team he had on the ice finished the season with a 40-30-12 record and placed 3rd in the NHL’s Atlantic Division.
The team was lead by Peter Bondra who ended up with a 52 goal season in which he captured the coveted Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy for the league’s leading scorer. His club’s assist leader of that campaign was Adam Oates who ended completing the regular with 58 apples.
Both Bondra and Oates were the teams only players that reached the 70+ points level for that season with 78 and 76 respectively. His back-stopper between the pipes was Olaf Kolzig who had a decent year with a 33-18-10 winning record that included a 2.20 GAA and a .920 save percentage.
His top 3 blue liners he had on that team were Calle Johansson, Phil Housley, and Sergei Gonchar which those defensemen had a combined 15 goals, 61 assists, and 87 points to their credit.
This 1997-98 Capitals squad was good enough to take themselves all the way the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time franchise history where unfortunately they met a much power Detroit Red Wings team that was too much for them to handle as the Capitals were swept in 4 games.
For the second time in his professional management hockey career, he played a huge role and engineered contending team with the previous one being the 1993-1994 Canucks team only to came away empty handed.
The bad thing for McPhee is following the 97-98 team that went to the finals he had his struggles with icing a squad capable of going the distance.
These teams that followed played well under McPhee, capturing a total of seven Southeast Division championships (1999–2000, 2000–01, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2012-2013),
Had eight 40-or-more win seasons (1997–98, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, and 2011–12),
Won the league’s President Trophy for the first time and set a franchise record 121-point season (2009–10).
These teams were known to the critics around the NHL as a club that was only good in the regular season and came up short as playoff underachievers.
Regardless of his failures with the Washington Capitals we take a look at some good things that happened during his tenure with that club in terms of free agent signings, trade deadline acquisitions, and finally, his best draft picks.
Free Agent Signings
Jaromír Jágr 2001-2002 Season
This was probably the best free agent signing in the McPhee’s tenure with the Capitals organization. Jagr a 2-time Stanley Cup Winner with the Penguins (91 and 92 seasons).
Jágr brought with him to the Capitals 806 games of Penguins experience that included 439 goals, 640 assists, and 1,079 points in regular season action. He also brought to the table 140 playoffs games from his time with the Penguins along with 65 goals, 82 assists at 147 points.
In his three seasons with Washington Jágr played in 190 games and produced 83 goals and tallied 118 assists for 201 points.
He only played in 6 total playoffs games with the Capitals and picked up just 7 points (2 goals and 5 assists).
Viktor Kozlov 2007-2008 Season
In his 1st season with the Capitals, he would score 54 points (18 goals and 38 assists) in 81 games. Of those 54 points, he recorded 40 of them were 5v5 points.
Those 40 points put Kozlov in the top 3 with the forwards and his 54 points were in the top 5 with the 07-08 team.
Kozlov came in third among Washington forwards with at least 250 minutes played at 5v5
His linemates for that season were Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Mike Knuble 2009-2010 Season
Knuble’s first campaign with Washington he recorded 29 goals and added 24 assists for 54 points in that year. He also brought with him 1 Stanley Cup Champion for his time with the Red Wings from the 1997-98 season with future Capitals forward Fedorov.
Those points were mostly attributed to playing alongside forwards Alexander Semin, Ovechkin, and Backstrom. For Knuble, he was considered by Caps fans as a fan favorite. He was a guy that McPhee brought on as a player with a blue collar work ethic that included a hard nose attitude.
Joel Ward 2011-2012 Season
McPhee brought in Ward for one purpose because he was known for his playoff performance as a go to guy in the clutch.
Prior to his arrival he had 18 playoffs games under his belt with the Predators. In those 18 games he produced 9 goals and 8 assists at 17 points.
His time with Washington he 35 playoffs to his credit with 18 points (5 goals and 13 assists) combined.
Eric Fehr (2nd stint with the Capitals) 2012-2013 Season
During his 2nd tour of duty with the Capitals franchise, he played 201 games while collecting 40 assists and recorded 41 goals.
Fehr was put into a depth role with the club but played more like a player in the top 6 forward group that gave his team a weapon on offense.
