“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.
For the Washington Capitals, we pick… general manager George McPhee.
The NHL’s fourth longest-tenured GM — only Lou Lamoriello, Jim Rutherford and Darcy Regier have been on the job longer — McPhee has been the constant presence in a constantly shifting organization.
McPhee’s survived an ownership change, two lockouts and an infamous punch-up. He’s gone through six head coaches. His clubs have made the playoffs in 10 of 15 years — including one Stanley Cup Final — yet he’s also drafted in the top 10 five times (including Alex Ovechkin No. 1 overall in 2004).
All of which begs the question: Given everything McPhee’s been through, why would he be under pressure this year?
Short answer… he’s the safe pick.
McPhee has exhausted his GM maneuvers with this group, widely considered to be the most talented he’s had in Washington. He’s changed coaches (from Bruce Boudreau to Dale Hunter to Adam Oates), swapped identities (from high-octane to defensive-oriented to a balanced attack), brought in and moved out peripheral/role players (too many to mention) and even pulled the ol’ “mortgage the future for the present” move (with the Filip Forsberg-for-Martin Erat trade).
Eventually, though, all GMs must sit back and let their work speak for itself. It appears McPhee has reached that point.
This offseason was one of Washington’s quietest in recent memory. Aside from losing Mike Ribeiro and adding Mikhail Grabovski, McPhee was virtually invisible during summer, popping up occasionally to weigh in on the Marcus Johansson and Karl Alzner negotiations (both were re-signed, with little drama.)
That silence might’ve been intentional. In late August, McPhee sounded like a GM pleased with what he’d built over the last few seasons.
“I like where the organization is right now,” he told NHL.com. “I think we have a real solid club here and a solid club in [AHL] Hershey, and some good prospects on the way.
“This club should stay competitive for a long time.”
The question dogging McPhee, though, is how competitive the Caps will be in May and June. The team’s had no problem achieving regular-season success under his watch yet has struggled in the playoffs, failing to advance past the second round since 1997 — his first year on the job.
Despite this, McPhee insists this is the group of players he’ll sink or swim with.
“I’d go to war with these guys. These are good players,” he told CSN Washington. “We’ve got a lot of good young players and you keep going to war with them. We’ve made the playoffs six years in a row.
“I mean, how many teams have done that? It’s not easy to do in this league.”
For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.