I’ve got a friend named Shawn.
He’s a good dude who is very easy going, never starts drama and he’s someone who I’ve always enjoyed hanging around.
Unless we’re playing poker.
If my group of friends decides to play a “friendly” game of poker, then Shawn is the last person in the world I care to see.
It’s not personal. It’s just that my buddy Shawn is skilled enough to have played his way into the World Series of Poker twice and at some point I realized that it was no longer fun donating money to the same guy over and over.
So if I know he’s going to be involved, I politely decline the poker invite.
We can still get together to do dinner, watch a football game or whatever, but poker is no longer an option between the two of us.
I bring this up because at some point I feel like this is what’s going to happen to Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee.
Eventually his peers are going to realize that no good can come from answering the phone when McPhee calls with a trade proposal, until one day the entire league has blacklisted GMGM.
The only question, at this point, is how long will it take his fellow general managers to catch on.
It’s like that scene in “The Wire” when you see some of Baltimore’s finest using a chessboard to play checkers because they don’t know the rules of chess.
Simply put, McPhee is playing a completely different game than his peers – both in hockey and our nation’s capital.
Take, for example, how GMGM handled the Semyon Varlamov situation. The Caps were saddled with a disgruntled player who was clearly unhappy with his current situation.
Rather than re-signing for a contract in line with what the Capitals paid fellow goalie Michal Neuvirth (who signed a two-year, $2.3 million extension in 2010), Varlamov wanted to be paid twice as much while also being guaranteed Washington’s starting job next season.
For now, I’ll refrain from stepping on my soap box and saying exactly how I feel about a player who is so afraid of healthy competition that he tries to force the team to promise him the job before ever stepping onto the ice.
This isn’t about injury-prone cowards who threaten to take their ball and go home. It’s about just how savvy McPhee is at what he does for a living.
So instead of calling out Varlamov for his clear lack of character, I’ll simply say that this particular youngster opted to put the Capitals in a tough spot by trying to force management’s hand.
Now, how does GMGM react? As cool, calm and collected as a hostage negotiator.
Publicly he says little – simply declaring that if Varlamov really does want to play in Russia next year, so be it. The Caps will still have two highly touted netminders to work with.
Privately though, he begins to form an exit strategy to get this cancer out of his locker room. His mindset clearly became: “How do I get rid of this guy while still getting something closely related to fair-market value?”
What happens next? McPhee dumps his malcontent on Colorado and somehow walks away with a first- and second-round draft pick for his troubles.
Never mind that Varlamov was a restricted free agent and if the Avalanche had simply signed Varly to an offer sheet for the same exact amount of cash they ended up signing him for (three years at $8.5 million), they would have only had to give up the second rounder.
GMGM somehow managed to Jedi mind trick Avs general manager Greg Sherman so badly that it almost makes you feel sorry for the guy … until you remember that this move is only going to bolster the home team’s depth.
Even McPhee seemed baffled at Colorado’s decision to throw in the extra first rounder for posterity’s sake.
“We were hoping to have Semyon back this year and play a full season so we could get that kind of value for him next summer because we knew next summer we were going to have to do something with one of the goaltenders,” he said. “But we got that value now, and given the injury, I’m surprised we got that now.”
Fortunately for everyone involved, McPhee stopped short of calling Sherman the moron that he is for signing off on this deal. No need to kick a man while he’s down.
And how did GMGM celebrate the fleecing of Colorado? By stealing their backup plan.
You see, before the Avalanche turned their attention to Varlamov, they tried to acquire free agent Tomas Vokoun. The two sides failed to make it work, so Colorado panicked and overpaid for Varly.
McPhee’s next move makes this entire ordeal that much sweeter. He acquired Vokoun just for the hell of it.
And somehow he talks one of the NHL’s best goalies into taking a massive pay cut in the process. Vokoun, who made $6.3 million this season, signed a one-year deal for $1.5 million. (Which, ironically, was what the Caps were willing to pay Varlamov).
The only thing left to do at that point was to take Sherman’s lunch money and officially be done with him. That’s how crafty McPhee is.
(Honestly, if he was any better at his job, he’d officially cross over into James Bond villain territory at this point. He’s just too diabolical for his own good.)
Now let’s compare McPhee’s front office skills to that of his local peers.
What happened when Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was faced with a disgruntled employee – namely manager Jim Riggleman? The coach quit, everybody looked bad and the Nats went from being the hottest team in baseball to under .500 once again.
And how about the Redskins and their comedy of errors when handling anything and everything related to Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth?
While general manager Bruce Allen is busy kissing hands and shaking babies like some type of mid-level politician, head coach Mike Shanahan is happily dragging their names through the mud to ensure the Redskins will never get any sort of value when the day finally comes to cut the cord on McNabb and/or Haynesworth.
That’s what passes for acceptable with the other teams in town. So really, if McPhee was half as good at his job, he’d still be twice as skilled as anyone else calling the shots in Washington.
Like I said, the man is playing chess while his contemporaries are stuck playing checkers.
While I finally wised up and took myself out of the game, Caps fans can only hope that fellow NHL general managers have too much ego and pride to do the same the next time McPhee dials their number. Because as long as that’s the case, the Capitals should be in good shape.
Oh, and about Varlamov, the Caps were 37-14-6 without him last season. I’m pretty sure they’ll be just fine without the extra body on the injured list.