Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee believes in the NHL as the best hockey league in the world and in the American Hockey League as a place for young players to develop. On Tuesday one of those young players, 24-year-old center Mattias Sjogren, decided against continuing to play for the Hershey Bears and went back to his native Sweden.
McPhee responded to that move after his team’s 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues with some harsh words directed at Sjogren and his North American agent, Ritch Winter.
“It’s probably a mistake,” McPhee told assembled beat reporters. “He needs to develop here. He wasn’t prepared to make the commitment to do so.”
Sjogren was not with Hershey for its road game Tuesday, spokesmen for the Bears and Caps confirmed. It turns out he was already planning on boarding a plane for Sweden, according to Winter, who claimed the organization promised his client a spot in the NHL.
Winter said he and Sjogren turned down bigger bonuses from other NHL teams because of a comfort level presented by Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson playing for the Caps.
And while McPhee said the Caps agreed to give Sjogren a chance, the general managed made it clear he did not earn a roster spot because of his training camp performance.
“You can’t promise anyone an NHL job. You can promise him you’ll give him a great look, and you’ll give him an opportunity, and we told him we’d give him an opportunity this year,” McPhee said. “But you’ve got to earn that job, and we all know Mathieu Perreault had a great camp and he’s a better player.”
In early October, the day before the Caps’ opening night roster was announced, McPhee did not want to reveal who made the team but seemed to indicate Perreault was the favorite to make the team.
“The people that are here now are the people we thought this summer would be here,” he said in a meeting with editors and reporters from The Washington Times. “We had real good competition for one spot, and the guy that’s going to end up getting it was the guy that we thought should get it if everything goes the way we expect it.”
Sjogren signed a two-year deal worth $1.8 million in June. It was a two-way deal because the NHL collective bargaining agreement requires that on entry-level contracts.
Things didn’t turn out the way either camp had hoped at the time.
“When we signed him, we told him we had a job available and promised him we’d give him a look this year,” McPhee said. “His training camp wasn’t good enough to keep him at the start of the year, and he was developing OK. But I guess he got impatient and decided to go home. If you’re going to quit on us, you might as well go.”
Sjogren had an out clause in his contract to go back to Europe if he was not on the Caps’ NHL roster. But according to McPhee, exercising that clause was not in Sjogren’s best interests.
“I know Claude Lemieux [who also represents Sjogren] told him that he should stick it out,” McPhee said. “So either Rico Winters or whatever his name is told him to go home or the player didn’t want to be there.”
Sjogren will go back to playing for Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League.
Check out washingtontimes.com/sports/hockey for more on Sjogren’s departure, including in-depth comments from Winter.