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McPhee looks to future as tenure with Capitals ends

by Adam Vingan

ARLINGTON, Va. -- For nearly two decades as Washington Capitals general manager, George McPhee was the constant in an ever-changing organization.

McPhee was the catalyst for that change as the Capitals' chief architect, overseeing countless players, several coaches and the stylistic changes that accompanied that turnover.

Yet there was one transformation McPhee could not complete during his nearly 17-year tenure: turning a franchise long associated with regular-season success into one that replicated it in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was for that reason team owner Ted Leonsis and president Dick Patrick opted not to renew McPhee's contract, informing him Saturday that the Capitals were in need of a fresh perspective.

"My instincts are pretty good, I think, at this point. I felt it was coming," McPhee said at his farewell press conference Monday. "But in this job, you're 24 hours away from being fired almost any time.

"I signed up for it. It doesn't matter whether it's fair or not, it doesn't matter. I refuse to be bitter about anything and I'm not going to look back. I blame no one. I was the manager."

During the 2003-04 season, McPhee orchestrated a fire sale that saw the Capitals trade away several high-priced veterans in an attempt to revive the downtrodden franchise. That summer, Washington selected forward Alex Ovechkin with the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft, signaling the beginning of a draft-heavy rebuild that eventually returned the Capitals to respectability.

The Capitals reaped the regular-season benefits. From 2007-08 to 2012-13, Washington won the Southeast Division five times, as well as the Presidents' Trophy in 2009-10.

The lofty expectations created as a result of that success, however, were never met. The Capitals have not advanced past the second round since 1998, when they participated in the Stanley Cup Final in McPhee's first season.

This season, the Capitals did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the low point to the franchise's turnaround.

In recent years, McPhee, characteristically one to hoard draft picks and prospects, traded away those assets for veteran rentals in an ultimately futile attempt to propel the Capitals toward postseason glory.

"I felt for five of the last seven years, we really had an opportunity to win a Cup, we were legit," McPhee said. "And then I thought the last couple years, we could make the playoffs, but going deep might be hard because I didn't think we were quite deep enough.

"I had to use a lot of picks and young players to try and push that group over the edge. When you're going for it, you have to do it. … When you think you can win a Cup, you owe it to the players in the room and all your fans, you've got to go for it. So I was trading second-round picks and prospects, and at some point you get a touch thin."

"I signed up for it. It doesn't matter whether it's fair or not, it doesn't matter. I refuse to be bitter about anything and I'm not going to look back. I blame no one. I was the manager."
-- George McPhee

Asked to reflect on his time in Washington, McPhee offered effusive praise for team ownership, support staff and the fan base. He did not disclose his thoughts on any individual players or coach Adam Oates, who was fired after two seasons Saturday.

As for future opportunities, McPhee sounded like he was ready to entertain any and all offers.

He has been linked to openings throughout the NHL. The Vancouver Canucks, who are seeking a general manager after firing Mike Gillis earlier this month, are a possibility considering McPhee began his management career with the team more than 20 years ago.

According to McPhee, his contract does not expire until July 1 and teams with potential interest in his services would have to ask permission to interview him.

For now, McPhee plans to take time to reflect on the past 17 years.

"Of course I have regrets," he said. "Would I do things differently if I get another opportunity? I would probably manage the same way I've managed here.

"I did the best I could because that's what you're supposed to do. I did the best I could. I put everything I had into it, so I don't have any flowery final words other than it's been a great ride, and I feel very, very lucky and fortunate."

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