Capitals Stay True To History, McPhee's Future Uncertain
Following the New York Ranger Game 7, 5-0 thumping of the Washington Capitals, one thing has become abundantly clear in the nation’s capital, this organization simply does not understanding the meaning of Game 7 or the urgency winning in the playoffs has to its fan base.
The concept of” there is no tomorrow “or” win or go home” somehow has eluded this franchise year after year. Sure, they stole a Game 7. in Boston last year and managed to beat the Rangers in Game 7 back in 2009 but as the Capitals proved once again on Monday, those victories were the exception and not the rule.
From General Manager George McPhee, to head coach Adam Oates to The Great 8---all the way down, there is plenty of blame to go around, as the Capitals once again fail mightily when it matters most in the spring.
Do the Capitals learn lessons this time of the year and build of playoff failure? Nope---they invent new ways to create heartbreak amongst their faithful. And just when you think they could not possibly get into the record books with another excruciating Game 7 loss, there they are---smack dab in the middle of yet another Elias Sports Bureau record.
Just in the last few springs, the Capitals managed to become the first overall No.1 seed to lose to a No.8 seed when leading the series 3-1. The following year, after beating the Rangers in five games, they managed to become the first No.1 seed to get swept in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then of course there was last night. The Rangers' five-goal win in D.C. tied the NHL record for the largest margin of victory by a visiting team in a Game 7.
The other five-goal road winners in a seventh game were the Minnesota North Stars at Los Angeles in 1968 (9-4) and the Red Wings at Phoenix in 2010 (6-1). The Rangers' win was even more surprising in light of the fact that, before Monday, their all-time record in Game Sevens played on the road was 0-5.
I hate hearing two words this Time of the year. The Capitals and irony.
Ironically, nothing positive is spoken when those two words are used in late April or early May for Washington. Last night it was NBC’s Doc Emmerick pointing out that four years ago to the day, the Caps lost a Game 7, 6-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center. Therefore, Washington is now 0-2 on May 13 in game sevens having lost them both by a combined score of 11-2 and both at home-----See what I mean.
Is this franchise snake bitten? Is there a curse we are unaware of? I have never heard a goat or witnessed Babe Ruth’s ghost walking the halls at Verizon Center or the Capital Center for that matter. This curse or whatever you want to call it is not limited to the Alex Ovechkin era Capitals.
Many Caps fans I talked to felt the Caps were going to lose the series after the first two games at home. They had proof this franchise could not finish off the Rangers. Numbers do not lie. Since the NHL made all playoff series best of seven in 1987, the Capitals have taken a 2-0 lead seven times. They have now lost five of those series and have never won a Game 3 in which they led a series 2-0.
Throughout their history, the Capitals have lost four of 10 series in which they led 3-1.
What makes the loss in Game 7 even more painful is that who saw this coming on Monday? Well—maybe the loss but a five-goal loss. Five of six contests in this series have been decided by one goal and two have gone to overtime. Heading into Game 7, the Caps and Rangers played 13-playoff games during the past two years and 11 of them were decided by one goal. The other two games were decided by two goals.
It is always the same old story with this franchise. The big goal scorers disappear, they never seem to be tough enough and while their goaltending is great at times, the other goalie is always better. You can go back to the days of Mike Gartner and then Peter Bondra and now Alex Ovechkin.
In this series, Ovechkin and his top line mates simply disappeared off the score sheet. Joel Ward, Matthieu Perreault and Mike Green led the team in scoring. Ovechkin finished the season with 23 goals in final 23 games and scored once in seven contests vs. the Rangers. The Capitals top four during the regular season of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer combined to score four goals while registering just nine points.
Alex Ovechkin didn't score a goal in the final six games of the series, the longest playoff drought of his NHL playoff career. Since the core group of players (Ovie-Backstrom and Green) first took this franchise to the postseason in 2008, they have competed in nine playoff series and seven have gone the distance. Washington is 2-5 in Game 7s in that same span and 1-4 when that decisive contest occurs at Verizon Center.
That is unacceptable and it is just that simple.
Once again, the Capitals did not wait long to embarrass themselves with playoff losing comments and as always, leading the way was Alex Ovechkin. This time, Ovechkin told a Russian reporter that the officiating was to blame.
Ovechkin, who was nominated as a Hart Trophy finalists for the fourth time in his career today, was specifically referring to the fact that the Rangers were not called for one single infraction during Game 6, that is until the 20-minute mark of the third period when a post-game scrum flared up. Meanwhile, the Capitals took five minors.
“The refereeing. . . how can there be no penalties at all [on one team] during the playoffs? I am not saying there was a phone call from [the league], but someone just wanted Game 7. For the ratings. The lockout. . . the league needs to make profit”, Ovechkin said.
