Usually how well a team performs in free agency is a matter of debate. Naturally, people around hockey value acquisitions and contracts differently.
But one thing has seemed unanimous this summer - George McPhee and the Washington Capitals cleaned up. The general manager has drawn rave reviews from observers around the NHL and, of course, within his own organization. He’s proud of the accomplishment but realizes the Stanley Cup isn’t won in July.
“It all looks good on paper, but it’s on paper right now,” he said last week. “We didn’t anticipate doing as well as we did, but we did real well and hope it translates into a real good performance this year.”
In the first two days of July, the Caps landed veteran forwards Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern, defenseman Roman Hamrlik and goalie Tomas Vokoun and traded Semyon Varlamov for first- and second-round picks.
That earned an “A” grade from the popular Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo Sports, which called the Caps “the team of the [free agent] frenzy.” And it engendered plenty of talk about McPhee being a genius.
“I think we made some really strong moves in July, and there’s not a lot of holes to fill,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
A lot of the thumbs up for McPhee have come from fellow Caps employees, but the level of praise has been downright effusive. That goes especially for his signing of Vokoun - considered the best goaltender available in free agency - to a one-year deal at a bargain price of $1.5 million. The 35-year-old was thought to be in line for a deal paying him at least $4 million annually.
Right wing Troy Brouwer and defenseman Karl Alzner called it a “steal.”
“I thought it was quite a coup by George, quite frankly,” Boudreau added. “When he came in on the Saturday morning and mentioned that it was an opportunity, I was [like], ‘No kidding.’ I don’t think anybody expected it. It fell into his lap, and I think we’re lucky to get him.”
In Brouwer (acquired in a draft-day trade) and Ward, the Caps got bigger on the wings, something Ward said should help when the playoffs turn into a “wear-and-tear and grind game.” Halpern, 35, and Hamrlik, 37, add a little more gray to what the Caps hope will be a room full of heavy beards next spring.
“Definitely gone in a little bit different direction with some really good experience on the team now,” Alzner said. “I think that we’re going to have a lot of focus on having really good depth and really hard-working players.”
For a team that has tripped up in the playoffs the past few years, the past few weeks haven’t represented an implosion but rather an opportunity for McPhee to retool. The proof will be in the playoffs, but right now it’s hard to find anyone with negative feedback on the Caps’ offseason.
Forward Matt Hendricks, for one, will miss his departing teammates (namely linemates Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley), but he called McPhee’s moves “dynamite.”
“I think our team’s moved forward,” Hendricks said. “I wasn’t surprised that they went out and did what they thought they had to do. I think everyone is happy.”