The cameras showed the Capitals' general manager and his team at one its lowest points in the past four years, but they were also able to document the club's rebound that culminated with a 3-1 victory against the Penguins in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
"I think what HBO did was phenomenal," McPhee said. "They really captured the day-to-day in our business as well as anyone could. They really represented what these players go through in a day-to-day business. I'd like to think what they did has Emmy written all over it because I thought it was great programming. I can't say enough good things about the experience."
"I think what HBO did was phenomenal. They really captured the day-to-day in our business as well as anyone could. They really represented what these players go through in a day-to-day business. I'd like to think what they did has Emmy written all over it because I thought it was great programming. I can't say enough good things about the experience." -- George McPhee
McPhee has a well-earned reputation as a general manager who doesn't cede information lightly. When the idea of an all-access show on HBO came about, other members of the organization thought convincing McPhee to agree to the project would be a problem.
That couldn't have been further from the truth, and even with the benefit of hindsight McPhee thinks it was the right decision.
"Ted told me after the first meeting that, 'Everybody was worried about you that you would agree to it,' " McPhee said. "Honestly, it was an easy decision because it was HBO. I've seen some of the other things they've done, whether it was "Hard Knocks" or the series they've put together like "The Wire" or "John Adams" -- I just think they do great television.
"I just think they are really terrific at what they do. I didn't have any hesitation agreeing to it. I would certainly do it again and I would recommend it to anyone else to do it. The most important thing here was getting exposure for this game. I think HBO loved it and they got turned on to something really neat with these hockey players and this sport. I think a lot of people in this country and around other countries if they didn't already like hockey have a better understanding and appreciation for it."
When the HBO crews showed up in Washington and Pittsburgh to shoot some promos for the series, the Capitals were atop the NHL standings and the Penguins were scuffling. By the time the first episode was set to air, Pittsburgh was in the midst of a winning streak that reached double digits while Washington was mired in the longest slump since Boudreau became the coach.
The lows and eventual highs Washington experienced in the month of December provided riveting storylines for HBO to portray -- even if it meant showing McPhee in a vulnerable state.
"When we agreed to do this we agreed to let them see everything and experience everything," McPhee said. "I personally was having a hell of a time during that [losing streak] and they caught it pretty well. What they captured was exactly how I was feeling. That's not an easy thing to go through, but I guess it made for good television.
"I was really concerned after the Boston game [on Dec. 18]. I was really pleased with the way we played in the third period -- we outshot a team 26-2 in their building. I don't think I've ever been on a team that has done that, but we didn't win the game. I was thinking, 'Boy, oh boy, this could really slide if we don't get a win here in the next game or two. We could really be in trouble.' But that's how this business is."
By the end of the four-part series the Capitals were back in form and back among the League leaders. Not only did Washington beat its rival on national television, but the thousands of Capitals fans who made the trip to Pittsburgh were showcased on a grand stage.
"From a personal standpoint it may be the most fun I've ever had as a manager and maybe the most fun I've ever had in my hockey life," McPhee said. It was just a fabulous experience. It was sort of a "Field of Dreams" thing -- build it and they will come. That was extraordinary. Even the ride home -- I drove my family back and there were Caps fans at the toll booth, at the restaurants. It was really remarkable."