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A look back on 15 years of McPhee


A look back on 15 years of McPhee

By Ben Raby

The Washington Capitals will celebrate a franchise milestone this year with the 15th anniversary of the teams first and only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The 1997-98 season was also the Caps first under general manager George McPhee and while players, coaches and uniforms have since come and gone, McPhee remains a constant.

As the NHLs third longest tenured GM (behind only New Jerseys Lou Lamoriello and Carolinas Jim Rutherford), McPhee has seen his team go from a Stanley Cup contender to a franchise in desperate need of a rebuild to one of the NHLs marquee organizations.

With this summer marking the 15th anniversary of McPhees joining the Capitals, weve counted down five of the most significant in-season moves that hes made as the teams GM.


Sure it was with a roster he had mostly inherited from his predecessor David Poile, but among McPhees greatest achievements in Washington was guiding the 1997-98 Capitals to their first ever Stanley Cup appearance.

With his team seeking home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, McPhee added some much needed grit and experience to the 1997-98 Caps in the final weeks of the regular-season.

First McPhee acquired five-time Stanley Cup champion Esa Tikkanen from the Florida Panthers for prospect Dwayne Hay (Hay went on to record six points in 79 career NHL games) and two weeks later McPhee signed veteran Brian Bellows who had just completed a season in Germany.

Tikkanen may be best remembered for missing an open net in Game 2 of the 1998 Finals that could have given the Caps a series split in Detroit, but he and Bellows had plenty to do with getting the Caps to the Finals in the first place.

Tikkanen had 12 points in 20 regular-season games with the Caps and added six more points in 21 playoff games. Bellows meanwhile was signed so late in the regular-season that he played in just 11 games (collecting nine points), before netting six goals and 13 points in 21 playoff games.

Bellows game-winning overtime goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals gave the Caps a series win against the Boston Bruins.


It could not have been easy for McPhee to trade Washingtons all-time leading scorer in 2004, but in sending Peter Bondra to the Ottawa Senators, McPhee landed a 20-year-old prospect that would become an integral piece on his team for the next decade.

Brooks Laich has said before that shortly after his joining the Capitals, he met McPhee in the bowels of the Verizon Center at which point his new GM told him that he looked forward to having him play in Washington for the next 15 years.

Eight years after McPhee made that claim, Laich is now the longest tenured player on the team and one of the clubs undisputed leaders.

Laichs offensive numbers may not rival those of Bondra (although Laich is 23rd all-time among franchise scoring leaders), but his versatility and ability to play in all situations has made him a key cog in recent years as the Caps have emerged as one of the NHLs marquee clubs.


McPhee made NHL history in 2004 when he became the first GM to ever trade a player that led the NHL in scoring at the time the deal was made.

But in sending Robert Lang to the Detroit Red Wings, McPhee landed prospect Tomas Fleischmann (who would spend parts of six seasons with the Caps) and a first-round draft pick that was eventually used on Mike Green.

In 2008-09, Green set an NHL record for defensemen with goals in eight straight games, and he became the first Caps blue liner in 16 years to score at least 30 goals in a single season.

While Greens offensive numbers have declined over the past two years and questions remain about his ability to stay healthy, the Caps rewarded the 26-year-old last month with a three-year 18 million deal.


McPhee continued to rebuild the Capitals during the 2005-06 season and traded defenseman Brendan Witt- among the longest serving Caps at the time- to the Nashville Predators for Kris Beech and a first-round draft pick.

It was rare for Predators GM David Poile- McPhees predecessor in Washington- to trade away first round draft picks but with his club making a push for a deep Stanley Cup Playoff run, McPhee saw an opportunity.

The pick the Capitals acquired from Nashville wound up as the 22nd overall selection in that 2006 Entry Draft and the Caps used it wisely.

With Olie Kolzigs playing career winding down, the Caps selected Simeon Varlamov with Nashvilles first-round pick before selecting Michal Neuvirth with their own second-round selection just 12 picks later.

While Varlamov has since been traded to Colorado, McPhee and the Caps may continue to reap the benefits of the Brendan Witt trade for years to come. In sending Varlamov to the Avalanche last July, the Caps secured Colorados first-round pick (11th overall pick) in the 2012 Entry Draft which they used on prospect Filip Forsberg.


With the midseason hiring of Bruce Boudreau and the emergence of Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom as bona fide stars, the Capitals were in the hunt in 2008 for their first playoff berth in five years.

As the Trade Deadline approached though and the Caps having lost three straight games and five of six overall, McPhee felt that his team was in need of more experience and grit and additional help in goal.

Enter Sergei Fedorov, Matt Cooke and Cristobal Huet who McPhee acquired in three separate trades on Feb. 26, 2008.

The Capitals went 14-4-0 after the Trade Deadline, winning 12 of their final 13 games and clinching the Southeast Division on the final night of the regular-season. Huet went 11-2-0 down the stretch and finished the regular-season on a personal nine-game winning streak.

While Cooke and Huet signed elsewhere after the 2008 season, Fedorov would stick around for the 2008-09 campaign and went on to score one of the biggest goals in Verizon Center history. Fedorovs game-winning goal in the final minutes of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Rangers gave the Capitals their first playoff series win in 11 years.

What do you think were George McPhees best in-season transactions? Share your comments below.

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Why the suggested tweak to the goalie interference rule makes sense to Barry Trotz


Why the suggested tweak to the goalie interference rule makes sense to Barry Trotz

Goalie interference has become one of the most controversial calls in hockey and that has led to the general managers calling for a tweak to the rules before the playoffs.

As the general managers wrapped up their meetings in Florida on Wednesday, they issued a recommendation to the league’s Board of Governors that the final decision for all coach’s challenges for goaltender interference come from the Situation Room in Toronto where a retired referee will be included in the process.

If approved, the change will be enacted for the start of the playoffs.

The issue with goalie interference is consistency. It is an inherently subjective call so on any given night, it is hard to know how the rule will be officiated. That is a problem considering these calls can take goals off the board. The hope is that by requiring that all calls be made by the Situation Room, it will bring more consistency.


The news was met by skepticism from Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer.

“I can't tell you right now at this point if that's going to change anything,” he said. “If they still communicate with the linesmen, I'm sure they do, but in the end it's a grey area and it's been a grey area for a bunch of years now.”

One issue with the change is that while the Situation Room will make the final call, it will not always have the same personnel for each game and the retired referee to be included will not always be the same individual. Saying the Situation Room will make the call sounds great, but if the calls are still being reviewed by different people every night, will that really lead to greater consistency?

Head coach Barry Trotz thinks so. He applauded the change Wednesday explaining that different factors can weigh on a referee when he is the one making the call.

“Some referees who are more established and more sure of themselves, they won't reverse their calls,” Trotz said. “They just almost say, that's the way I saw it and that's the way it is and live with it. Others get swayed by what they see or maybe the crowd or another coach or how the game is going. It's no different than the student marking their own papers. Let's have a non-emotional person who has no skin in the game and is not in an emotional environment to make those calls and I think you'll find it'll be more consistent.”


If the main issue of the goalie interference was the referees being made to judge their own calls, then yes, this new rule change will go a long way towards fixing the consistency problem.

But perhaps it is unreasonable to expect calls to ever be black and white on a play and a rule that never is.

“Every situation is different,” Grubauer said. “There's no situation that's the same. Did he get bumped in? Was it intentional? Was the goalie intentional making contact? All points they have to look at and it happens so fast. I hope it's going to get better and I hope they will get a foundation down for it.”