McPhee (10 of 14)

Photos by Chris Gordon

Monday morning, George McPhee said goodbye to an organization he’s known for 17 years.

He was charming, not bitter, during his 34-minute press conference at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Canned on Saturday, McPhee deflected blame toward himself, refusing to discuss individual performances.

“Should I start by saying fire away or is that the wrong terminology?” McPhee joked as he walked up to the podium. “I felt it was coming, but in this job, you’re 24 hours away from being fired almost any time.”

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The Micromanager: Adam Oates’s Downfall

Breakdown Day (12 of 12)

Gone. (Photo: Chris Gordon)

Adam Oates is a smart man. After going undrafted out of college, he turned into a Hall of Fame player. It wasn’t his skill that made him an NHL success, but his elite ability to notice things other people didn’t. Oates had a coaching mind in a player’s body.

“If Adam notices something in a game, he adjusts right away,” Ron Wilson, then the Caps coach, told SI in 2001. “Even if it’s only how somebody is holding his stick. He takes the information, processes it, and puts it to use. The thing about Adam is that he assimilates a lot of stuff at once. Most guys might see one or two things, and the rest is a blur.”

However, years later, when Oates became head coach of the Capitals, that obsession with improving individual players would undermine the team as a whole.

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News straight out of Arlington: Adam Oates and George McPhee will not return next season.

Oates’ final record with the team: 65 wins, 48 losses, and 17 overtime losses. George McPhee’s Caps advanced past the second round of the playoffs just once, in his first year.

No word on replacements yet. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, we’ve recorded a video to say goodbye to Oates. It’s worth your time.

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The Three Futures of the Washington Capitals

It’s been ten days since the Washington Capitals’ season ended and the proverbial axe has yet to fall. As of press time, both George McPhee and Adam Oates are still gainfully employed. That has some people upset.

I get it. I’m a bit surprised the team hasn’t acted yet. And this period of uncertainty doesn’t come without consequences, among them the possible loss of pending free agent Mikhail Grabovski. That would be bad, but I’m trying to see it from the owners’ perspective.

The Caps are at a fork in the road. I can see three potential futures ahead of the team, and now Ted Leonsis has to choose one. It’s a daunting decision, one that merits careful deliberation and planning. If the Caps pick incorrectly– or fail to properly execute that decision– things could get grim and dark. Things could get grimdark.

Here are all the ways I can I see it going.

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Off to the Golf Course: Caps Breakdown Day in Photos

Breakdown Day (6 of 12)

NHL plus-minus spokesman and hair model Alex Ovechkin speaks for the final time this year. (Photos by Chris Gordon)

Monday was an odd day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. We entered the day expecting to Adam Oates and George McPhee shed some light of their respective fates — or at least try to defend their time here.

Instead, we got an awkward stand-off with reporters. Within minutes of a spokesman announcing that McPhee would not be meeting the media, the general manager walked out to an area clearly visible to reporters. He chose to hold court with Connor Carrick in front of the entire Capitals press corps before reiterating that he would not speak today.

McPhee’s job — if he doesn’t leave of his own volition — is now in the hands Caps owner Ted Leonsis, who has never fired a general manager.

There were, however, other things that happened at Kettler on Monday: Jay Beagle got asked what he thought of Jay Beagle centering Alex Ovechkin, Dustin Penner ignored reporters to play with his phone, and Brooks Laich said that he really, really, really believes he’s healthy again.

Below, take a look at some of my photos from the day.

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Photos by Chris Gordon

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee appeared at Kettler Capitals Iceplex around 12:50PM on breakdown day. That’s not a surprise. However, this year, instead of addressing the media after all of the players depart like every other year, GMGM declined comment. Hmm.

According to The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera, McPhee said to the crowd gathered around him “I’ll talk in a couple days.” He then coolly sipped on a can of Diet Coke and had a conversation with 20-year-old defenseman Connor Carrick.

