Sunday, March 11, 2007
(photo: Getty Images)
In the former, the Capitals' under-22 prospects are ranked second (behind only Pittsburgh), achieveing a grade of "A." In the latter, George McPhee is ranked 23rd among his general manager brethren.
Second . . . twenty-third. Hmm . . .
What is wrong with this picture? Is not McPhee the architect of that prospect pool as GM? If McPhee is such a boob, compared to the likes of the comparatively inexperienced Flyers GM Paul Holmgren (12th) and the Islanders' Garth Snow (16th), is the Capitals' prospect pool vastly overrated? Or is there actually an explanation for this . . . incongruity?
It would be tempting -- as a hopeful Caps fan -- to discount the GM rankings in favor of the prospect rankings. In fact, there are problems -- serious ones -- in part a product of the methodology used by THN (inherently subjective, an unavoidable characteristic in this instance), but more so one of its employment.
THN states in its preface to the GM rankings,
There was no specific formula, but things were weighted more to the recent past . . . Our measurements for GMs included: past achievements and success; recent performance an on the job; hirings and firings; draft performance; free agent signings; and, what he did at the recent trade deadline.
There are two problems with this. First, if you employ a method like this universally, you cannot rank Paul Holmgren, Garth Snow or Ray Shero (of Pittsburgh, 17th) nearly as highly as THN does. They have no "past achievements and success" of record on which to draw in their current positions. Second, the method appears to have been performed selectively. Let's look at two GMs -- Shero and McPhee. Shero inherited Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Ryan Whitney -- thought to be the core of the Penguins for years to come (well, until free agency and the salary cap rear their ugly heads). He added Jordan Staal in the 2006 draft. He added such as Mark Eaton, Jarkko Ruutu, Nils Ekman, Ronald Petrovicky, and Chris Thorburn upon his taking the job. He added Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, and Joel Kwiatkowski at the trading deadline. None of these acquisitions -- apart from perhaps Staal -- can (yet, and we do want to emphasize that) be considered "impact" signings. THN praises Shero for having the sense to "leave well enough alone." Well, sure...sometimes the best move is the one you don't make, but really, who on the roster was tradeable? The big four (plus Staal) aren't going anywhere, and what kind of return is Rob Scuderi going to bring? What you have there is the profile of a GM adding on the margins -- the core that was drafted as a result of a selloff that began long before Shero was in place (and before that begun by the Caps, for that matter) is in place and producing.
Take McPhee on the other hand. THN notes that he "hasn't won a playoff series [since his first season] and will finish out of the playoffs a third straight season." They go on to note that he was "burned by a Jaromir Jagr deal that was forced upon him by ownership," thus resulting in his having "focused all of the Capitals' efforts on the future." The first question this raises in The Peerless' mind is, "ok, guys...what defines 'recent' in performance?" Jaromir Jagr was traded in Janaury 2004, more than three years ago. Since that watershed moment that defines the Capitals' decision to gut the building to the studs and rebuild, McPhee has added: Mike Green, Shaone Morrisonn, Brian Pothier, Jeff Schultz, Chris Clark, Tomas Fleischmann, Jiri Novotny, and Alexander Ovechkin on the current roster. Only Clark among these players is older than 24. Not included on this list are: Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr (currently injured), Simeon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, Joe Finley, Francois Bouchard, Chris Bourque, or Patrick O'Neill, who round out the top five and the "next five" prospects identified by THN...the prospect pool that the publication ranks second in the NHL. And, lest anyone think McPhee "one dimensional" in building his roster via the draft, the fact is that many of these picks (Green, Schultz, Varlamov among them) were picks obtained via trade as part of the gutting of the roster in the aftermath of the Jagr-trade-gone-bad.
It is the difference between inheriting and roster and largely building one from scratch. THN really doesn't seem to have as part of their methodology a ranking factor to address that difference.
However, the more egregious comparison is that between McPhee and Paul Holmgren. That -- the ranking of Holmgren 12th and McPhee 23rd -- borders on the ridiculous. THN's ranking of Holmgren isn't based in any way on "performance," it's based almost entirely on futures -- the yield of trades he made (Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, Braydon Coburn, and Martin Biron). And one of those trades involved the disposition of a high-end asset he inherited -- Peter Forsberg. On paper, he did well, but did he do demonstrably better this year than McPhee did in 2004 to move lesser assets such as Robert Lang for who are now Mike Green and Tomas Fleischmann? Or Sergei Gonchar for who are now Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz? Or in 2005, Brendan Witt for a package that now includes Simeon Varlamov? Apparently, Philly futures (e.g., Ryan Parent, ranked as the 21st under-22 prospect by THN) mean a great deal more than Capital futures (e.g., Eric Fehr, ranked 22nd).
Is McPhee one of the top GMs in the league? The Peerless is not inclined to rate him that highly. certainly not in the top ten -- the absence of Caps' draft picks past the second round on the parent roster is a particular shortcoming, especially for a club that intends to build via the draft. However, it is hard to comprehend how on one hand a franchise is ranked second in prospects, but the GM that obtained them (a product of their own picks and those obtained in trades) is ranked in the lowest third among his cohort. One wonders whether he was shortchanged in favor or other, less experienced GMs from franchises with better "pedigrees."
No points . . . again.
The epic “Alexander” by Oliver Stone runs 176 minutes. It is an awful movie. So, too, has been the Capitals’ offense the last three games, tonight ending a 176 minute goal-scoring drought in their 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders. Coincidentally, the drought was ended by the Capitals’ own “Alexander” – Ovechkin, that is (a much better performer than any in that abysmal flick).
Frankly, it was a f**ked-up game all around. The Caps could have had a half-dozen goals above the two they ended up scoring, and that is without any of the several fine saves Islander goalie Rick DiPietro made. The Caps certainly had their minimum daily requirement of iron, having banged pucks off posts to the beat of Anvil Chorus. And for those Caps fans who seem to think the Caps haven’t really showed up for games recently, the NHL seems to agree, based on this shift chart:
Of course, the Islanders were absent for those first six minutes of the second period, too, so it is hardly surprising that neither club scored.
One thing that came out of this game . . . Brendan Witt really has become something of a prissy little twerp. Maybe he’s trying to be Sean Avery with hair, but all he seems to do is yap-and-run. His performance tonight in the third period was especially noteworthy – in fact, worthy of a starring role in the aforementioned, “Alexander.” Yapping at Donald Brashear moments after Brashear scored the Caps’ second goal, giving a fake shot at him, then dropping as if he was shot when Brashear responded with a left hook and squirming on the ice like a slug on my driveway . . . pitiful. He drew the call – “Gadzooks! I am slain!! -- but any thought of attaching an adjective like “tough guy” to this clown would be, well, funny.
But like last Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the New Yorkers, the Islanders raced off to a lead, more or less ending the competitive portion of the game, then watched as the Caps hung some window dressing on DiPietro late. It was good, though to see the Caps end that 176 minute goose-egg, and it was good to see Ovechkin end his three game scoreless streak (following a four-game scoring streak, following a four-game scoreless streak) as part of a generally strong game overall. Milan Jurcina and Boyd Gordon also had decent efforts.
But these are mere morsels of positives in what is now a “please, let this end soon” season. That the Caps are playing hard at this point – and they did play hard tonight, just not especially well – is something that should be appreciated by their fans.