April 28, 2014, ARLINGTON, Va. (ISN) – Of all the subjects raised with George McPhee at his on-the-way-out news conference after being told he’s done as the Washington Capitals’ general manager, the two most vital to understanding the team’s future and recent past involved captain Alex Ovechkin and fired coach Adam Oates.
And those were two topics McPhee did not want to address Monday, two days after the Capitals announced the 17-year GM’s contract would not be renewed.
“I don’t really want to answer questions about individuals. I’m going to duck those,” McPhee replied when Ovechkin’s name was first brought up.
Pressed to weigh in about the three-time NHL MVP, McPhee replied: “If you’re asking me if we can win with him, I believed we could win with him.”
As to how Ovechkin could lead the league with 51 goals and be among the worst in the NHL with a minus-36 rating, McPhee said: “Of course I have opinions, but those issues are for the next guy.”
Later, McPhee was asked to describe his working relationship with Oates, who was fired Saturday with a season left on his three-year deal.
“Again,” McPhee said, “I don’t want to talk about individuals.”
At another point in the half-hour meeting with the media, though, McPhee did say he “loved working with” Oates’ two immediate predecessors as Washington’s coach, Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter.
The Capitals finished ninth in the Eastern Conference this season, missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2007.
“For five years, we really had an opportunity to win a cup. We were legit,” McPhee said. “And then I thought the last couple years, we could make the playoffs, but going deep might be hard, because I didn’t think we were quite deep enough.”
During the six post-season berths in the span from 2008-13, though, Washington never made it past the second round.
McPhee thinks he’s leaving the team in good shape, ready to reach the Stanley Cup finals “sometime in the next three years.”
“I’m not exaggerating when I try to explain that this organization is in great shape,” McPhee said. “We don’t have any bad contracts on the books. Lots of cap space to work with. A great (AHL) affiliation in Hershey. A whole group of young players coming into the organization.”
He said the Capitals simply need a “pretty easy fix.”
McPhee said his contract won’t expire until July 1, so other teams would need to ask the Capitals for permission to speak to him about a job.
“If there’s another GM’s job in the future and someone gives me an opportunity, I’d love to do it again,” he said. “And I’d go to Iceland to do it. Doesn’t matter where it is.”
McPhee’s mood was light and he made a handful of jokes.
Perhaps it’s because he was not stunned that the Capitals would make changes.
“I felt it was coming,” McPhee said, “but in this job, you’re 24 hours away from being fired almost any time.”
Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP