Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee went on ESPN980 Wednesday afternoon to talk hockey, and boy did he hit some interesting topics. McPhee explained what characteristics the Caps need to have to become a Stanley Cup winner in the future, and he defended his decision to anoint Brooks Laich the second-line center for next season. “There are a handful of teams that maybe have a better second-line center than Brooks,” he said. “It’s [an idea] we’ve been talking about for a few years, and the time has come to do it.”

The most interesting part of the discussion, however, was McPhee’s remarks on Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is due in North America sometime next year. McPhee admits some frustration about the two-year contract Kuznetsov signed with Traktor Chelyabinsk last spring to stay in the KHL, saying that Kuznetsov went against a verbal promise he made after the 2010 NHL Draft. He also talks about how hard of a contract it was for Kuznetsov to turn down. “He’s 20-years-old, they gave him ten million dollars to play for two more seasons,” McPhee said.  “It’s a 13% tax rate over there and even with that, most of the money is under the table. It’s probably no tax.”

The KHL never made Kuzya’s contract public, but it is believed his average annual salary from Traktor is in the two-million range. That would mean that the KHL gave Kuznetsov a bonus around $5 million to stay. And, as we learned from an Igor Kleyner post last year, the KHL’s Legal Regulations handbook has a open-ended rule that allows the league to do exactly just that.

[Traktor] may also apply to the KHL for a special stipend to supplement the young star’s salary. There are no specific limits on the amount of such a stipend, or any clear criteria defining eligibility.

Below, check out McPhee’s entire interview with ESPN980.

What will it take to get over the hump in the playoffs?

Just gotta make [the team] better. In order to win, you gotta be good. You gotta get great goaltending.  You need a little bit of luck.  You have to have a room full of character people who want to compete.  Everybody talks about wanting to win a championship, but paying the price to do it is a whole different matter.   I think we’ve done a real good job at putting good teams on the ice, but I’ve gotta put even better teams on the ice to win a cup.  That’s what it comes down to.

How do you get there?

Well I like what we have in our organization.  We have some young guys coming along.  We’ve got other guys that could fill the roles we need to fill.  I look at Chicago and they just won the cup.  I was amazed at how they did it.  They basically played a speed game.  What I’ve been trying to get closer to — we’ve always been a good sized team — I want even more speed than we’ve had.  Chicago was a team that I didn’t think was a big team. I didn’t think they were a tough team.  In terms of actual speed, they had good speed but they did things quick too.  They executed quick.  We’ve got some people here that have speed — if we put them in different positions — I think they’ll show up even more and help our club even more.  So that’s what we’re trying to get to

On Laich being the second-line center next year. 

I like the second-line right now.  Right now it’s Erat, Laich, and Brouwer.  You’ve got speed. You’ve got some grit.  You’ve got size.  You’ve got experience.  All three guys are real experienced players who play both ends of the rink real well. Can generate some offense and can be good defensively.  I really think Brooks Laich can be a real good center in this league.  He’s a natural center. He played center his whole life til he got to this level.  He’s played some center for us, we put him on the wing for several years, but he played center for us in the playoffs two years ago and I really liked it. He brought speed. He brought size. He was really good in his own end.  Brought some offense.

There are a handful of teams that maybe have a better second-line center than Brooks, but not that many.  He’s got the character to be able to do it.  He’s good on faceoffs, defensively responsible.  It’s something we’ve been talking about for a few years and the time has come to do it.

Are we sure Kuznetsov is going to be over next year and could he be a solution at the center position down the road?

We’re pretty confident he’ll be here next year.  There’s a chance we could see him this season, but he’s under contract now.  Maybe when his season ends in Russia (their season ends a lot earlier) we could see him.  He’s a very talented player. I thought it was a heck of a pick by our group.  He certainly could be a guy that plays second-line center but he can also play the wing. He’s a skill guy that would play in your top six.  You can never have enough of those.  I’ve never had a problem of having too many good players.  Hopefully we’ll see him sooner than later, but it won’t be in the early part of our season.

You seem so calm about it.

I thought he was ready to play in our league a year ago.  When we drafted him and we talked to him and he said, “I think I need two more years of development in Russia and I’d really like to stay two more years.”  I said, “if that’s what you want to do, I understand.”  He might have been ready sooner than that, but if you feel like you need it, that’s okay.

So he did that and he looked like he was ready [to come over] and then he got an offer for two more years to play in his hometown. It was a HUGE sum of money for a kid that young.  He’s 20-years-old, they gave him ten million dollars to play for two more seasons.  It’s a 13% tax rate over there and even with that, most of the money is under the table.  It’s probably no tax.  He’s playing in his hometown. He grew up there. He’s the face of the league over there so I understand how that works.

But he has said and the guy that’s running his team has said he’s coming over when his contract is up.  The player has said, “I wanna play in the NHL and as soon as it’s up, I’m coming.”  And the Director of his team said, “he’s fulfilled his obligations over here and when it’s up, he’s coming. We’re not going to try and sign him again or hold him back.”  So I don’t want to hype the kid too much, then it’s harder when he gets here, but I think he’s a real good player and when he gets here we’ll see what he can do for us.

Is Michael Latta someone who could make the team this year?

