Friday, July 01, 2011

McPhee Flys Through Free Agency

The Washington Capitals' general manager George McPhee is a pretty simple kind of team builder. He pushed through NHL drafts stockpiling his farm team as he goes. When a hole opens up, he simply looks down his depth chart in Hershey and systematically fills positions with players he has observed and players he knows well. Very rarely has he gone outside that system unless there is a missing piece that needs replacing.

It was really no different in this year's free agency. Faced with a series of gaps in his team, McPhee simply looked to what he needed and focused on the players he wanted. He didn't jeopardize what he had built through countless good draft picks and trades in which he acquired youth and talent in a way that benefited the team he was molding.

He had some holes, mainly at the center position. With Boyd Gordon likely to test the market, McPhee didn't wait around and pulled the trigger to sign Jeff Halpern, a player he knows well, to a one year $825,000 contract (basically for rock bottom price). Too bad for Halpern they retired #11 for Mike Gartner.

McPhee also brought in a gritty, hard working forward in Joel Ward from Nashville. Ward was signed to a four year deal reportedly at $3 million a season. He amassed 29 points in 80 games this season, but his playoff numbers were fantastic with seven goals, six assists in 12 games played. GMGM brings in a fast skater and hard nose forward to the table in Ward.

There was some question on the blue line for the Capitals last season, so McPhee addressed that through free agency by resigning Sean Collins and signing Roman Hamrlik to a two year, $7 million deal. Hamrlik (a possible trade deadline chase for the Capitals in March), had 29 assists last season and was the Canadiens shut down guy. Hamrlik was fourth last season in blocked shots (192) and led the team in February in points (9, tied with 3 others), assists (9, led all NHL defensemen) and blocked shots (35).

McPhee also had a tough choice to make in goaltender. Semyon Varlamov was traded to free up the traffic jam of goaltenders caught in the Caps farm system. Varly spent a good portion of the season fighting for the number one spot with Michal Neuvirth. But injuries kept him out of the line up and there are rumors he will forgo the NHL to return to Russia to play in the KHL. McPhee traded the goaltender to at least get something in return. Which was Colorado's first round pick in 2012's draft and a second round pick in either '12 or '13.

This allows the Capitals to call up Braden Holtby, who is starting to show some promise, to fill the role of back up or even fight Neuvirth for the number one spot. The jam of good goaltenders through out the system made it difficult to pick a clear winner, but McPhee cleared up the mess and got something worthwhile for it in the end.

On a grading scale:

Signed Roman Hamrlik, 2 years $7 million: A+

Signed Jeff Halpern, 1 year $825,000: C

Signed Joel Ward, 4 year $12 million: B

Acquired 1st round draft pick '12, 2nd round in '12 or '13 for Semyon Varlamov: A

A busy day for George McPhee. But he did make his team much better. Add the re-signing of Brooks Laich and the trade for Troy Brouwer, the Caps are looking to make things uncomfortable in the Eastern Conference.

Caps Notes:
  • Hershey had a minor signing of Ryan Polutny and Matthew Ford. Both most likely will stay with the Bears for the season. 
  • Former Capitals Jose Theodore, Nolan Yonkman and Tomas Fleischmann have returned to the Southeast Division with the Florida Panthers organization.
  • Phoenix Coyotes signed Boyd Gordon to a 2 year $2.65 million contract.

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