McPhee unplugged: 'It's not easy being good'

McPhee unplugged: 'It's not easy being good'
September 28, 2013, 5:15 pm
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Holtby has high hopes for the season

On Tuesday night in Chicago George McPhee will begin his 16th season as general manager of the Capitals. In that time the Caps have won a division title seven times and have been to the playoffs 10 times, including the past six years. Earlier this week McPhee met with the media to discuss this year’s team and the decisions he faces as training camp draws to a close.

On recent trade talk:

It’s just starting to pick up. I had a couple calls already. Things have tightened up in the league under the cap system. It’s been hard to make trades the last few years. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know that we’ll actually make a trade.

On if he feels players like Tom Wilson can develop better in the NHL or in juniors:

It can happen. I’m just not sure whether it’s the right thing for everybody. Some guys develop [in the NHL] some don’t and you have to be very careful with it. Those are hard decisions. I don’t love playing teenagers. [Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backsrom and Marcus Johansson] played when we were kind of growing up with this team. We don’t have to play teenagers right now. It’s a good veteran team. We’re not a rebuilding team or anything like that, but if it makes your team better then you keep him. That’s what it comes down to -- what’s best for the team and what’s best for him. That’s what you want, that kind of competition, that kind of talent, that kind of depth.

On the benefits of sending Wilson to juniors:

The benefits are he plays a lot more. He plays the power play, penalty kill, everything else. But is it not enough? Does he need more? If you keep him here does he develop better habits playing here even though he’s not playing as much as you like? It’s something you keep watching.

On the development of 19-year-old defenseman Connor Carrick:

He’s had an outstanding camp. He’s been really, really good. Very smart, very intelligent player. Poised. Zips the puck around, finds people, plays hard. He’s a real good player.

On any chance of Carrick starting the season with the Caps:

Yeah, that’s a decision we have to make. If he’s not ready to play we can send him to Hershey and we can still recall him. Whereas, if we make a decision on Wilson, if it’s junior, it’s final. You get those kind of players every once in a while that are in between. Carrick could go to Hershey Monday and be back two weeks from now or a month from now. With Wilson it’s final.

On left wing Marty Erat starting the season at center:

The plan is Adam [Oates] is going to play him at center the next few games. He thinks that’s a real good spot for him and I would agree with that. He’s a real clever player and real responsible defensively. He might be a real good fit at center ice. I think we know what he is. We didn’t get to see him enough last year but we might actually get more out of him playing him at center. We have options, which is nice. We can move people around. Brooks [Laich] can play center, Marcus [Johansson] can play center. So it’s nice to have guys who can play center that you can put on the wing for a little while.

On center Mathieu Perreault:

He continues to develop. Last year was his first full playoff and he’s a good hockey player that just keeps getting better.

On what he would deem a successful season:

Well, I would call winning the Stanley Cup successful. The objective always is to make the playoffs and give yourself a chance. We’d love to go deep and we’d love to win a Cup. I read in the Washington Post where one of the Nats, it might have been [Ryan] Zimmerman, said it’s not easy being good. And he was right. We’ve been a real good team and we’d like to continue to be a real good team and give ourselves a chance to win. I think we have a good team with good people and we’ll battle like crazy to make the playoffs and then hope something good happens. As a manager that’s all you can do, keep putting good teams on the ice and hope you have some good fortune in the playoffs.

On the lessons learned from losing in the first or second round the past six seasons:

It’s always hard when you don’t win it all. That’s the objective. But only one team wins it all. All I can do is keep putting good teams on the ice. I think we’ve done a real good job of that. We draft well, we develop well, but it’s not easy to win it all. We all have that hope and that’s what we want [our fans] to have and that’s what we want our club to have.

On comparing players like Steve Yzerman and Mike Modano, who won championships late in their careers, to the Capitals’ core players:

Yeah, but you don’t want to ever let anybody off the hook. That’s the whole objective, to win a Cup. You need to keep people accountable and keep working with them to make them better. To win it all everything has to go perfect almost. I had the good fortune to go to the Cup Finals a couple of times – once in Vancouver [1994] and once here in Washington [1998] and things almost have to go perfect in the playoffs. You have to get the breaks. Your goaltending has to be great. It can’t be good, it has to be great, and stay healthy. That’s what it takes.

On his response to Adam Oates when he proposed going to Russia to visit with Alex Ovechkin:

Have a nice trip. Better you than me. No, I was delighted he was willing to do that. It really helped sell the organization. It helped with [signing Mikhail] Grabovski. I think it’s important that those players talk to the coach because he’s the one who’s going to be determining their ice time, not me. He can do that as much as he wants. He’s deeply committed to this organization. He’s probably the hardest working coach we’ve ever had. You know Adam, he’s about as intense as people come, too. He’s always dialed in. He saw those as opportunities to make us better and I said, ‘Go ahead.’

On what he’s learned about Oates as a coach:

The work ethic. He told me he was a hard worker and everything else. But he really puts a lot into it. He’s one of the guys in here really early looking at tape and he’s really well prepared. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me because the one thing about Adam that was different than most players when he was playing here was that he was always mentally on. He never made mental mistakes. That’s the way he was. I marveled at that, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that he works that hard as a coach A lot of people, when they’ve played the game they don’t understand what goes into these job, how labor intensive it is.I sat in on one of the coaches’ meetings last week and I realized how sharp he is, how enthusiastic he is and how he knows exactly what he wants. He’s very decisive.

On Alex  Ovechkin adjusting to right wing:

It was a necessary change. Adam had the guts to try and Ovi had the intelligence to do it. He was a good teammate. It’s what the coach wanted and he bought in and gave the coach what he wanted and it worked. From what we’ve seen he’s much more effective on the right side. We can move him to the left side from time to time to get away from matchups or throw people off. But he touches the puck a lot more, gets it on his forehand. He actually generates more opportunities coming up the ice He’ll slash across the ice now for a pass and when he attacks the blue line he penetrates more. We saw it with Peter Bondra years ago. Sometimes you get into that habit of coming down the boards , wanting to cut to the middle and fire it. One year in the payoffs, we put Bondra on the left side for a while and he was a better player -- safer, not as many turnover. On the right side he penetrates. On the left side he’d pull up.

On the state of Ovechkin:

He’s in great shape. He’s a man. He’s experienced a lot. You hope all these guys take this experience of having played on the league fie or six years, and played in playoffs and everything else and apply it going forward and be a better player and have better success in the playoffs because of it.

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