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Under Pressure: George McPhee

Sep 24, 2013, 4:41 PM EST

George McPhee Getty Images

“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Washington Capitals, we pick… general manager George McPhee.

The NHL’s fourth longest-tenured GM — only Lou Lamoriello, Jim Rutherford and Darcy Regier have been on the job longer — McPhee has been the constant presence in a constantly shifting organization.

McPhee’s survived an ownership change, two lockouts and an infamous punch-up. He’s gone through six head coaches. His clubs have made the playoffs in 10 of 15 years — including one Stanley Cup Final — yet he’s also drafted in the top 10 five times (including Alex Ovechkin No. 1 overall in 2004).

All of which begs the question: Given everything McPhee’s been through, why would he be under pressure this year?

Short answer… he’s the safe pick.

McPhee has exhausted his GM maneuvers with this group, widely considered to be the most talented he’s had in Washington. He’s changed coaches (from Bruce Boudreau to Dale Hunter to Adam Oates), swapped identities (from high-octane to defensive-oriented to a balanced attack), brought in and moved out peripheral/role players (too many to mention) and even pulled the ol’ “mortgage the future for the present” move (with the Filip Forsberg-for-Martin Erat trade).

Eventually, though, all GMs must sit back and let their work speak for itself. It appears McPhee has reached that point.

This offseason was one of Washington’s quietest in recent memory. Aside from losing Mike Ribeiro and adding Mikhail Grabovski, McPhee was virtually invisible during summer, popping up occasionally to weigh in on the Marcus Johansson and Karl Alzner negotiations (both were re-signed, with little drama.)

That silence might’ve been intentional. In late August, McPhee sounded like a GM pleased with what he’d built over the last few seasons.

“I like where the organization is right now,” he told NHL.com. “I think we have a real solid club here and a solid club in [AHL] Hershey, and some good prospects on the way.

“This club should stay competitive for a long time.”

The question dogging McPhee, though, is how competitive the Caps will be in May and June. The team’s had no problem achieving regular-season success under his watch yet has struggled in the playoffs, failing to advance past the second round since 1997 — his first year on the job.

Despite this, McPhee insists this is the group of players he’ll sink or swim with.

“I’d go to war with these guys. These are good players,” he told CSN Washington. “We’ve got a lot of good young players and you keep going to war with them. We’ve made the playoffs six years in a row.

“I mean, how many teams have done that? It’s not easy to do in this league.”

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

  1. fivetozeroingame7 - Sep 24, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    What a pathetic delusional man

    • lowenni - Sep 24, 2013 at 6:08 PM

      Based on your username I’m going to assume you’re a Rangers fan. And all I can say to that is:
      At least McPhee isn’t Glen Sather.

      • moarjam - Sep 25, 2013 at 9:35 AM

        You want to have a pissing contest over which gm has overstayed their welcome more? They both should have been axed years ago…

  2. rushledger - Sep 24, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    I don’t think the forsberg trade was good.

    • lowenni - Sep 24, 2013 at 7:47 PM

      I partially agree. Erat isn’t quite the player he once was (he may end up on the Caps third line this season), but he’s still effective and adds depth. Also, the Caps got a good throw-in with Michael Latta who could end up being a really solid third or fourth liner. I also believe that Forsberg isn’t going to turn out to be quite what people expect. I think his offensive skills and skating are slightly overhyped.

      • bmoreredfury311 - Sep 24, 2013 at 8:00 PM

        Totally agree lowenni.
        I was going to say pretty much the same thing. Erat is proven, Forsberg is not. He might be, if placed in the right system. But the Caps werent the first to team to pass on this kid. GMGM has done some questionable things, but overall he his tenure is good. But not having a Cup will always over shadow that.

      • lowenni - Sep 24, 2013 at 8:28 PM

        And it just so happens that on a very defense-oriented team such as Nashville, Forsberg will not actually be placed in the right system that you talk about.