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Camp McPhee: The Story of Lt. Christopher Mosko

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Lt. Mosko at war. (Photo: US Navy)

Lt. Mosko at war. (Photo: US Navy)

Lt. Mosko and his wife Amanda in Hawaii in 2010. (Photo via NY Times)

On April 26, 2012, Lt. Christopher E. Mosko, a Naval explosive ordnance disposal technician, was killed along with two fellow servicemen when they hit a roadside bomb heading into a village. He was 28-years-old.

Lt. Mosko was stationed at a remote 30-man outpost in Zabul province called Camp McPhee. He had been in the military since 2007, joining after getting a degree in finance and engineering at Drexel. He left behind a wife, Amanda. The couple married in 2009 after meeting in R.O.T.C. They both ended up in the Navy. After his death, Lt. Mosko was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Two years later, Americans have left Camp McPhee. Our involvement in Afghanistan is coming to a close, and Afghans are in the process of electing a new president. While there will likely be an American presence in the country after this year to train Afghan forces, the majority of the troops have already come home. Twelve years after special operations troops chased Osama Bin Laden through the mountains of Tora Bora, the war is winding down with uncertainty and 2,316 American fatalities, including Lt. Mosko.

A few days ago, on a sunny Friday afternoon, I met one of Lt. Mosko’s friends. They grew up together, attending the same high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Years later, coincidentally, they found themselves in the same dusty collection of buildings in Central Asia.

“It’s kinda like the Wild West where we were,” the friend said. “It was just on an island out there. Us versus them.”

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McPheeKuznetsov

Photo: Carolyn Kaster

Visual approximation

Visual approximation

On June 25 2010, the Washington Capitals selected Evgeny Kuznetsov 26th overall. They saw him as one of the top players in the draft. He had only fallen so low, the Capitals thought, because some teams were uncertain when or if he would come to North America. George McPhee thought he could bring the 18-year-old Russian over within a year. One thousand three hundred fifty-two days later, Kuznetsov signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Caps.

“We’ve been working on it for four years,” McPhee told reporters before Washington’s game against Phoenix on Saturday. “It’s kind of like seeing the Loch Ness Monster when he walked in. We’ve heard of you, but we haven’t seen you. There he was and I found it hard to believe he was standing there after all this. It’s a pretty neat feeling that this kid’s in the fold and he’s a pretty darn good player.”

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Yo, I need to draw your attention to this quote from George McPhee, reported by Katie Carrera on Wednesday night.

“We play a system where teams get probably more shots the way we play but most of them are from the outside, we’ll allow those. In some ways that might be better for this particular goaltender.”

This is not the sort of thing a professional hockey person outside of Toronto should say. This is not a thing that any grownup with even a passing acquaintance with the concept of probability should say.

Allowing more shots is never good. Every shot carries with it a discrete chance that it could go in the net. More shots: more goals.

And the Caps don’t possess some newly discovered, sui generis ability to limit their opponents’ shot quality with reliability. If they did, we’d see it in the stats. So George McPhee should not be saying the equivalent of “We let the other guy take a crazy ton of shots because we’re the first team in hockey history that is actually magical.”

Nope, nope, nope. And Wednesday’s loss to Philadelphia is evidence of the cosmic wrongness.

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George McPhee Bruce Bennett

Photo: Bruce Bennett

On Sunday, Joe Micheletti of NBC Sports reported a quote from George McPhee that has been making the rounds. Except it’s not really a quote actually– just hearsay. According to Micheletti, GMGM said that the Washington Capitals would have ten more standings points if only they had better goaltending this season. McPhee declined to elaborate on that little piece of apocrypha on Monday, and the team didn’t get back to us when we asked about its veracity.

Katie Carrera of the Washington Post ran a wonderful piece about it on Monday. My favorite part was this quote by Braden Holtby:

“I think if we pay any attention to comments like that it brings the team apart.”

For perspective: That is a goalie talking about his employer, whose words might tear the team apart.

So… that’s not good.

I would like to set Braden’s mind at ease. If George McPhee actually said that (and I’m not sure he did), he’d be categorically wrong.

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