Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The George McPhee Watch: Day 98

If I didn't know any better, I would have thought that General Manager George McPhee's job was in jeopardy with some of the trades he made yesterday. But CW wisdom is at least it is or was according to Tarik El-Bashir. However, with the triumvirate of trades that brought in forwards Matt Kent Cooke, Sergei Fedorov, and goaltender Cristobal Huet the preseason declaration of the making the playoffs has proven to be more than just a marketing gimmick. So let's look at the moves that really mattered for the Caps yesterday (I really don't care about the Motzkoball trade).

Matt "Princess" Pettinger to Vancouver for Matt Kent Cooke:

Simply put, extraneous garbage for extraneous garbage. Both players claim to have had problems with their former Head Coaches but Bruce Boudreau denies the claim and Cooke couldn't be baited into taking a potshot at Alain Vigneault. Cooke is a UFA after this season currently making $1.525 million while Princess was going to be a UFA for us making $1.1 million. I can't see the Caps looking to pay Cooke that same amount or even giving him a raise. Should he leave over the summer it would be disappointing because we gave up a player like Pettinger for nothing almost like we gave up Zubrus for what has turned into only draft picks. But neither player is a long term solution for what ails their new teams.

2008 2nd Round Draft Pick from Anaheim in the Brian Sutherby trade to Montreal for Cristobal Huet:

For Caps fans declaring McPhee incompetent for not having a bridge already in place to get from Olie Kolzig to prospects Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth (conveniently forgetting this guy called "Maxime Ouellet" whom McPhee ripped off from Philly for Adam Oates a few years ago) have nowhere to go expect to grouse "GMGM should have done this sooner." But never the less, Huet has been struggling a bit recently (he was the goaltender on the other end of the singlehanded beatdown A.O. laid on the Montreal a month ago) though he should find the D.C. market a lot friendlier and the pressure considerably lighter than in Montreal. Huet turns 33 in 11 days so he won't give us an unlimited amount of time to groom Varlamov and/or Neuvirth but he should give us some time.

McPhee said last night that this trade does not necessarily mean the end of Kolzig's time in D.C. He further flatly stated this morning on Idiot in Morning that "Olie will be a Cap next year if he wants to be." While the straightforward English translation means that Brent Johnson is the odd man out, it could also be interpreted as "Kolzig will be here next year if he can show he can still get the job done. It's up to Kolzig to show us that and we happen to think he can. If Kolzig can't show us that he can get the job done, then it will be on him, not us because we believe in him." In other words, McPhee is already laying the groundwork to it being Kolzig's and not the team's choice should Kolzig not to return to the Caps next season no matter what.

But watching Kolzig's interview last night after the game you could see in his face that he knew that the management no longer had any confidence in him. John Riggins once said "when you think you're done and management thinks you're done are often two different things" and this is clearly the case with Kolzig. Kolzig has done a lot for this franchise and this town but it is clear he can't carry this team anymore. Some blame GMGM for that because of the defense he's assembled in front of Kolzig but there is no denying that Kolzig has better players in front of him this year than he has the two previous seasons so the question is, why has Kolzig's play gone down this season?

In a perfect world, Kolzig would retire after this season and accept a job in the Caps front office (or replace Ken Sabourin as color commentator on the radio and do the job full time, not just home games). Huet will hold down the #1 job until one of the prospects are ready with Johnson fulfilling the backup role he is better suited for. The key in all of this is resigning Huet who is also a UFA after this season. Huet won't command the $5.45 million that Kolzig does but he is going to see a raise over the $2.75 million he's currently making. This is almost a bigger priority than resigning Mike "BEAM ME UP" Green before July 1st.

Ted Ruth 2nd Round Draft Pick in 2007 for Sergei Federov:

First the obvious observation that 10 years ago this would have been an outstanding move. However, today it is a perplexing move for a couple of reasons. We don't "need" a 2nd line center once Michael Nylander returns. This is the kind of trade made not just to make the playoffs but to go well beyond the first round and there's no way the Caps are going deep in the playoffs and making the playoffs is a very tall order right now with or without Federov. Furthermore, this trade opens McPhee up to the legitimate criticism about not addressing the glaring need for the "rugged defenseman." We have a 2nd line center but he's hurt; those things happen. But our best excuse for a "rugged defenseman" is John "Coach's Pet" Erskine Bowles who only underscores our dire need for a "rugged defenseman."

The Penguin Scum got Hal Gill for a second round pick. We have a couple of extra of those and were willing to part with one to get Huet who is roughly the same age as Hall Gill. Was Toronto's asking price higher for us than it was for the Penguin Scum? Besides who isn't looking for a "rugged defenseman" right now? But McPhee was willing to address a short-term and mid-term need but the glaring need was not addressed.

Adding to the complications is that Federov is another UFA and he'll definitely have to take a nice paycut from his $6.08 million salary to stay in D.C., assuming that he even wants to. Plus at the ripe old age of 38, Federov doesn't have much left in the tank. (Though he does serve a useful purpose in making Kolzig feel younger...)

Should we sign Federov for next season (it would only be a one year contract in my estimation), we will have the opposite problem that we had this year heading into camp. We'll have at least 8 forwards suited for the top two lines and only six spots to fill where this year, we entered camp with just 5 bonafide top two line forwards for six spots.

But what makes all of yesterday's activity odd, is the ownership philosophy on deadline deals. I'll grant you, we held onto our first round pick and the only NHL player lost of the roster was a guy whose future with the franchise had become murky. But we gave up a recent second round pick and another second round pick for what is considered a very deep draft for three players who have the right to walk away after the season is over without any compensation coming in return. If the Caps were 5 points ahead in the Division instead of 5 points behind, I could understand making these trades. But the addition of Federov, Huet, and Cooke do not guarantee us making the playoffs and if the Caps were to make it, they would at best maybe get us to a 5 or 6 game series before bowing out simply because we'll be out of gas should we make the playoffs.

This of course doesn't take into account the damage done to chemistry and team cohesion as Kolzig and/or Johnson could very easily poison the locker room with three NHL goaltenders on the roster. You hope that isn't the case, but you never know.

However, I'll say again, do we even really want to make the playoffs? Look folks, last year this team won 28 games and registered 70 points. Lets assume we make the playoffs and catch fire and win a round or two. What about next year? Look at what happened to Atlanta. They made all kinds of moves just to make the playoffs last year and lasted all of four games. The expectations weighed heavily on them this season and now this year they ended up selling at the deadline. We've already made progress this season but too much progress can be just as bad as not enough.

But what is done is done. McPhee has made his bed and now he needs to lie in it. Whether or not he stays in that bed remains up in the air.



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