In the salary cap era in the NHL teams have windows in which they have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, and these windows aren't open for as long as many think. The Washington Capitals have now been to the playoffs for four straight seasons, and lost to a lower seed all four years, and every year in a different fashion. After this year's sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals have to be examined from top top bottom to determine what exactly is missing from this team. Is the coach the right coach? Are the players good enough? If so is the combination of players just simply the wrong combination? And is the General Manager the right man for the job? Does he go about his job in the right way?
I plan on looking at all of these things beginning with General Manager George McPhee. According to team owner Ted Leonsis, McPhee's job is safe. What has McPhee accomplished in his 14 seasons in DC? In his first season, with GM David Poile's core group of players, the Washington Capitals made it to the Stanley Cup finals. Since then McPhee has signed high profile free agents(failed for the most part early in the 2000's), he has watched his teams fail to meet expectations by not advancing passed the second round, he tore a team apart and rebuilt it from scratch, and he has established a very talented team and pipeline of players. And this last point is where we will begin.
Since the lockout was on the horizon McPhee has done a great job in trading for young talented players or drafting young talented players. However as we sit here heading into the summer of 2011, I question a lot of the players he has drafted or acquired. No doubt these players are extremely talented but many of them seem to lack character, heart, and the ability to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the team which is required come playoff time.
As much as people applaud McPhee for the talent he has assembled, people have to criticize him for the apparent lack of character and hockey IQ in these talented players. As I have sat back and watched the other teams in the playoffs take their games to another level, I watched my beloved Washington Capitals stuck in neutral, unable to step it up to that next level required in the playoffs, get swept by Tampa Bay. There are some Capitals that "get it" and take their game to the next level, but in the playoffs you need all the players on your roster to "get it." If not all of them get it, you won't be playing into June and very rarely will you even play into the middle of May.
McPhee needs to sit back and look at himself in the mirror, reevaluate how he evaluates players. Then he needs to take the next step in his career and take the new method of evaluating players to retool this Capitals team. In order for the Capitals to take the next step, McPhee has to take the next step for himself and realize talent doesn't win, it is the perfect mix of talent, character and heart that does. If he is able to do this then you will see at least two current players on the roster traded and only two of the current UFA's will be retained.
The Capitals enter the offseason still ultimately looking for a 2C, 2W, retooling their 4th line and their D corps. If McPhee doesn't reexamine the way he goes about his business then Capitals fans should expect more of the same in the years to come and the window that currently has about 2-3 years left if things are done properly will instead slam shut in all of our faces.