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McPhee: Outlook still bright despite disappointment

by Mike G. Morreale
The Washington Capitals finished with the NHL's best regular-season record and established seven team records this past season.

But the statistical breakout became a distant memory on April 28 when the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals were ousted by the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. It was, according to Capitals General Manager George McPhee, a missed opportunity for sure.

"You don't get great opportunities often," McPhee recently told NHL Live! "We had a terrific season and we were healthy going into the playoffs and we got beat by a team that played better than we did and found ways to win, so there's not a whole lot you could do."

Despite leading the League with an average of 3.82 goals per game and a 25.2 percent power-play efficiency during the regular season, the Capitals struggled to find the back of the net against Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak. The Caps averaged 3.14 goals and connected for just one power-play goal in 33 opportunities against Montreal.

"People questioned our goaltending, questioned our defense and, as it turned out, it was our goal scoring that wasn't there when we needed it," McPhee said. "Our power-play wasn't there when we needed it. It's just one of those things. The bottom line is we missed a great opportunity and you can't do that."

McPhee knows that the parity within the League is as great as it's ever been.

"There's very little difference between clubs in this League, and the (salary) cap has something to do with that," he said. "You could only carry a certain number of top-end players before you run out of money. Look around the League, if you're a good team, you're bumping up against the cap most of the time. Extensive scouting staffs for each team are so good today.

"Philly proved it (in the Stanley Cup Playoffs)," he continued. "You could almost miss the playoffs and still win the Cup. They got in on a shootout and almost won the Cup so if that isn't evidence enough of how good this League is now, nothing is. That's what is difficult about our playoffs. You could have a terrific season and get bounced in the first round and you could have a tough season and go four rounds. I guess that's what makes our game great."

So now, following one of the more disappointing postseason performances in recent history, will McPhee feel the need to do anything drastic at the NHL Entry Draft on June 25-26 at Staples Center in Los Angeles?

In a word, no.

"Our power-play was terrific throughout the season but we weren't scoring when we needed to on the PP in the playoffs and their goalie was fabulous," McPhee said. "I still think we're a good team and I like the way we play. We play an entertaining game, and that's the way it should be played. We're not a team that's going to sit back; there are different ways to win and this is the way we've chosen and hopefully it works one of these days."

It's by no coincidence McPhee and the Capitals will invest nearly half of the League's maximum salary cap total in their four big guns -- forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin and defenseman Mike Green. However, Backstrom and Ovechkin are the only two of the four under contract beyond the 2011-12 season.

"I don't really want to talk about individuals, but we want to continue to score goals," McPhee said. "We like having a team that can score and it's the way we want to play. I want to keep guys able to score, in the lineup."

McPhee confirmed this week that he wouldn't be renewing the contracts of forwards Brendan Morrison and Scott Walker or defenseman Joe Corvo for the 2010-11 season. Additionally, the renewal of goalie Jose Theodore, who is a nominee for the 2010 Bill Masterton Trophy, is in doubt.

The GM feels the future of the team is in good hands, too, particularly with defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner, forwards Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault and goalie Michel Neuvirth ready to make their mark in 2010-11. Johansson, in fact, was signed to a three-year entry-level contract on May 17.

"We'll continue to add whatever we can on the team and upgrade wherever we can," McPhee said. "We think we have a couple of nice centers, including Marcus (Johansson), who was sort of overshadowed by the Backstrom signing (of a 10-year contract extension on May 17). He's a terrific young center (drafted 24th overall in 2009) and we think he's ready to play.

"We have (Mathieu) Perreault, who's been outstanding in Hershey the last few years, so we think those kids are ready to go. Alzner and Carlson are ready to go, so I would expect maybe three or four players from Hershey, and maybe a couple others, will be on our club this year."

McPhee and his scouting department will likely take a best-available-player approach in the Draft, as has been the case in previous years. Still, perhaps a big defensive defenseman capable of clearing the slot will be a priority.

"We're a pretty well-rounded club with experienced players, and (Tom) Poti, Mike (Knuble) and even some of our young guys like Ovi, Backstrom and Brooks Laich are not boys anymore; they're men,” he said. “We'll do the best we can to make the team better but I think we're in pretty good shape without having to do anything radical in free agency."

Contact Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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