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Caps GM downplays additional challenges from realignment

May 20, 2013, 9:54 AM EDT

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 19: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals battles for the puck against Brooks Orpik #44 of the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 19, 2013 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images) Getty Images

For years the Washington Capitals have played in the often poorly regarded Southeast Division. That’s about to change and there will be little debate about the quality of their competition going into the 2013-14 campaign.

They are entering a division with the rising New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Carolina Hurricanes on top of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils.

Still, Capitals GM George McPhee argued that it won’t be any harder to make the playoffs.

“It’s always difficult,” McPhee told CSN Washington. “It’s as difficult as it can be to make the playoffs. As I said before it’s no small feat to make the playoffs in this league anymore.

“It’s a real good league and the [salary] cap levels the playing field. The real difference now in making the playoffs is managing your coaching and getting the right players. You could this year, but this is the last year you can outspend teams. Some teams were at $70 to $75 million this year. We were $60 million. Going forward it’s level.”

McPhee doesn’t see his team making any roster changes specifically designed to accommodate the change in competition.

“I remember when I first came here [in 1997] we talked about [Eric] Lindros in Philadelphia and how we’d have to get someone to match up with him because if we’d meet in the playoffs it would be an advantage for them if we didn’t have someone. Well, we never met in the playoffs for 10 years,” McPhee said. “So why bother?

“I just try to focus on our club and what we need to really be a complete team and a good team.”

The Capitals certainly looked impressive down the stretch this year and they gave the Rangers a run for their money in the first round. At the same time, they were 15-3-0 against the Southeast Division in 2013 and 12-15-3 outside of it. It’s doubtful that they will have that kind of winning percentage against their new rivals.

  1. freneticgarfieldfan - May 20, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    Same goes with the Canucks in their weak Northwest. No easy playoff berths anymore.

    • greatminnesotasportsmind - May 20, 2013 at 4:40 PM

      Not like the Canucks ever win anyways. They are just like the Sharks, great regular season team but chokes when it matters.

    • atwatercrushesokoye - May 20, 2013 at 4:42 PM

      I think playing in a tougher division is actually better for teams in the long run, having constant tough games throughout the year gives teams the chance to be battle tested by the time the playoffs roll around. Having a bunch of cupcake games where you play your backup goalie and give your second line more minutes may be great for overall point totals but it doesn’t help to develop the toughness that you need in the playoffs.

  2. jpelle82 - May 20, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    the caps have done nothing with their playoff berths anyway. maybe playing in a competitive division will help them play better come playoff time, they wont be as used to playing easy teams night in and night out and gaining a false sense of confidence from it.

    • har21441 - May 20, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      no need to worry here – they won’t be making the playoffs in their new division.

    • blackfoot11 - May 20, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      GMGM needs to pull out the old Patrick Division roster management book. No doubt the competition will be stiff. They need to get some defensive D-men (a Scott Stevens type) with size and a mean streak, and physical forwards (a Dale Hunter type) with an edge to them. The Caps have to develop a killer instinct going into new Patrick Division like the mid to late 80’s teams, or they will have issues.

  3. shrshot - May 20, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    GM GM needs to be fired. The Forsberg trade for eRat was a desperation move that failed. All of the teams owned by Uncle Teddy are stagnant and don’t excel

  4. ragingyinzer - May 20, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    McPhee shrewdly pre-positioning the answer for why his team won’t make the playoffs next year. He may not be great at building a complete hockey team, but he sure is adept at spinning excuses.

  5. mattrmitch - May 20, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    I get the frustration, but there’s no way to argue that Erat for Forsberg was a bust. Until Erat’s contract is up in two years, we won’t know if it was worth giving up FF. Additionally, for all we know Forsberg could end up being a draft bust. We just have to wait and see how it shakes out.

    And the “Fire GMGM” stuff, I get that the fan base is fussy, but if Erat and Laich had been in the lineup for the final two games, don’t you think that’s a game changer?