Those comments, which are likely to cost The Great 8 a few dollars when he returns from the World Hockey Championships in Finland, had to just be from frustration. Surely, Ovie and his teammates knew the Blueshirts were tied for the top spot in the NHL with the Blackhawks during the season with only 9.2 penalty minutes per game. I am almost positive they knew the Rangers (183) committed two fewer penalties than Chicago (185) to also lead the league as the most disciplined team.
The Capitals had to know the Rangers were not going to commit stupid penalties. The Rangers left that up to the Capitals to do. During the playoffs, the Rangers committed 21 penalties fifth least of the 16 teams in the tournament. In total contrast, the Capitals were one of league’s worst in the playoffs. The Caps committed 34 penalties and was the worst team in round one with power play minus penalty killing time with a minus 22-minutes and 22-seconds. While the Rangers were not great with the extra man in the first round, Washington was forced to chase unnecessarily and tired for stretches. Instead of being on the attack, the Capitals found themselves short shifting late in periods to kill penalties or catch their breath.
Did anyone bother to explain that to the Great 8? Better yet, did anyone explain to Mr. Ovechkin that not scoring one goal in the series final two games generally does not bode well for your team in terms of wining? It is a wonder Ovechkin did not accuse the NHL of putting up a brick wall in the Rangers net-----Oh wait; they did and named it Henrik Lundqvist. But even brick walls can be taken down if you put enough pressure on them-----How about some pressure.
Other than Mike Ribeiro’s Game 5 OT winner, the Capitals never made Henrik Lundqvist pay for the numerous rebound attempts he let get back into the crease area. The Capitals appeared to be scared to stand in front of King Henrik even after Ribeiro proved that the slightest bump could create enough space to do damage.
The comments were fast and furious from the Caps locker room following the loss. “Obviously they played good on us,” admits Backstrom. “But we should still score goals. I can just talk for myself, my effort. That’s embarrassing.”
So what now, whose to blame and who must go. Owner Ted Leonsis will simply jump on Ted’s Take and do what he does every year------apologize. Today, Ted gave you this take:
“They were clearly the better team last night and they deservedly move on to the next round of the playoffs. We exit Round 1 in seven games, after having a 2-0 series lead. The loss is quite painful to everyone associated with our franchise. I personally feel like I have let the community down with this Game 7 loss.
I also feel terrible in how we let down our great fan base, and I am very appreciative of all of your support, even when we were down 5-0. Thank you so much; you really are the best fans in the NHL.
When you are eliminated in the playoffs, the emotions are raw and the thinking isn't that clear. So I believe it best that we let some time pass before we comment on the season and the series, and our eventual go-forward plan.”
There is no Brice Boudreau to place on a tightrope and Dale Hunter got out when he could last year. He is back in London, Ontario making yet another run at a junior league championship. Adam Oates did a great job during the regular season when you consider he had six days of an actual NHL training camp to install his new system. Despite the restrictions on time and a 2-8-1 start, Oates and his team still delivered Leonsis his fifth division title in six years-----He’s not going anywhere.
Ovechkin led the league in scoring despite another poor scoring playoff performance so The Great 8 is safe----So who goes and who will get the blame? Caps fans are hoping it is General Manager George McPhee.
IT MAY BE TIME GEORGIE BOY:
This is an odd situation because it’s not as if McPhee’s track record is horrible. Named the fifth general manager in team history June 9, 1997, McPhee found immediate success with the Capitals while engineering the club’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season (1997-98).
After the Finals appearance and three spotty trips to the playoffs before, McPhee tore down and rebuilt the franchise. The Capitals became a lottery team but with great drafts that included Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green, in just four short years, McPhee had them winning Southeast Division championships. The success culminated at the end of the 2009-10 season when the Capitals won their first Presidents’ Trophy.
Under his leadership, the team has claimed seven Southeast Division championships; compiled seven 40-or-more win seasons and set a club record for wins and points (2009-10). During the 2010-11 season, the Capitals finished as the top seed in the Eastern Conference in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Their 107 points tied for the third-highest total in team history and marked the third straight season that the Capitals reached the 100-point plateau. In addition, their 99 wins at home in the last four seasons are second only to San Jose (101) for most in the NHL during that span.
McPhee has had a nice run in Washington, again, the numbers do not lie but this is a “what have you done for me in the playoffs” type of business and that does not bode well for McPhee. While McPhee has been the GM, the Capitals have to be the biggest teases in all of professional sports when it comes to setting expectations in the playoffs relative to regular season success.
Washington has made the playoffs for six straight seasons. Three of those seasons have resulted in first-round exits and three have resulted in second-round exits. Over the last half-dozen seasons, the Capitals have put together an astounding regular season record of 264-143-51. (.576 PP)
In the Stanley Cup playoffs following those six seasons, Washington is 27-31. During McPhee’s tenure as GM, Washington is 44-52 in the playoffs and watched division foes Carolina and Tampa Bay each win Stanley Cups.
