The Caps re-signing of Karl Alzner to a 4 years contract and an average of $2.8 million per season is a fabulous deal. But it also continues to expose George McPhee and his overall decision making process. Just a week earlier the Capitals bought Jeff Schultz out of his contract that had one year left on it. A deal that many, myself included were highly critical of at the time the deal was made. That deal stood at 4 years and averaged $2.75 million per season. It isn’t a perfect straight line comparison because there is a new CBA and different representatives and players involved. However, it is a rather stark example how the decision makers of the Washington Capitals, namely George McPhee, felt about Jeff Schultz. When McPhee handed out his contract to Schultz he clearly viewed the monetary value of Jeff Schultz over the four years of his contract to be similar to that of Karl Alzner over the next four years. Or in simpler terms, he expected Schultz to be what he expects Alzner will be. Any follower of the Caps knows that was about as big a miscalculation as any. On top of that, just this past season he gave John Erskine a two year extension with a value just shy of $2 million per season. Is there anyone really willing to stand up and say Karl Alzner is actually worth only $800,000 more per season compared to John Erskine? Just another example of McPhee frittering away salary cap space and the ability for the Caps to be true Stanley Cup contenders instead of early round fodder for the big boys of the NHL.
That really gets to the crux of George McPhee and his management of the Washington Capitals. He has made a habit of making some very shrewd trades and signing certain players to reasonable contracts. But on the flip side he has grossly overpaid some roster players and has idly stood by watching the talent of the roster disappear. The Schultz and Erskine contracts are just examples of third pair defensemen being paid like top 4 defensemen and eating away at the salary cap. The Pittsburgh Penguins just re-signed Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz each to extensions valued around $3.75 million per year. The Capitals equivalent of that is Troy Brouwer and that doesn’t account for the $4.5 million per season that is being earned by Brooks Laich and Martin Erat. Should we even discuss Joel Ward’s $3 million per season contract? How about Braden Holtby being anointed the team’s starting goaltender and his back-up Michal Neuvirth earning $650,000 more per season. All just more money being whittled away in small increments and handcuffing the organization from making moves to bring in more high-end talent.
In the past year, McPhee has let walk without any compensation Alexander Semin and Mike Ribeiro. You can make a case that both moves were the correct moves in an isolated view; however, when you let those players walk you can just stand by and not replace that talent. The attrition of the talent level of this organization has been incredible over the past several seasons. Alexander Semin was earning $6.7 million per season in his last year with Washington and Mike Ribeiro was earning $5 million per season. That means over the past two seasons they’ve let almost $12 million in salary walk between just those two players and it has basically been used to obtain Martin Erat. Where did the rest of the money go? A back-up goaltender and unwarranted significant raises to roster players. And that doesn’t even account for the $2.75 million buyout of Jeff Schultz.
But as Capitals fans we get to hear the typical and extremely tiresome refrain of being happy with the roster that is regurgitated by George McPhee on a yearly basis. Only with hopes of current roster players improving and rookies like Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov filling the holes created by McPhee’s mismanagement as the saving grace. But don’t worry, over the next year we will get to hear the national media crucify Alexander Ovechkin for not carrying the Capitals further in the playoffs while they ignore the fact that there isn’t one other forward on the roster that is a 30 goal scorer, much less a consistent 20 goal scorer. Then next year around this time we can all sit back and listen to George McPhee say how he is happy with the roster he has put together. Rinse, repeat.