Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is It Time to Re-Evaluate George McPhee?

In the wake of the Washington Capitals utterly baffling and ever frustrating 8 game losing streak; watching the Capitals fall out of 1st place in the Southeast Division for the first time since the Van Buren administration.  With expectations through the roof and the increased scrutiny of 24/7 coinciding with the fall of the Capital juggernaut, the clamors for change, namely in the form of Bruce Boudreau's firing, have clamored from many.

It's easy to totally disregard the fact that Bruce Boudreau has the best winning percentage of any coach with at least 250 NHL games coached; it's convenient to disregard the fact that he's changing the way his team plays defensively, a tactic that won Lindy Ruff a Jack Adams, yet an 8 game losing streak demands immediate reactionary moves.  Well, now that they've won again, maybe it's time to take a look at what George McPhee has done, and oh he has done things, to help this team get over the proverbial Stanley Cup hump during the Capitals rise to prominence.

Now I'm only going to take a look at trades and free agent signings; I don't think there's any doubt that McPhee and the Washington Capitals have done a bang up job when it comes to the draft (except Anton Gustafsson); back to back Calder Cups for the AHL Hershey Bears and a recent ECHL championship, can attest to that.  It's what he's done with those prospects and picks for acquired roster players that we need to take a gander at.

Tomas Fleischmann for Scott Hannan

Obviously it's too early to evaluate and blast McPhee for the move that sent the streaky, both in terms or flash and sloth, Fleischmann to Colorado for defenseman Scott Hannan.  It's hard to ignore that Hannan's arrival coincided with the 8 game losing streak, and Fleischmann has gone for 5 goals and 6 assists in the 9 games since his arrival in Denver.  

Is it any surprise that Flash's increased production comes from top line minutes instead of the 3rd line treatment in Washington? His lowest minute total in Colorado, 15:07, would've been the 9th highest ice time of 23 games in DC, where as in 9 games with the Avalanche, his highest ice time in DC, 17:18, has already been eclipsed 6 times.  Obviously that's a depth chart issue and not one with Bruce or George, given the LWs ahead of him, and the failed 2nd center experiment.

But how has the Capitals return on Flash performed? 0 goals, 0 assists, -9, 3 SOGs, playing the same amounts of shifts (maybe even less total minutes than in Colorado).  But to say Scott Hannan is the piece that is going to move the Capitals forward; early returns certainly dispute that.

D.J. King for Stefan Della Rovere

The 20 year old Della Rovere was moved for the 26 year old enforcer this past off season, filling the minuscule gap left by Donald Brashear.  Granted; did anybody have very high expectations for Della Rovere, a 7th rounder in 2008 who was not even 1 year removed from the OHL's Barrie Colts.  

Della Rovere did make his NHL debut; playing in 5 contests for the St. Louis Blues, which coincidentally, is 62.5% as many games as D.J. King has played.  A move that baffled me (if only as I wanted to see Della Rovere in Hershey) it's proven to be completely unnecessary for the Caps.  3 bouts (Erskine also has 3, as well as the aforementioned 9 for Hendricks), 8 games, is the return on the prospect.  Think about it.

Brian Pothier, Oskar Osala, 2011 2nd Rounder for Joe Corvo

Is this move not universally panned throughout Capital fandom?  Obviously, if the Caps wouldn't have bowed out to Montreal; things might look different (and we definitely wouldn't be having this conversation), but looking back now this move was a resounding failure.

Joe Corvo lasted a whole 18 games in Washington, putting up 6 points (2 G, 4 A), while generally looking lost and terrible at the game of hockey.  He then turned around and resigned in free agency back with his former team in Raleigh.  

As for what they've given up; Brian Pothier did not really have a future on the Capitals blueline with the coming emergence of Karl Alzner and John Carlson.  But the other parts of that deal may make Capital's fans rue the day Joe Corvo first put on a Washington sweater.

In the 16 games after the trade; Osala put up 10 goals and 3 assists in Albany; while this season, in Charlotte, he's put up 7 goals, and 19 assists in 31 games.  Most certainly a solid start to his 3rd professional season in North America for the former 4th rounder from SwedenFinland.

Now here's the kicker on the 2nd rounder, it's in 2011, because the 2010 2nd round pick, well that was moved for Eric Belanger.

Eric Belanger for 2010 2nd Rounder

The Capitals have been plagued with a 2nd line Center issue since Sergei Fedorov retired to the KHL.  They signed a low risk, high reward guy in Brendan Morrison to fill that void (more on that later), which didn't work nearly as well as planned, so another veteran guy was brought in in Eric Belanger.

Belanger's numbers are nothing but unimpressive, but is a calm influence on the ice that can log both PP and PK time.  If Belanger would have re-signed with the Capitals; one would think he could have been a very good fit moving forward at center.  Instead it's another 2nd rounder traded for nothing.

Scott Walker for 2010 7th Rounder

Another gritty forward; another throwaway deal.  At least this deal was only for a 7th rounder.  I guess Scott Walker retired; but I just think at 37, he's not ready to admit it.

Jason Chimera for Milan Jurcina, Chris Clark

This has to be considered McPhee's best move over the past two years, paving the way for Ovechkin to take over the captaincy and gaining the talents of the ridiculously fast Jason Chimera.

In 74 games in DC; Chimera has put up 11 goals and 16 assists; playing a small PK role on the roster.  His worth is mainly in the forecheck and his responsibility in his own end.

Now the oft injured Chris Clark has played 65 contests for Columbus since the move; totaling 8 goals and 9 assists during that time.

Oh and Jurcina?

Milan Jurcina for Milan Jurcina 

This is mind boggling.  Milan Jurcina is part of a trade to bring over Chimera, then at the trade deadline is brought back over for a 6th round pick.  Then he's left to sign with the Islanders in free agency.

Granted; as was so politely pointed out in the comments; due to Jurcina's injury during the Olympics; that conditional 6th round pick never occurred. So it's more or less getting Jurcina back for nothing. Just in case, you know, you wanted to be factually correct.

What? It's a series of moves that make you shake you head.  Obviously, McPhee must have been worried about defensive depth in the organization at that point in time; which is always a concern.  Yet, Jurcina could not have been in the future plans for the organization with the rapid development of Carlson and Alzner, so why waste the pick?

Let's move to some free agency moves.  Also, yes, I am ignoring the Sami Lepisto trade. Spare me.

Matt Hendricks

I think any and all will agree that Matt Hendricks has performed his role beyond any and all expectations upon his signing, easily eclipsing the career marks he set in Colorado last season.  With 9 bouts on the season, he's playing Matt Bradley right out of a job. 

Brendan Morrison

Like what was noted before; Morrison was brought in as a low risk, high reward play.  Coming off injury in Dallas, McPhee brought Brendan in to fill the hole left by Fedorov.  The move worked well for the Caps; getting 42 points; 12 goals, 30 assists in 74 games; from a guy who's past number of seasons were all shortened by injury.

Unfortunately it didn't work out for Morrison, who was released from a pro tryout in Vancouver, signing for dirt cheap in Calgary.

Mike Knuble

The perennial 25-30 goal scorer found his way to DC after a number of successful years in front of the net in Philly; signing a 2 year deal worth $5.6 million.  In year 1 of the deal; he potted 29 goals and 24 assists in 69 games, very Knuble-esque.  

But this year has seen a drastic drop in production; only 14 points (6 G, 8 A) in 32 games.  To say that the 38 year old may be slowing down might just be an understatement.  But without a true 2nd center; Knuble's effectiveness is certainly going to diminish, and we've seen that this year.

So the past two years have seen McPhee make a number of moves; bringing in talent to supplement the fruits of drafting in the top 5 during the lean years.  Problem is; the Hawks bring in a Hossa, the Pens bring in a Michalek and Martin, and the Capitals are bringing in D.J. King, and Milan Jurcina, twice.

You see that he does make the moves but don't they seem reactionary?  He gets the gritty defenseman in Hannan, 2 years after he knows he needs him.  He signs and trades for depth down the center, let's them all walk away.  Granted; if it were so easy; we'd all be armchair GMs, but you get the point.

With the impending free agency of Alexander Semin; the importance of that GM position certainly can't be lost on Leonsis; and how the Caps respond to their early season doldrums may be cause for concern for George McPhee


Elliotte said...

I'll have to look up the trade info to be sure, but I thought the 6th rounder that was traded to bring Jurcina back to DC was conditional on Jurcina actually playing a certain number of games. Since he didn't play any, we get to keep the pick.

Anonymous said...

Elliotte, you are correct. On top of that, since Jurcina's injury happened in the Olympics, I think his salary was insured so it didn't end up costing the Caps a dime. It was a low risk move that might have paid off with a longer playoff run.

Also, Bangin' dont forget about the draft of 2005. That was not a bang up job for sure. Two first rounders wasted.

Vance said...

Didn't realize the conditionals on the Jurcina move; was only looking at the transaction page.

As for the 2005 draft; yeah; everyone's got their stinkers. That one was just special.

Anonymous said...

A couple of facts wrong here.

1. Milan Jurcina was re-acquired for a conditional pick - when he didn't recover in time to play in the playoffs, the pick evaporated.

2. While Oskar Osala is certainly talented, he wasn't going to crack the Caps' NHL lineup. Moreover, he's playing and scoring with Charlotte (AHL), not Charlotte (NHL), and his AHL numbers this year actually are a bit lower than his production over a couple of seasons for the Hershey Bears.

Vance said...

I'll give you Jurcina; that's been established.

But Osala's numbers in Hershey were (2nd year split)...

75 games. 23 goals, 14 assists, 37 pts.
69 games. 25 goals, 17 assists, 42 points.

This year...

31 games. 7 goals, 19 assists, 26 points.

Extrapolate. He's still progressing. Well.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a typo, but Oskar Osala is actually Finnish, not Swedish. Just thought I'd let you know, since I think each side hates being confused with the other.

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Fact: BanginPanger is not meant as an insult to the one and only Darren Pang, nor do I claim to be him. The views and opinions presented on BanginPanger are of my own, and no other namesake of the site, the NHL, Buffalo Sabres, Washington Capitals, or anyone else.