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Has McPhee’s ‘adversarial relationship with player agents’ cost the Caps?

Apr 11, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT

George McPhee Getty Images

The Capitals’ fall from one of the most dynamic teams in the NHL to, well, whatever it is they are today (not in the playoffs, for one) has been well-documented. But the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera has documented it particularly well here.

In a lengthy article titled “Washington Capitals’ problems began long before their playoff streak ended,” Carrera deftly recaps a lot of the stuff fans already knew about the Caps (they’ve changed systems a few times, captain Alex Ovechkin is a lightning rod for criticism, etc.), while also sharing some tidbits that aren’t quite so well-known.

For example, apparently Caps management isn’t the most popular among agents, and that’s affected their ability to attract players:

Even with persistent vacancies, the Capitals haven’t been able to find long-term solutions. According to multiple league sources, that can be attributed partly to what they describe as McPhee’s adversarial relationship with player agents, whose grievances include his refusal to communicate with them directly and limiting their postgame access to clients.

When a key free agent or a player with a no-trade clause — one who can name what teams he will play for — is available, the Capitals intentionally aren’t on the list, one NHL agent explained.

“It’s hostile,” another agent said. “Why would anyone encourage their client to play there when the organization intentionally makes it incredibly difficult to work with them?”

Yesterday, Caps owner Ted Leonsis wrote a blog post promising to “conduct a comprehensive review of what transpired this year.”

It’s been widely speculated that McPhee, as well as head coach Adam Oates, could be replaced.

Related: Halak’s agent ‘bewildered’ by Oates’ remarks prior to Blues game

  1. rbbbaron - Apr 11, 2014 at 6:03 PM

    “the Capitals intentionally aren’t on the list, one NHL agent explained.”
    There are a number of reasons why that might be, and a ‘hostile’ relationship between the GM and agent is probably the least of those. Nice try dude.

    • stakex - Apr 11, 2014 at 7:52 PM

      Agents have a LOT of input with their clients as to where they end up. Obviously if there is a team that is hostile to agents, and the agent/player relationship…. there will be a lot of discouragement to join that team.

      • rbbbaron - Apr 11, 2014 at 8:18 PM

        Somewhere between DC not being the most attractive place to live, a coach whose challenging/borderline-adversarial style that doesn’t allow for the most rapport with his players, likely having an on-ice role of either deferring to Ovie and/or playing with crappy line-mates, and the Capitals just generally not being that good of a team, I don’t think it’s McPhee’s “limiting [agents'] postgame access to clients” that’s the deal-breaker. Sorry.

      • stakex - Apr 11, 2014 at 9:27 PM

        No one is saying its the one and only reason Washington has trouble attracting big name players, but it very well could be a large factor.

      • rbbbaron - Apr 11, 2014 at 9:50 PM

        And I didn’t suggest that you were saying that it’s the one and only reason; I thought it was clear that I’m making the point that in the context of so many other factors that might attract or repel players from taking a long look at WAS, the factors cited in this article are marginal at best.

    • strictlythedanks - Apr 11, 2014 at 9:36 PM

      take it easy on the Brough, bro

    • c9castine - Apr 12, 2014 at 12:05 AM

      deny it all you want its a big factor.

      lets see, listen to direct sources through a reporter who covers the team for a living, or a PHT commenter?

      yeah…your gonna have to do better than “sorry, nice try dude”.

      • rbbbaron - Apr 12, 2014 at 3:57 AM

        “deny it all you want its a big factor.”
        Well then since you know better tell us a little more– maybe even quantify it or put it in relation to those ‘smaller’ factors I mentioned or even those mentioned in the Carrera article

        Lets see, when that ‘direct’ [sic] source is an agent who might be any thing other than a neutral party to the situation? Example: McPhee plays hardball with Mike Ribeiro’s agent, whose client pretty much implores him to get the desired deal to stay in WAS. Mike Ribeiro’s agent can’t get the desired deal done, client is clearly unhappy while agent has to sell client on the idea of uprooting his family and going somewhere else in effort to chase a bigger/better contract that agent just happens to profit from. Episode damages client/agent relationship, whether temporarily or permanently. Year later an opportunistic unnamed agent can’t resist working the back channels to try to sow the seeds of McPhee’s demise?

        Or just overstate what’s cherry-picked at some hockey press website– the Carrera article says this is “partly” a factor; you on the other hand insist on “big”. A little reading comprehension would go a long way…

  2. patthehockeyfan - Apr 11, 2014 at 6:09 PM

    Holy crap! I haven’t finished reading Carrera’s article, and not only should Oates be fired, somebody should kick his ass on the way out the door. A couple of key items:

    This year’s Capitals have scored the seventh-fewest five-on-five goals (140), excluding empty-net tallies, in the league but give up the 10th most (161). The power play has accounted for a staggering 30 percent of their offense; when it struggles, so does the team.

    At the same time, Washington’s defense has been shaky. The Capitals own the worst record in the league when scoring two or fewer goals this season at 0-25-6. In two years under Oates, they’re 1-41-8 in such contests.