Mikhail Grabovski 2013-2014
In his only campaign with the Capitals, he registered 35 points (12 goals and 23 assists) in just 58 games played Grabovski played on the clubs 2nd line during that season.
His best achievement came on 5v5 play as he was among the top 5 on his team at even strength points at 1.78 per 60 minutes.
Trade Deadline Acquisitions
2008 Trade Deadline (Sergei Fedorov, Matt Cooke, and Cristobal Huet)
McPhee went to town in the 2008 trade deadline period grabbing Fedorov from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Theo Ruth acquired from the Vancouver Matt Cooke in exchange for Matt Pittinger, pried away from the Chicago Blackhawks Huet for a 09 2nd round pick.
Among those three deadline acquisitions back in 08 Fedorov was by far the best pickup he made because the Russian forward brought with him to Washington 3 Stanley Cup’s (1997, 1998, 2002 with the Detroit Red Wings), one of the cups was against McPhee’s 98 Capitals.
The prestigious Russian only suited up in 70 games with the Capitals organization and produced 13 goals and 33 assists at 46 points. He got to play with fellow Russian Ovechkin who at the time was playing in his third season with the club.
Top Draft Selections
Alexander Ovechkin 1st overall in 2004
Practically the best scorer in the modern era of hockey, “Crazy 8, Ovi or The Great 8” as he called, McPhee got the chance to witness in front of him during the 9 seasons as Ovi’s GM 5-50 goal campaigns (2005–06, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2009–10, 2013–14).
Saw Ovechkin capture the league’s goal-scoring title (Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy) 4 times (2007-2008 at 65 goals, 2008-2009 with 56 goals, 2012-2013* at 32 goals, and 2013-2014 collected 51 goals).
He was also the Calder Trophy Award winner in the 2005-2006 season as league best rookie with a staggering 106 points to his credit (52 goals and 54 assists).
***Note: 2012-2013 season was the pro-rated lockout campaign that featured a 48 game schedule.***
Mike Green 29th overall in 2004
In terms of defense, I think this pick was considered to be a smart choice by McPhee. For McPhee has watched for 9 seasons between 2005-2014 as Green’s game developed. Green’s best years in the scoring production came between the 2007-2010 campaigns.
He had 68 goals and 137 assist at 205 points during that span.
McPhee’s top blueliner was a James Norris Memorial Trophy finalist during the 2008-2009 season.
Nicklas Backstrom 4th overall in 2006
This was probably the 2nd best draft pick up that McPhee ever did during his 17-year tenure with the by grabbing Swede Sensation Backstrom.
Like Ovechkin, Backstrom was McPhee’s next best weapon on offense even though that #19 didn’t produce the same amount of goals as Ovechkin did Backstrom was the club’s best playmaker.
Backstrom produced 367 assists under 9 seasons with McPhee as his GM. He was no slouch in the goal scoring either as he recorded 127 goals. Between his goals and assists, Backstrom had 494 points to his credit.
He was relieved of his managerial duties from the Capitals on April 26, 2014.
Fast forward to July 13, 2016, where he was given a 2nd chance at the General Manager’s posting of an NHL franchise the Vegas Golden Knights.
Vegas Golden Knights
Vadim Shipachyov 2017-2018
McPhee first major player transaction came last Thursday when he inked KHL free agent forward Vadim Shipachyov to a 2-year $9 million contract with an AAV at $4.5 million per season that includes a $2 million signing bonus.
The 30-year-old forward finished third in the KHL scoring race this season with 76 points on 26 goals and 50 assists in 50 games. The 50 assists were the second most in the league.
He also had 19 points on four goals and 15 assists in 17 games during the KHL playoffs, helping SKA Saint Petersburg win the league championship for the second time in his career (2017 and 2015).
For McPhee, he’s hoping that what everything he has learned being the former General Manager with the Washington Capitals organization he’ll get the chance to finally get it right with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Team Owner Bill Foley has bestowed a mission on McPhee that he wants the club to be Stanley Cup Playoffs bound by the franchises 3rd campaign and capture Lord Stanley in year 6.