    Kuznetsov comes over for a playoff run next year, and Erat’s last year of his deal. Wait and see how those two opportunities play out before calling for Uncle Teddy to clean house. For now, tell him to do that with his Wizards.

    • jpelle82 - May 20, 2013 at 1:49 PM

      i dont think adding another russian forward to the roster will help with the caps problems. getting rid of semin and then adding a smaller version of him doesnt sound like a fix to me. they need a good defenseman and some more guys like brouwer and laich.

  6. Stiller43 - May 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    “…they were 15-3-0 against the Southeast Division in 2013 and 12-15-3 outside of it.”

    Considering that 15-3 came against teams that finished 9th, 13th, 14th, and 15th in the east…yikes, they should have real fun in a division with the flyers, pens, rags, devils, and isles :)

  7. jl9830 - May 20, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    I must have missed the rising of the Carolina Hurricanes this season.

  8. har21441 - May 20, 2013 at 1:12 PM

    10 other things the Caps management is downplaying:
    1. Defense
    2. Two way forwards
    3. Head Coaching
    4. The $10 mil cap impact of a one trick pony
    5. The steady decrease in skill of said one trick pony
    6. Groins strength and stability
    7. Winning in the post season
    8. The IQ of their fan base
    9. Game 7’s
    10. Taking responsibility for their actions as management

    • therealjr - May 20, 2013 at 5:44 PM

      Too bad some of your valid points are overshadowed by stupid comments like questioning the head coach (definitely a keeper), ragging on a Hart finalist (last I checked it takes a complete team to win), and the IQ of the fan base (doesn’t even merit a response).

      • har21441 - May 22, 2013 at 6:53 AM

        To defend my position – I am saying that caps management downplays the importance of these.
        Head coaching – they fired a successful coach in Boudreau when coaching was not the issue – proved by Hunter and Oates not doing any better. The fact that they brought in two former ex Cap players speaks more to marketing than actually hiring the best man for the job. This is part of my justification regarding the fan base – the rest of this judgement comes from watching Caps home games – if a Cap trips without being near an opposing player, the fans scream for a penalty. If a Cap drop kicks a puck in the net, they are furious it is not called a goal. While I understand that the people attending the games do not represent the entire fan base, I’d still be embarrassed by the lack of hockey knowledge they display.
        As for Ovi – yes he’s a hart finalist, but that does not mean he’s not a one trick pony. He’s a goal scorer – and going by stats he is a goal scorer on the decline. Take this away and he is not a MVP candidate – thus one trick pony. And sorry – the fact that so much cap space for the foreseeable future is going to a winger with one move that is on the decline, I think both points ragging on Ovi are correct.

      • therealjr - May 23, 2013 at 12:58 PM

        Boudreau was certainly part of the issue with the playoff failures, look no further than the Ducks round 1 exit this year. They didn’t have a lot of options with a mid-season coaching change, which would not have been the case had they fired him, as they probably should have, after getting swept by TB prior to the 2011-12 season. However you break it down, they ended up with a good coach in Oates.

        Say what you want about Ovechkin, but you can’t claim decline when he went from two somewhat off years to a 32 goal season in 48 games (54-goal pace). He also brings a fierce physical element and is seriously underrated as a passer, but it’s hard to notice since he doesn’t play with guys who are much good at finishing in Backstrom and Johansson this year. Had the Caps gamed the system like so many other teams his salary cap hit wouldn’t be so high, but as it is he’s probably overpaid. So are a lot of players. Why the crux of the team defensive shortcomings revolve around the first line scoring winger, I cannot understand.

        Hometown fans being outrageous homers about refereeing? This happens in every building in the league. Well except in MSG where the Rangers don’t get called for penalties but once every 162 minutes or so.

  9. kantnockdahustle89 - May 20, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    A few things can happen here for the Caps all which are positive:

    1) Playing teams at a higher level should up their level of play OR
    2) They get killed and dont make the playoffs opening some changes for the team to toughen up and find out what it takes to run with the big boys week in and week out
    3) Great re-newed rivalries should make for some great hockey for the fans

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