  3. broadstreetsbaddest88 - Sep 24, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    I never understood why he got a pass for so long. Considering some gm’s go down for having only a few bad or quiet seasons and he’s had his far share of both. He’s never aggressive enough in free agency. I will give him credit for hiring Adam Oates which I think was a good hire. He was never horrible, he was just mediocre or below average which isn’t good enough to form a Stanley cup team.

    • bethgoesglobal - Sep 25, 2013 at 4:44 AM

      I think the fact that he has never been a real failure is the main reason that he hasn’t been replaced yet. Since Leonsis purchased the team it has failed to make the playoffs 4 times, all of which were during Leonsis’s earliest years as an owner of a sports franchise. The Caps have made the playoffs the last 6 seasons which, IMO, makes it harder for an owner to justify letting a GM go.

      Beyond that I think that Leonsis doesn’t know WHO to replace GMGM with. That said, at this point he has spent more than enough time as a NHL team owner that he should have enough people to turn to for advise if he doesn’t feel knowledgeable enough to make the decision himself.

      I think if you asked most Caps fans they would agree that the clock running on GMGM has been ticking for the past few years, but the team has never been so disappointing that he has had no choice but to fire GM.

      Maybe it also has to do with the fact that DC has become so comfortable with playoff disappointment that it the fans haven’t put enough pressure on the ownership to make the change. After all after missing the playoffs in their first 8 seasons the Capitals have only missed the playoffs 6 times (since the 82-83 season), and that’s not too bad.

      I have to agree though that GMGM’s time in DC is fading fast, but I’ve also been one of those that has thought that for a few years now, so who knows.

  4. jhuck92 - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:20 AM

    His GM faces some pressure for sure, but I think the most pressure lies on Ovechkin. He’s shown that he’s a more than capable individual player by winning 3 Hart trophies. He is an elite player, but he doesn’t really strike me as a team player. He’s never gotten his team past the 2nd round. If you look at 2 other captains in the prime of their careers and around his age and skill level, Crosby and Toews, they both have their names etched onto the Stanley Cup.

    All I’m saying is Ovechkin has been placed in a leadership role, but hasn’t shown the qualities of a leader.

    • babykaby - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:55 AM

      All you do when you make comments like that is show you do not know anything about Ovechkin except he hasn’t won a cup. There should be no pressure on Ovechkin, he carried the entire team last season with very little help from his teammates. One person can only do so much, the rest of the team needs to stop depending solely on Ovi and the goalies, and step up and do their jobs. You bring up Crosby and Toews, yeah they have their cups but if you believe they did it on their own then you do not know hockey. As far as GM goes, he has done a good job putting solid teams on the ice, he cannot make them perform as we know they can. Ovi doesn’t have a Malkin or a Kane. Yes he has Backstrom, but getting him to shoot the puck at the net is like getting Crosby to last an entire season, it probably isn’t going to happen.

      • bethgoesglobal - Sep 25, 2013 at 4:16 AM

        While I think your argument that it takes more than the abilities of one player to win a cup is dead on, it kinda falls apart from there.

        You can’t make a comparison to Crosby “having” a Malkin because they are both centers and therefore play on different lines (except during PP’s). Similarly, you can’t argue that Ovi doesn’t have a Kane because the two play the same position, and statistically Ovi has both Kane and Toews beat anyway.

        My point: stop when you’re ahead

      • jhuck92 - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:27 PM

        He carried his team during the latter half of last season, yes (even though it was really a fourth of a full season), but he pretty much gave up during the NYR series when Stepan scored a goal, as you can see in this video.

  5. jdvalk - Sep 25, 2013 at 8:56 AM

    Were there any pressure, he would’ve been gone long ago and certainly after last year’s debacle. It’s telling that Leonsis has yet to replace either of the GMs he inherited from Abe Pollin despite the two team’s history of futility.

  6. valoisvipers - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    The Caps may have made the playoffs for six straight years but remember that was in the weak South East Division.

  7. whiskytango333 - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    Its going to be a telling year for the Caps. They now join a powerhouse division where there are no easy divisional games, and add to that they now have a good tenure with Adam Oates’ system. I look at the division relocation as a good thing for them come playoff time, as they will be better prepared having to bring it every night.

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