    “It’s tough for me to answer,” Oates said. “I don’t think we’re strong enough defensively. I’ve got four minor-league defensemen playing [against St. Louis]. So can we play defensive? We play correct as a team. We play the same way as every team. There’s things we could do better for sure, and that’s our job to try and get better at it.”

    When Oates fired Dave Prior, the goaltending coach, Oates ” … declined to comment specifically on the difference of opinion with Prior, he made his case for the modifications.

    “I’ve studied the position. I’ve met with a lot of people and studied the position. I’m a head coach of a team: My job is to know every position. I never played D but I know D, so I know goaltending,” Oates said. “We’re just trying to tap in more to their reflexes. . . . Every opportunity I give [Holtby] to make another save with his reflexes is a bonus. Now, it’s a process. There’s many nights that he reverts back because that’s his habits, but there’s things I think he needs to do to be better.”

    Plays the same way as every team. Studied the [goaltending] position. Never played D but knows D, so he knows goaltending.

    I wouldn’t hire this guy to drive the Zamboni.

    • jaguar0413 - Apr 11, 2014 at 8:46 PM

      And the article didn’t even touch on his penchant for throwing his players under the bus He did it to Erat, Neuvirth, Laich, Orlov, Ovi and Halak. Good luck trying to get players to buy into your meddlesome and mind-boggling coaching tactics.

    • c9castine - Apr 12, 2014 at 12:31 AM

      lol. wow. all i have to say about that.

      actually i have so many thoughts on the matter its ridiculous all revolving around bad management.

      and firing coaches for no reason. BB never should have gotten canned.

  3. drewsylvania - Apr 11, 2014 at 6:17 PM

    Isn’t this Oates’ first NHL HC gig, too?

    • patthehockeyfan - Apr 11, 2014 at 6:21 PM

      Yes. And last. That is, if anyone looking for an HC has an IQ higher than 30.

  4. vbcaps - Apr 11, 2014 at 6:23 PM

    I’ve always heard these “rumors” need to read the post article.

    this HAS to be the end of GMGM and probably Oates right?

    • patthehockeyfan - Apr 11, 2014 at 6:25 PM

      “this HAS to be the end of GMGM and probably Oates right?”

      From your mouth to the hockey gods’ ears.

  5. drewsylvania - Apr 11, 2014 at 6:30 PM

    Would you trade Ovi for a large pile of picks, at this point?

    • alexnewca - Apr 11, 2014 at 8:51 PM

      I don’t believe any team in the league would do that

    • stixzidinia - Apr 11, 2014 at 10:43 PM

      No team is going to gut their franchise to acquire Ovie and his 10 mil cap hit. The return would probably be pretty modest i’d imagine.

    • c9castine - Apr 12, 2014 at 12:36 AM

      no.

      this isnt ovis fault and trading ovi will make it much worse. then your rebuilding. they dont need to rebuild. its not calgary and ovi isnt 35.

      they just need a better manager to put better pieces around the greatest goal scorer to ever play the game, and a better coach who knows how to get the best out of his players and who knows how to properly place and use said goal scorer.

      its really that simple.

  6. canucks30 - Apr 11, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    George McPhee has been linked to the Canucks GM job due to his ties to Linden and past with the Canucks.

    I wouldn’t touch him with a 10ft pole.

    • jaguar0413 - Apr 11, 2014 at 9:13 PM

      It’s time for him to move on from the Capitals, but I wouldn’t completely denigrate him. He did a pretty good job of rebuilding this franchise after the lockout. Unfortunately, he made the same mistake as Mike Gillis and decided that the Caps needed to change the way they played the game.

      What the article doesn’t touch on is that McPhee panicked after 2011 Caps were swept by Tampa Bay. They didn’t lose that series because they choked. They struggled with innumerable injuries (including to Mike Green and Dennis Wideman who were their top two right handed defenseman) and ended up losing to a Tampa team that was an overtime away from the Stanley Cup Finals. Not having Green and Wideman killed them because they had nobody to skate the puck out of the zone against Guy Boucher’s trap defense.

      During that offseason, McPhee pushed Boudreau to hold players more accountable and become more of a disciplinarian. That strategy backfired big time and set the franchise down the rocky road of firing Bruce, hiring Hunter and moving on to Oates. When they fired Boudreau, they lost their identity. If there is any single reason to fire McPhee, it is because of that decision to force Boudreau to change his coaching style.

      In the end, McPhee’s roster construction is still better than most realize. The problem is that the coaches don’t/won’t play the best players in their correct positions and with proper ice time. This is evidenced by the Erat and Penner trades. Both players should have been played in the top six based upon their possession stats and yet they remained on the fourth line because of the coaches. Imagine if during the most important stretch of the season Oates decided not to play Ovechkin with Beagle (he of 14 career assists). This disconnect with the coaching staff is probably another reason he should be fired, but it doesn’t mean he hasn’t created a playoff level roster.

      Similarly, the prospect pool is still deep for this team (especially at defense). If coached and used properly, players like Nate Schmidt and Madison Bowey could replace and potentially outproduce John Erskine and Mike Green respectively. Also, Andre Burakowsky has been tearing up the OHL in his first season in North America. He might even make the roster as soon as next year.

      It’s not as bad as it looks. If the Caps pick a coach who knows what he’s doing, the team could look a lot different next year. Imagine if they sign a top 4 dman in free agency?

      • c9castine - Apr 12, 2014 at 12:48 AM

        while i still think mcphee is a big problem and needs to go as well, one of the more intelligent and grounded posts ive seen in a while.

        managers or even owners panicking when they dont win the cup and blowing things up is like a disease right now its wild. the few teams who are at the top of the mountain are the ones who have maintained over recent history. detroit, pittsburgh, chicago, boston, LA even a couple others who havent won the cup….continuity of management, coaches and style of play. continuity of leadership core. and a proper control of the way the team interacts with the media, from management to the bottom of the ladder.

        p.s. penguin lost to tampa in 7 games after being up 3-1 to that same ridiculous trap he was running from a mediocre team. crosby and malkin werent there, staal and kunitz missed time, kovalev was on the team…shero didnt fire bylsma. he shed some free agents, signed some others and moved on.

  7. joey4id - Apr 11, 2014 at 7:24 PM

    Don’t know if acieu is still around, but his comment about Oates’ hiring is worth noting;

    acieu – Jun 26, 2012 at 4:47 PM
    Bad move they passed on Jon Cooper one of the brightest most promising young coaches in the business.

  8. gbart22 - Apr 11, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    I don’t know how anyone is surprised by the capitals results this season anyone who’s followed the team the last 5-6 seasons knows they’ve only been an average club playing outside the southeast and a dominant club in within their division which has routinely been a division full of very average teams. You could have seen this coming a mile away in fact I think there was an article here that did point that out if I can remember correctly.

  9. stakex - Apr 11, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    Wow that Washington Post article was mind blowing. McPhee should have been fired years ago… and while Ovechkin has found his scoring touch under Oates again, not much else with the Caps has gone right. If the owner wants this team to be a contender any time soon, a clean sweep is needed this offseason.

  10. t9tookey - Apr 11, 2014 at 8:11 PM

    I know after Oates left Hershey there wasn’t a lot of good things being said about him. Off the record the players didn’t like him much, he apparently didn’t talk to the coaching staff much (still don’t think he does) and he never talked to the press. As poorly as the team played while he was here, he never once came out take the heat, me made French do it. And some of those guys that are there now where here last year. I know he’s not a big fan of Orlov but the organization is. I think McPhee probably told Oates he had to keep him in Washington and he had to play him.

    For a head coach, I think Oates makes a very fine assistant coach. This guy can fire up your power play but he can’t run the whole team.

    • alexnewca - Apr 11, 2014 at 8:54 PM

      Been saying that all season. Oates would be a good assistant coach, but he clearly isn’t cut out for leading a whole team

  11. joey4id - Apr 11, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    Excerpt from The Washington Post “We’re still trying to figure it out. There hasn’t been a clear indication of what we are this year and it’s too late. You can’t all of a sudden create an identity with four games left,” defenseman Karl Alzner said.

    And Joey said:

    joey4id – Mar 18, 2014 at 2:45 PM
    Maybe he wants out of Wsh… maybe he wants to get the coach fired…. If Ovi would do his job as the face of the franchise and be the leader he’d be doing the talking on behalf of the team and the others would just do the usual “toe the company line”. Everyone knows they’re cooked and they’ll be on the beach come the start of the playoffs. This team has no identity as a whole.

    thailer35, Joey knows hockey. 😉

  12. capsrockva - Apr 11, 2014 at 10:09 PM

    If the Caps played through March they way they’ve payed in the past 2 nights we would be f****ing in the playoffs

    • stixzidinia - Apr 11, 2014 at 10:46 PM

      Well to be fair, the last two nights they played teams who’ve already locked up their playoff seed and who were resting guys.

  13. t9tookey - Apr 11, 2014 at 11:29 PM

    After reading the article, especially the comments from Craig Button about Oates and McPhee, you think Oates is trying to get fired. He didn’t play Erat or Penner where they could possibly do the most good (top 6 forward), he spoke publically about a conversation between him and the goalie McPhee just traded for (a conversation that didn’t make Halak look too good) and, oh yeah, he threw the face of the franchise and captain under the bus!

    You don’t do that kind of stuff if you want to stay. Maybe he sees how poorly this team is constructed and wants out.

  14. cliffatola - Apr 12, 2014 at 12:36 AM

    This is Alex’ world and all the other Caps are just living in it.

    • cliffatola - Apr 12, 2014 at 12:38 AM

      and to be honest with you McPhee works for the owner so call it what you want he is doing his job, however some of his decisions make you think he caught Ted Leonsis with a dead hooker in his trunk.

  15. jimw81 - Apr 12, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    he’s done if people are leaking stuff

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