Capitals general manager George McPhee traditionally and graciously sits down with us for a few minutes the night before each NHL Entry Draft. It was tougher to get a few minutes of his time this year; the trade talks have been a bit warmer than most years with the Caps holding the fifth overall pick in today's first round. Many believe the Caps are ready to use that choice to select forward Alexei Cherepanov, if he is still on the board when the Capitals go to the podium.
Our conversation was interrupted at one point so McPhee could field a call from another NHL GM. McPhee isn't the only busy man in town these days. Most of his peers are also on the phone almost constantly.
We were able to ask 11 questions, and here's how the conversation went.You said there is more trade talk going on this year than in years past. How many teams would you say that there is at least a level of compatibility where you maybe match up with them and could theoretically do something between now and Saturday?
“It’s not a big number. It’s maybe five to 10.”Where would you place the odds of trading the fifth pick at this point?
“Forty percent chance, maybe.”There is uncertainty as to how the first five picks will play out. To me, it’s conceivable that the No. 5 pick could have more value on Friday at 7:45 p.m. – say if somebody’s No. 2 guy is still on the board at that point – than it does today. Do you sense that same type of dynamic?
“This draft has more potential for that sort of thing to happen than many recent drafts. This draft could go anywhere after the first couple of picks. For that reason, there could be a lot of trading. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a lot of trading up and down of picks.”My sense of this draft is that once you get past the first nine or ten players, it’s wide open. One man’s 35 is another man’s 15. It seems like there are some guys beyond the top 10 with some decent upside that are intriguing enough that you might want to grab them. If you’re sitting at 28, and [the team with pick No.] 20 is up on the board and maybe your No. 12 [rated player] is still sitting out there, you’ve got two picks in the second round, is that something you’d consider, moving from 28 to say 20 to get a guy you like who is still out there?
do that. But in the past we’ve thought it was often better to use all the picks and hope by going with quantity you will land a couple of players rather than loading up and hoping the one guy you pick will be a winner. We’re just trying to improve our percentages of coming out of the draft with two or three players.”Is there more of a concerted effort this summer – more so in years past – to address the team’s needs via the trade route than through free agency?
“Yes. Looking at where some of the free agent contracts have already come in, there is a great risk in it. You want to sign a couple players to help your club. But with the term and salary level going where it is going right now, that player better be great or you are saddled with a long-term expensive deal that will hurt you under this [salary] cap.” You said that trade talks are heating up more so at this time of year than in others. Do you think it is a by-product of GMs seeing some of the contracts that the Hartnells, the Timonens, the Rivets and the Hortons are getting, and thinking ‘Wow, these guys are going to cost more than we budgeted, we’d better start looking at other avenues?’
“I’m not sure that necessarily happened, that talks picked up because of that, because a lot of guys, if they have decent players that they want to move, they know it is only going to get better on July 1 if they want to trade a guy who’s got a good contract. Unless you want picks, unless you are really high on someone in this draft, you’re probably no worse off by waiting. You’re probably better off by waiting. I think things picked up [Wednesday] night because a lot of GMs were at the governors’ meetings in New York. They got in last night and a few of them made calls. A lot of them made calls [Thursday] morning.Do you have anything really concrete in the works, something that you’d like to do that you’re maybe just waiting for the other team to nod their head on?
“We have one proposal that may make sense for our club. We’ll take another discussion or two with the other club, and we’ll see. But it might work.”Is this something you could see going down before 7 or 8 o’clock Friday night?
“Yes.”Do you see even more trade discussions happening after Saturday but before July 1 on the trade front?
“Yes. We had one discussion with a club that was interested in doing something with you players. But they said, ‘We’d like to focus on the draft this week and we’ll talk about that next week.’”Getting back to the draft, last year Nicklas Backstrom was your guy. Assuming that you do use that fifth pick, is there a guy that you are focused on that you maybe have more of a yearning for or that you hope might slip?
“I think that always happens. But you’d be amazed at how many times you don’t get him and sometimes the other guy turns out better. But there are a couple players there that we would be comfortable taking. We think we’re in a good spot again. Last year there were five guys that we were happy with and we were at four. So we knew we were going to get one. We feel the same way this year. There is a cluster of guys there – five, six seven guys – that would work for us, and we’re picking at five. So we’ll just be patient and see what develops.”Can you comment on the effect of some of the signings that have gone down so far? Is there a lack of long-term vision on the part of some teams?
“We think so, and we’re hoping that this plan that we’ve put into place is going to one day make us look like smart people and look like we were doing the right thing. We have cap room, we have the flexibility to do things and we want to build a team that can win for a long time. To do that you have to have balance. You can’t have all your money tied up in ‘B’ players. If you’re going to put a good chunk of money into somebody, you better be sure that he is an elite player.”