With all of the success McPhee has enjoyed in Washington, every spring ends with a sour taste in Capitals fans mouth. He has not exactly set the world on fire lately with some of his decisions and one in particular downright angered Caps fans in April.
Washington’s offseason will be clouded with the Mike Ribeiro contract situation and considering how the post season turned out, many will point the fact that this was the second straight year the Caps GM is likely to lose a top scoring forward when McPhee could have and probably should have traded him at the deadline.
Instead of trading Ribeiro back on April 3, McPhee chose to roll the dice knowing “Ribz” will be looking for a career finishing deal in the neighborhood of five to six million per season for a minimum of four years to five years. Ribeiro will be 34 next season and I think it is fair to say that type of money could be better spent elsewhere considering the deficiencies Washington once again showed in the playoffs.
Last year, it was Alex Semin who McPhee could have dealt but did not and lost him for nothing in free agency to a division rival, the Carolina Hurricanes. Caps fans were enraged when McPhee sent Washington’s first round draft pick (11th overall) , the highly touted Filip Forsberg, to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat and AHL player Michael Latta instead at the deadline.
This trade alone would be the demise of some GM’s, especially considering Forsberg was NHL Central Scouting’s highest-rated European forward heading into the ’12 draft, and twice represented Team Sweden at the World Junior tournament. At the ’13 tourney, he was named to the All-Star team after losing to Team USA in the gold medal game.
Either McPhee knew something the rest of the hockey world did not about Forsberg, or he just missed on the deal. Georgie Boy had Forsberg skating for the Caps top minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears, once he finished overseas in mid-April but opted to trade him. Nashville brought him right to the NHL 11 days after the deal and he finished with one point in five games for the Preds.
McPhee no longer seems to have a clear direction for this team. The Capitals still have some quality young depth. We saw an example of that when the Caps other first round draft choice, 16th overall from last year’s draft, Tom Wilson, made his NHL debut against the Rangers in the playoffs. Wilson asserted himself well and figures to be a factor in next year’s lineup.
McPhee has also doled out some questionable contracts over the past few seasons. He admittedly overpaid for Joel Ward two years ago in free agency and over rewarded Jason Chimera with a two-year $3.5 million deal this season. He will be paying his backup goalie more than his starter next season as Michael Neuvirth is scheduled to make $2.5 million compared to Braden Holtby’s $1.85 million.
All of this complicates any attempt the Capitals would have at trying to sign Ribeiro if they so desired but should they even desire to do that consider his age? The answer should be no on Ribeiro. Washington does not need to hand out another extended contract to an aging player.
How this ends is anybody’s guess. Of course, Mr.Leonsis’s first name is Ted and he has been accused of being a “Teddy Bear” when it comes to handling his team’s top executives. After all, he also owns the Washington Wizards and brought back their General Manager, Ernie Grunfeld this past season and he remains after another underachieving year.
Leonsis ignored the fans outcry to fire Bruce Boudreau following the Tampa Lightning’s sweep of his team in the playoffs back in 2011. Instead, Leonsis and McPhee waited until late November the following season and because he waited, his team and the coach he selected did not exactly click as the Caps failed to win the division and fell to a seventh seed.
For the Capitals, next year will not be easy. There will be no Southeast division to kick around. Nope---thanks to realignment, the Capitals return to the old “Patrick” division and will play the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, NJ Devils and resurgent NY Islanders more than any other team in the league. Thank God, Carolina is going with us--- otherwise, the Caps could be staring at last place.
Leonsis must act almost immediately. McPhee has to go and the fans agree. Here is a copy of just one of the many letters from Caps fans to Ted Leonsis. Many more like it were sent to local columnists today and sports talk around D.C. was active with talk of “McPhee must Go”
This letter was in direct response to Leonsis Blog post today on Ted’s Take. It was written by a man named Dave Inkeles.
You gave the GM so much time and latitude. Abe never let David Poile have whatever he wanted. You allowed George to spend freely and he has assembled a decent team that is mortgaged for a LONG time with some of these extremely generous contracts that really are leaving most of us fans scratching our heads. We are losing a few off the books this year, but we really have very little cap space. We lost Semin for nothing last year and we will lose Ribeiro for nothing this year. That is a failure in overall General Management. Our payroll is near the top of the NHL thanks to your generosity, but other than 1998, we have not made it out of the second round once and are typically first round losers. You are supposed to get a chance to make a living on the playoffs since you spend all income on regular season play. The playoffs are supposed to be a chance to thank the owner for being so generous and playing a little bit harder so the fans are happy and the owner gets to enjoy making a little change for his troubles. George is a hell of a nice guy but has failed terribly. It may be time for you and your board of directors to consider a new look and new ideas. We are going to be in a tough division next season and with the band of underachievers that we have, we will be the laughing stock of new division. You have the second best player in the league but his window of opportunity is getting smaller, while his talents are being wasted. New direction sir! Will all due respect Dave
As the saying goes in Washington D.C. this time of the year------WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR.