After conducting a gracious farewell news conference with the local media members on Monday, former Capitals general manager George McPhee sat down with Monumental Network’s Mike Vogel for a lenghty interview.
McPhee and Vogel discussed the challenges of the job when he arrived in Washington, building a staff, the Capitals’ 1998 Stanley Cup run, their recent postseason failures and much more. The entire interview is worth a read, but one of the more interesting nuggets came after Vogel asked McPhee why Washington’s trade for Pittsburgh Penguins star Jaromir Jagr in July 2001 didn’t work out.
“I said at the time, ‘This is the right player at the right time for us.’ But I wasn’t sure that it was the right player at the right time for us. We were building our organization with bricks and when we did that, we suddenly went to siding or a different material. We got on a different bus. It’s always about team construction and we weren’t really constructed the right way to absorb him. And it wasn’t a great period in his life. He had lots of things going on. He wasn’t in a good place. He wasn’t excited to be here. It was really difficult for him to be traded out of Pittsburgh, and I think it took him a long time to recover from that. He’s learned a lot, now.
“But I remember telling [majority owner] Ted [Leonsis] at the time, ‘Ted, I’ve seen this movie before.’ We traded three young players for Alex Mogilny when we were in Vancouver and it didn’t work out. And halfway through the season we were wishing we had those three young players back: Mike Peca, Mike Wilson and a [first-round] pick that turned out to be Jay McKee. I remember telling him that and he said, ‘It’s my team, it’s my money, and I want to do it.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ The good news is we didn’t give them anything.”
As The Post’s Jason La Canfora reported at the time, the Capitals gave up three 1999 draft picks – forwards Kris Beech and Michal Sivek and defenseman Ross Lupaschuk — along with cash and future considerations for the 29-year-old Jagr and Penguins defenseman Frantisek Kucera.
McPhee told Vogel that Jagr would’ve made a good final piece if the Capitals were close to being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but McPhee didn’t think they were. Still, he put on a happy face publicly.
Via La Canfora:
“This puts us on the national scene, because we now have a really, really great hockey team,” Leonsis said after the trade. “I hope this knocks the chip off people’s shoulders in Washington and they come out and buy tickets. Now’s the time to prove this is a hockey town, that it loves sports, and we’re as good a team as any others.”
“I picked up the papers [the morning after the trade] and said, ‘Holy smokes, we pulled it off,’ ” McPhee said. “It’s been a really neat thing, honestly, and we’ve accomplished something huge here: For the first time in 27 years I think people think we mean business, and we do.”
Washington signed Jagr to what was then the largest contract in NHL history (seven years, $77 million) later that year and continued to pay part of his salary after he was traded to the Rangers in 2004. Jagr scored 83 goals in his two-and-a-half seasons with Washington, but the Capitals missed the playoffs four out of five seasons following his arrival.
And now, Jagr is proving that 40 is the new 30.