George McPhee's remote control is his only link to his job, his only link to his passion, his only link to the NHL. For nearly a week--since receiving a one-month suspension for inciting a physical altercation with the Chicago Blackhawks after a preseason game--McPhee has felt depressed. He is banned from contacting his or any other NHL organization and barred from NHL playing facilities or offices. Watching hockey games on television is about the only job-related duty he's allowed to perform.
In the meantime, the rest of the Capitals' front office is trying to handle the day-to-day duties McPhee normally would conduct--conversing with other general managers, chatting with agents, scouting the NHL, speaking for the organization. President and minority owner Dick Patrick, director of hockey operations Shawn Simpson and assistant to the GM Frank Provenzano are dividing McPhee's responsibilities and figuring out how they will get through October. So far, it's been business as usual.
"Things haven't changed massively," Patrick said. "I'm just watching over the day-to-day duties and talking frequently with Shawn and Frank. It's been five or six days, and it's going faster than we thought it would. We're handling things from the business side, but the biggest concern is George not being able to watch the team in person and evaluate for himself the performance of the players on our team. We certainly miss George's presence, but we knew [a lengthy suspension] would be a likely occurrence from the incident, and we prepared for it and were ready for it."
Provenzano is handling much of the discussions with agents and contract questions, as he normally does. Simpson, who is the GM of Washington's minor league affiliate in Portland, Maine, is handling that role and continues to do minor pro scouting but has taken over for McPhee in dealing with other clubs on a daily basis and fielding calls that come into the office. The league has discouraged McPhee from having any kind of visibility, including talking to the media, sources said, though he hopes to watch a lot of NHL games and see Portland play as much as possible.
The suspension was the steepest for a front office member and shocked many of his peers. McPhee apologized for striking Chicago Blackhawks Coach Lorne Molleken after an exhibition game but said he did not regret standing up for his team after the Blackhawks appeared to attempt to injure Washington's players. McPhee had the support of the entire organization, and it's likely the new ownership group, headed by America Online executive Ted Leonsis, will do something publicly to show their support Nov. 1, when McPhee's suspension culminates.
"I think the hardest part is the fact that what he did was standing up for the team, and now he's really the one who ends up having to take the blow," Simpson said. "Here, he's worked very hard all summer to put players in place and get the team ready for the season and make some of the changes we were able to make, and the greatest joy of being a manager is watching your team, and he can't. That's the hardest thing.
"You're in hockey because you love it, and you sink a lot of time into it, and I know George has a lot of passion for it and all of a sudden it's gone, and there's a lot of time to fill up. It takes away a big part of your life."
If there is a positive in the suspension, it's the timing. Few moves traditionally are made in October as teams evaluate their own talent. McPhee was present for all of training camp and the preseason, the Capitals aren't in negotiations with restricted free agents, and, though clubs always are looking to improve, they aren't nearly as active now as they are in February or March.
"At this point of the season you are sort of in an evaluating mode, and with the advent of satellite TV, George can do that," Provenzano said. "Does it makes life harder? Yeah, it certainly does. But so far, early into this thing, it hasn't been too bad."
Still, things don't seem quite the same without McPhee around. No one is accustomed to a team running without a general manager. A memo was filtered around the NHL telling teams Simpson would be handling calls, but some organizations wonder who is calling the shots. It's an unprecedented situation. Everyone is counting down to Nov. 1, when McPhee will feel much more chipper, and normalcy will be restored.
"It's strange not to have his presence around the players and coaches," Simpson said. "He's such a stabilizing force to have there, and certainly no one else in the organization is going to fill those shoes, and oddly enough, after this incident, that's true even more so."