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“There’s a lot of risk in that. Because if you tear things down and start over, and it doesn’t work, now your franchise is in trouble,” he acknowledged. “Who’s going to buy tickets? Who’s going to want to watch you on TV? And who’s going to write about you? While it sounds like a nice thing to try in theory, when you’re actually doing it, it’s not easy, and it better work.”

Things turned in the 2007-08 season after the firing of coach Glen Hanlon and the hiring of Bruce Boudreau, as the Capitals caught fire down the stretch to make the playoffs. They haven’t missed since.

“The plan that we were told from Day One was, we were going to bring up a young group of guys and maybe for a little bit you’ll take your licks, but eventually one day you’ll be a real good hockey team,” Laich said.

Not crafted in his image

Mr. McPhee played 115 games in the NHL with the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, and despite being just 5-foot-9 and about 170 pounds, he fought 28 times — often against the heavyweights.

Look at this Capitals team and previous incarnations of it, and they aren’t built around guys who drop the mitts.

Having a salary cap changed all that.

“You’re not going to win a Cup with a bunch of fighters. You have to have talent to win Cups,” Mr. McPhee said. “If you’re in the middle of a playoff series, and you’re looking up and down the bench for the guy that’s going to get the next goal to win you the game, you better have them there.”

But that’s not to say the Capitals aren’t tough; they just define toughness in a different way. It’s not as much fighting as it is having players who can grind out victories — guys like newcomers Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer and mainstays like Matt Hendricks and Karl Alzner.

Mr. McPhee even pointed to the stars — Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom — as examples of his kind of toughness.

“Do you want to be out there when the real bullets are flying, or do you want to be on the bench and let somebody else do it? Do you want the puck in critical situations, offensively or defensively? Do you want to be the guy that’s called on to make the plays at the critical times?” he said.

“Guys like Ovi and Nicky Backstrom and these guys — they want to be the difference-maker. They want the puck in critical situations. That’s toughness. Throwing punches and doing that kind of stuff, I guess there’s a different kind of toughness there, but that certainly doesn’t help you win in the playoffs.”

Winning in playoffs?

There is a belief within the organization, set forth by owner Ted Leonsis, that the Capitals are in the midst of being a generationally great team. There’s not one chance or two chances to capture the Stanley Cup, but almost a decade’s worth of opportunity.

But over the past three seasons, Mr. McPhee said, the talent has been there to do it. He referenced the 2008 club that lost in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers, the 2009 club that lost in the second round to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 2010 club that lost in the first round to the Montreal Canadiens and the 2011 club that was swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the same light — each one could win the Cup.

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