Ted Leonsis confirmed in a blog post Tuesday morning what was reported by multiple outlets Monday night: that the Washington Wizards would be retaining general manager Ernie Grunfeld.
The Wizards will miss the NBA playoffs for the fourth straight season and were 18-46, second-to-last in the Eastern Conference, at the time of Leonsis’ announcement.
“We have accumulated talented, young players and worked at developing them. We have acquired veteran players who can help guide the younger players and just as importantly, help us win games,” Leonsis wrote. “We have a roster right now that features six first-round picks from the last two drafts. Under Ernie’s leadership we have almost completely turned over the Wizards roster. We are not only going to be in a position to add a lottery-pick player through the draft, but also because of the exceptional salary cap flexibility that Ernie has created, we will be able to be active in the free-agent market, if we so choose.”
Many of those same sentences could be written about Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee very soon. Given the Caps’ underachieving regular season, questions have swirled at least outside the organization about McPhee’s job status, as well as that of coach Dale Hunter.
What, if anything does Grunfeld’s retainer mean for McPhee? It’s possibly nothing. It’s certainly plausible that Leonsis and Caps team president Dick Patrick will approach this decision completely differently.
But it’s also not unfair to consider that keeping Grunfeld is a good sign for McPhee continuing on for a 15th season as GM. Injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green hurt the Caps during the regular season, and it took time for players to adjust to the coaching change from Bruce Boudreau to Hunter.
Like Leonsis pointed out with the Wizards, the Caps have a core of veteran players led by Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer. And the Caps have eight homegrown first-round picks on the roster, with the possibility of a ninth joining next season if Evgeny Kuznetsov leaves the Kontinental Hockey League to come to North America.
With the anticipated departures of Mike Knuble, Tomas Vokoun, Jeff Halpern and possibly Alexander Semin and Dennis Wideman, the Caps are expected to have plenty of salary cap “flexibility” this summer as well.
And, unlike the Wizards, the Caps are in the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
“You try to build a team as best you can every year and this is our team this year and we have some players that have been here a while and that’s fine by me,” McPhee said before the series against the Boston Bruins started. “I think we like that stability, our fans like that stability and to be able to identify players here that have made the playoffs five consecutive years, it means we’re doing something right, these players are doing something and we’re delighted to be playing.”