Published July 14, 2011
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Last summer was a relatively quiet one for Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee.
Despite overtures for change from the team's fan base and media after losing in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, McPhee waited for his opportunities. Eventually, he did shake up the roster by adding defensemen Scott Hannan and Dennis Wideman along with forwards Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm, but that was all during the season.
The past few weeks have been a bit busier for McPhee and his staff. He has added goaltender Tomas Vokoun, defenseman Roman Hamrlik and forwards Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward. McPhee also traded talented but oft-injured players like Semyon Varlamov and Eric Fehr, while forwards Arnott, Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley were allowed to sign elsewhere as free agents; Hannan likely will join them in playing elsewhere this season.
"We were certainly disappointed with the results in the playoffs, but that kind of stuff happens," McPhee said. "It was more about opportunity this summer to make the team better. We didn’t see many opportunities last summer, but they were there this summer. We had a plan and we executed it pretty well. We wanted to bring a certain type of player and we got everyone that we wanted."
It is pretty surprising that McPhee was able to find those opportunities this offseason. The free-agent class was thin to begin and became even thinner when many of the top potential free agents signed contracts before July 1.
The Capitals have excelled at drafting late in the first round of late, but McPhee’s scouting staff wasn’t enamored with what was available so he flipped the 26th pick to Chicago for Brouwer. The additions of Hamrlik, Ward and Halpern all were meant to plug specific holes -- Hannan wasn’t expected back and Tom Poti might not play because of injury, while the forwards replaced Gordon and Bradley.
"We wanted players that can play a well-rounded (game) but really be able to raise the level of their games in the tough games," McPhee said. "We think we’ve added gritty players with size and are strong along the boards, and then get it to the net and finish."
Added coach Bruce Boudreau: "I think they add (intangibles), which we had in guys like Gordon and Bradley, but I think their record proves they can score more so you’re getting those intangibles -- the grit that you were losing -- but at the same time you’re getting guys who are capable of scoring 15-20 goals."
It was the trade of Varlamov and subsequent Vokoun signing that stunned people around the NHL and led to an avalanche of praise for McPhee.
"We made some good moves on the first day (of free agency)," McPhee said. "I liked the transaction of bringing in Brouwer at the draft, but then we were able to bring in Hamrlik and Halpern and Ward and then the Vokoun opportunity presented itself and it was really a terrific couple of days for this organization."
The new-look Capitals likely will be deeper at forward and improved -- perhaps significantly -- on defense and in goal. Expectations have been high for several years now in Washington, but postseason failures have added to the pressure for success.
Considering what other teams had to spend, this almost certainly will be considered a successful offseason for McPhee and the Capitals, even though the moves ultimately won’t be judged until April or May.
"It is always hard to tell, because going forward it always looks like that roster is better than the roster before," Boudreau said. "When we scored all those goals and won the Presidents' Trophy, you look at Tomas Fleischmann was our third-line left wing and now he's making $4.5 million a year. Is our roster better? I think it is deeper. For example, and I don't have any idea what the lines are going to look like, but if you have Halpern and (Matt) Hendricks and any one of the four right wingers that we have, that's a more offensive fourth line than Bradley-(David) Steckel-Gordon, even though I think my affection for all three of them is well documented."
McPhee thinks he’s gotten the right players to take his team to the next level after another early-round playoff loss.
"Certainly we were (surprised), but that's why you stay on it, because you just never know what can develop,” he said. “We were aggressive and it didn't look like the talent pool had a lot to offer, but we were fortunate to get the right pieces for this club. The longer you’re in the business, the more you learn. You need players that are going to show up in the playoffs and be committed and play hard and honest. In some ways, you’d rather have players who get 10 or 15 goals during the season than have guys who get 25 and don't (produce in the postseason). We've made the effort to find good, hard, honest players who show up when it matters most."