Yeah and this is a big year for him and for us.  I think he’s going to play for us at some point. I’d like to see it be this year, but he’s a real tough kid.  I think he was third in the American League in penalty minutes. That’s a tough league and he plays the game hard, honest, and he’s not much fun to play against.  You like having those kinds of guys in your line-up.  He has a few things he needs to work on. Hopefully, he’s worked on them enough that it works and he can play of us this year.

Where do you see Mathieu Perreault fitting in this year?

We expect continued growth from him. He’s getting better year after year like a Johansson gets better. A lot of these young guys are getting better. So they’re all in the mix and it’ll be up to Adam to see where he plays him and so on. They’re still young guys that keep getting better and we feel they can keep getting better. I don’t think players are physically or mentally mature until they’re 27, 28, 29 at least in our sport. So there’s still a ways to go for those players. We’re still a fairly young team.

  • Tommy

    I know we, well not me really, but a lot of “us” fans, give GMGM crap for not being hard enough on acquiring and then firing players to get the Caps to the cup. But, I remember when GMGM went down to the Blackhawks dressing room after a preseason game and punched the coach out because he thought the Hawks were putting goons out against our players, and not just the AntiCap. That takes a set. And, I like that he lets Ribs walk and gives Alzner 4 years. Its the right decision. I think we’re ok with this guy.

  • jeremiah

    my only issue is i think it would hold more weight and mean more if the coach said that Laich was the 2nd Center instead of the gm . i mean it is the coaches jobto decide where players play, in one part he says he is interested in seeing how and where Mp85 is played by the Oates, but when it comes to Laich declares him the 2nd line center.

  • yv

    This interview is not the most encouraging one.
    Essentially, GMGM shooting down several possibilities, that could significantly improve the current team, including that: no trading for someone like Grabovsky, Laich is the second center, and with such signed contract, Kuzzya will not be able or wish to buyout his contract and come for the preseason camp. Laich is a good player, but not a creator and a passer. If you listen interview with Alzner after signing, even he, with such very comfortable contract for Caps salary hit, is wishing to have a big guy, And expecting that all other players will improve is just goodwill wishes that usually has nothing to do with reality.
    As for now, it looks like Ovi alone will practically score more goals than second and third lines combined. And this still will be not enough to catch a playoffs spot (4th or 5th wild card) in very tough and improved division. After seeing what other franchise captains did recently (Iginla, Alfie, etc), it would be not surprising, if Ovi also will decide, at some point in the future, also to move further.

  • Сергей Торпс

    Mcphee is a f*cking lier: nobody paid kuznetsov this kind of money – it’s total and unadulterated bull… – in actual fact he is paid in the region of 2m usd

  • Fedor

    Rumors in Russia were that Kuzya’s contract is 2.5M x 2 yrs.

  • As I explained in the post, Kuznetsov’s salary from Traktor is rumored to be around $2.5 million. The KHL allows itself — in it’s governing handbook — to give random bonuses to players when it sees fit. I believe without a shadow of a doubt that McPhee’s telling the truth here, and that the KHL doubled his contract with under the table bonus money to keep him in Russia for two more years and be one of the faces of the league during that time.

  • Funny, that. That fight was also during a period of time for the franchise when they reacted first, thought later. A time where we traded for Jaromir Jagr and then gave him a massive extension before him even playing with the team. A time where your GM gets suspended a month for punching out another team’s assistant coach. While I love the sentiment of your comment (GMGM rocks, really, really cares about his players), I don’t remember that time as fondly as you.

    This is where my comment gets nice: The team has come a very, very long way since then. There is a plan from the top down, there is thoughtfulness, there is extreme professionalism. I’d rather GMGM continue to show his love for the players the same way he’s been doing it now: rewarding home-grown, loyal players like Karl Alzner with fair, medium-length contracts and giving talented depth players like Tomas Kundratek extra cash up front for more cap room.

  • Tommy

    Nothing in my response is meant in anyway as argument or disagreement. My comment, which I think you did a great job of paraphrasing, is directed more towards the recent impatience of our fans who think that splashing around with temporary stars is the way to go, or firing everyone who misses the net at a minor moment in a game.

    I do not have bad memories of that time, or anytime except that Montreal series, and the embarrassing games leading up to Boudreau’s firing. Those are bad memories. As for Jagr, knowing what we knew at the time landing Jagr for Kris Beech and a draft pick was was a coup. Of course, it didnt work out at all, but it gave us the team we have now. Also, we get to keep all the memories like GMGM’s fisticuffs and Jagr saying at the All-Star game “it like Capitals: step on ice, go down goal”. For the most part of GMGM’s tenure, he has kept players around. Some players are/were good, some are/were great, and a few of them stunk/stink. He builds teams that we can get to know, watch grow and remember as long-time, long-term memories. I have no doubt that these caps will win a cup. I hope it is tomorrow. I wished it wouldve been in ’99, or ’00, or ’01. Not yet. But GMGM’s steadiness makes me feel like I am a part of the team because I watch these players get drafted, struggle in Hershey, shine, struggle again, and grow until they become solid NHL players. When they win, I will cry with GMGM, and them, and you, and all caps fans. I believe we have GMGM to thank for that.