Monday, July 5, 2010

Everyone Relax: GMGM Knows What He's Doing

Like the commercial says, hockey fans aren’t like other fans. We are a tight-knit band of fiercely devoted people, and we know no other way. We weep with every loss and rejoice with every victory. We know the true meaning of tough.

We also, however, inevitably feel we can be a better genera manager than the man who controls out team. From a distance, I watched the Caps fan community disintegrate into madness as they watched George McPhee stand by while the top defensemen were signed away.

The name of the game the NHL free agency season seems to be “overpaid.” This year’s free agent class is less deep than those in the past, and that caused teams to jump at the chance to sign the few valuable players available to high-priced, longer term deals than those players would otherwise be worth. The Ottawa Senators signed Sergei Gonchar to a 3-year deal at 5.5 mil per year, for a player who is 36 and more than past his prime. Anton Volchenkov signed a 6-year deal worth 25.5 million with the Devils. Even players like Adam Burish and Jody Shelley were given million-dollar-a-year contracts.

This trend continued with capable centers, as fans watched players like Mathew Lombardi slipped out of reach. Many fans were angry about this, and not without reason: a team that was far and away the best during the regular season was rudely escorted out of the playoffs by the team with the least amount of points to make the cut.

For the newer fans, this seems to be more frustrating. They have only seen the team succeed in the last three years, and didn’t need to acquire the patience the longer fans have had to deal with for about a decade now. The problem with spontaneously signing this year’s bigger free agents is that a grand total of zero of them were for the right price.
The depth of the Caps’ farm has been documented in grave detail and to great length. They have rising stars getting their feet wet in pro hockey. They will be ready to break out within the next few years, so it is impractical to sign a center to a long-term contract when in 2 years at the latest a guy like Marcus Johansson will be ready. The Caps are very close to being VERY deep at center, so only a short term deal would have made sense. Players like Lombardi are few in this year’s free agent pool, so they have the advantage. They can and will and did go somewhere else to get a longer, wealthier deal.

The other important detail to consider is the long-term impact of the salary cap. The Capitals will have to resign Michal Nuevirth, Semyon Varlamov, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner to new deals within the next few years. Possibly Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson too, depending on how things go this year. Having money tied up in players you no longer need is a sticky situation the Caps are all too familiar with. Michael Nylander is still a cap hit of over 4 million dollars until the Caps can find a place to stash him like they did last year. And even then they still have to pay him.

George McPhee is making the right decision staying quiet so far. It is important to assess any situation cautiously when there aren’t really too many moves to be made. Rash decisions are what get you contracts like the one Nylander has. It puts too much of the future in question. It doesn’t have the possibilities to reward in a way that would off put those concerns. The risk is too high, the potential reward too low.

This is a very, very good hockey team. Some seem to be forgetting that fact. It’s not broke, so don’t break your back trying to fix it. It’s not worth it long run. If these players had come at the right price to go to a contender like the Caps, I doubt McPhee would have turned it down. But they didn’t, and we don’t need them. We aren’t desperate, and we shouldn’t act like it.

McPhee has enough on his plate already with RFAs Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and Tomas Fleischmann all filing for salary arbitration. Schultz is an important shut down man, Fehr a key depth winger with a scoring touch, and Fleischmann a versatile finisher at best and significant trade bait at worst. The first two need to be signed, while Flash would be a nice bonus. Money and cap space deserves to go to these players, instead of one while an inflated paycheck and extended stay.

The future is more important than a longshot present. And that is exactly what GMGM is weighing these days. If we can pick someone up at the right price, for the right number of years, then great. If not, we can due without the ensuing drama and stick with the squad we have. This allows us the flexibility to add pieces via trade throughout the year. We are in a good position with several options, sit back and enjoy it fans. This kind of ride comes along once in a lifetime.


  1. I will agree with the free agent class being weak this year and were not saying the team needs an overhaul. What this team needs is a different philosophy to go further in the playoffs and their style needs more grit. I think Volchenkov was the guy, but realizing he accepted a $4.25 mil contract with the Devils raises an alarm for the office.

    I hope GMGM is looking at this as trade bait since next year's UFA class is loaded and could be rentals for next year depending how the team performs. He also has to look at this might be the final year with this unit and might have to reload in the next two years and so far, there hasn't been any changes personnel and philosophy wise. I hope there's a trade or signing to tell the team we're changing and so far, I haven't seen it.

    If there is nothing in free agency, so be it, but if there is no move from now to the trading deadline, the team is stuck as it is. I hope players from Hershey develop like Perreault and Andrew Gordon and have won Calder Cups, but can they transition that in the NHL? I hope they do, but you never know.

    Also, although the future is important, you don't know how the future holds since so many Caps players are UFAs next year. You can't worry about the salary cap, win now because this may never happen again.

    As I see it, this is the year and you can't hold back. I agree Flash needs to be gone, but I see Schultz as more serviceable than a good piece of the puzzle with his playoff performance. I can be patient with the GMGM and coach for now, but it better change during the season.

  2. People have been saying "this is the year" for the last three years, and they've always had another chance. Granted chances are not unlimited, but with Ovechkin and Backstrom locked up for so long, they will have many more chances as well. McPhee has been excellent in realized which of the players are needed for the team and brought them back, and I'm confident he will do the same next year. I think it's more important to keep space open for a trade during the season because that is where there is more talent. There has been no change so far, but this was a 121 point team last year, so no change is far from a bad thing. Everyone just needs to breathe and see what happens before we all hit the panic button.