10:15 pm, The NVMC – Good on the Islanders for showing major stones in the third period when the Washington Globetrotters were on the verge of “Sweet Georgia Brown”-ing them out of the building. But at Point Blank our goal will always be to take in the big picture whenever possible.
In a column last month entitled “The Very Model of a Modern Rebuild,” I opined that it is the Capitals – not the Crosby lottery-gifted Penguins or any other team – that have set the example the Islanders must follow.
During the second intermission tonight, I spoke with Capitals general manager George McPhee about the trials, tribulations and eventual execution of his plan to rebuild his hockey team in Washington:
“For starters, I should say that rebuilding and talking about being patient is easier said than done,” said McPhee. “We had a plan. It was to tear down a team and build it back up.
“The program taken to ownership (Ted Leonsis) was a four-year plan. The plan was to be back in the playoffs by then and start to contend. We made it in three years, but we were prepared to need four.”
I asked McPhee how hard it is to be patient, seeing the light ahead but having to endure the losses before the team reached its first goal.
“Rebuilding, tearing something down, is a very difficult thing to do. It’s tough walking into arenas knowing you may have some long nights. But that’s where I have to give credit to (former head coach) Glen Hanlon. Over time, he instilled an attitude, a work ethic. Our guys played really hard. We lost our share of games, but we made it difficult most nights.
“I will say this: what made it more tolerable was knowing we had a plan and we were determined to be patient and see it to the end.”
Next up was the crucial issue of scouting – not just McPhee’s staff but his personal involvement. (Garth Snow has already spent a lot of time on the road this season).
“Scouting is the lifeblood of your organization at all times, but of course it’s even more essential when you’re building your franchise back up. If you think you’re picking high – as we did – you better go out and see the players. We have a great scouting staff that has done an amazing job for us the last four years, but as general manager I had to go out and look at all of the top kids.”
I asked McPhee if the Capitals shared their plan with the fan base, as the Islanders did in frequent Town Hall sessions in the summer.
“That was important. We made it clear to our fans, especially the season ticket base, what we felt we had to do and why we felt we had to do it. It was a difficult message, but we outlined it for them: we wanted to get ready for the CBA, clear space and bring in young players – hopefully some special ones – who could really make a difference.”
And they did, led of course by superstar Alexander Ovechkin, who tonight had an overtime for the ages. Finally, I asked about the role of Ted Leonsis in the rebuild. If the Capitals’ owner flinched after year one and said, “I can’t take this anymore. Make us better,” McPhee’s plan would have gone down the tubes.
“Another hard aspect of the whole thing is, you can come up with a plan, and for any of several reasons, it just does not work out. But we were fortunate the pieces came together for us. And yes, we had the commitment from ownership. A general manager is only as good as the ownership of a team.”
While there were undoubtedly some rough patches, Leonsis hung in and is now rewarded with a contender and – as on display tonight – one of the most exciting teams in the NHL.
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