silence isn’t golden for mcphee, caps

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[Editor’s note: For those who still haven’t heard the news, I’ve started writing a weekly sports column for SB Nation DC. So every Tuesday, my contribution to society (or at least the D.C. sports scene) is located over there.]

George McPhee deserves my trust.

I know this, and believe me when I tell you I’ve been repeating this sentiment over and over since free agency began. But damn, it’s still tough to question the silence coming out of the Washington Capitals these days.

It’s true that, when it comes to decision makers in the D.C. sports scene, McPhee really is the cream of the crop. His work as the Caps’ general manager during “The Plan,” namely blowing up an aging/underachieving roster and rebuilding the franchise with a solid (and much younger) foundation, is enough to earn him a lifetime achievement award.

For those who aren’t familiar, “The Plan” is code word for McPhee willingly discarding any player he had with name recognition. He traded away established veterans like Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Robert Lang and Sergei Gonchar to stockpile draft picks and youngsters as a way to reboot the franchise.

He could have taken the easy way out and sat on his hands while the Caps were good enough to make the playoffs but never truly compete for the Stanley Cup. Thankfully, that’s not his style. Simply achieving mediocrity wasn’t acceptable. McPhee knew what needed to be done and then had the courage to execute, even if it ultimately could have cost him his job.

Think about this: Had McPhee wavered and/or convinced management to ride with the old timers a minute longer, then chances are that superstar forward Alex Ovechkin would have ended up in Pittsburgh. I don’t know how that goes over with you, but the thought alone makes me queasy.

And while Redskins fans have to live in a world where multiple draft picks are discarded for bums like T.J. Duckett and Brandon Lloyd, McPhee is the exact opposite. He ships away nobodies like Brian Sutherby and somehow steals a second rounder, which he then turned into goalie Cristobal Huet. Is any other team in town savvy enough to turn a seldom-used fourth liner into a starting goalie? Not a chance.

But let’s pause for a quick tangent. While McPhee deserves all of the praise he gets, the rest of the local general managers sure have made it easy for him to shine.

  • Vinny Cerrato was so inept that he somehow managed to run a once-proud franchise into the ground while simultaneously making legendary Redskins like Art Monk, Gary Clark and countless others feel unwelcomed. He’s a double threat in every sense possible and it may be year before the Redskins fully recover from his time calling the shots.
  • Jim Bowden, who once compared the baseball player’s union to terrorists, was always surrounded by controversy during his time with the Nationals. Between his DUI arrest, an FBI investigation for skimming money from signing bonuses and everything else, Bowden proved he was good at running his mouth, not the Nats.
  • Thankfully, Ernie Grunfeld hasn’t been nearly as toxic as either of those two clowns, but that doesn’t mean things have been perfect during his time with the Wizards. Since 2003, Grunfeld has wasted first rounders on so-so players (Nick Young and Oleksiy Pecherov), traded away first rounders for role players (Randy Foye and Mike Miller) and signed a one-legged, me-first point guard to a crippling six-year, $111 million contract. Oh, and he doesn’t really seem to understand the concept of salary cap space. Other than that, he’s been great.

So yeah, while McPhee has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to building a winner, he’s also aided by the failures of his peers.

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