This is George McPhee's 15th season as general manager of the Washington Capitals, meaning he's been with the franchise exactly half as long as his boss, team president Dick Patrick, who will receive the Lester Patrick Trophy for his service to hockey in the United States during the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony Monday night in Dallas.
While the Capitals have made the playoffs in 23 of Patrick's 29 seasons with the organization, McPhee said the real measure of Patrick's influence has been the growth of hockey in the Washington, D.C., area during the past two decades.
"He's lived it," McPhee told NHL.com. "He grew up with it in the area with his son Chris playing -- Chris and Jeff Halpern played together all the way up, and Dick was able to coach them."
Perhaps the most impressive statistic is the growth in the number of high school hockey teams in the area. In 1990, according to the Capitals, there were 15 high school teams and 250 players. By last season, that number had grown to 110 teams and 2,300 players.
"He knows the grass-roots level of hockey in Washington very well, having experienced it," McPhee said of Patrick. "He's always donated a lot of resources for growing the game at that level."
While downplaying his contribution, Patrick said he is delighted with the way the game is spreading at the high school and youth levels in and around the nation's capital.
"It's grown by a huge amount," he told NHL.com. "I coached youth hockey when my son was growing up, and though we had some pretty good roots then, it's just expanded tremendously. A lot of that is because new rinks have been built -- it's hard to play hockey if you don't have ice. That's made a big difference.
"The more you can make the opportunity available, whether it's through more rinks or more programs that allow kids to get a chance at it -- people will like the sport if they get an opportunity to do it.”
One thing he said he's had to fight is expectations that are too high.
"The whole point of youth hockey, particularly in this area -- it shouldn't be to grow up and play in the National Hockey League," he said. "I've told parents when I used to coach that it's unrealistic to expect anything like that. If they're playing youth hockey, it should be because they enjoy the game and love the game, not for any particular goal like getting a [college] scholarship or things like that. It's too hard to predict."
Of course, a Stanley Cup in Washington wouldn't hurt.
"For the franchise, it would be unbelievably great," he said. "I look at other examples around the National Hockey League, like the Flyers -- they won in 1974 and '75, and that influence has lasted for decades. If the Capitals are ever fortunate enough to win the Stanley Cup, it would assure that this would be a strong franchise with a huge fan base for years to come."
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist