Caps GM on Top Pick Kuznetsov: “As Long as He’s Playing at a High Level Somewhere, That’s Fine With Us”

June 30, 2010 | Ryan Chell

Washington Capitals GM George McPhee wants his team to be next year’s version of the Chicago Blackhawks, hoisting the Hart Trophy.

“Our teams are similar,” McPhee told Drew Forrester Tuesday on “The Morning Reaction.” “We’re both exciting teams to watch. If you build momentum and you get playing the way you can, you can win the Cup. And they did it, and I sure would like it to be us next year.”

All that is dependent upon how the Capitals do in this off-season to ready themselves for their schedule next season.

Last week, the Capitals may not have made a move to improve themselves this year, but a move that could bring bolster a championship squad two years from now.

The Capitals selected 18-year old Russian center Evgeny Kuznetsov, one of the top players in the Russian-European Kontinental Hockey League. He made his professional debut last year in the league and scored a total of 9 points in one of the toughest leagues in the world.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

The Capitals ranked him as the 12th best player on their board, and at 26, the Capitals jumped all over him. But McPhee reminded us that he is just a prospect and he probably wont be in a Washington uniform for at least two more years.

“From our standpoint, I don’t want 18 or 19 year old kids playing in the American League very often. For the most part, it’s a tough league and its the second best league in the world. To put young kids in there, I worry about them getting hurt and getting eaten up in that league. It’s like taking an eighth grader and putting them in 11th or 12 grade.”

“You have to be careful. We’ll let him progress at his own rate. He seems to be doing fine in the league that he’s in, so we’ll leave him alone.”

As long as he’s playing somewhere next year, McPhee is going to let him be.

“He’ll be playing against men over there. As long as he’s playing at a high level somewhere, that’s fine with us.”

They don’t have to give Kuznetsov any money now, but he has already said he is ready to sign with the Caps.

But some may question why a team that is a few pieces away from having a championship caliber team would take a flier on someone who probably wont be able to help this team for a few more years.

McPhee feels like his team only has a few holes in the lineup and they have young guys coming up soon to fill those vacancies. And he said that Kuznetsov now becomes one of those guys, and once in awhile, you have to take a flier on someone.

“He really wants to play in the NHL. Our philosophy in the draft is to pick the best player available, but you also swing for the fences and try to hit home runs and get the best talent you can get.”

And when it comes to the off season with free agents, McPhee doesn’t see the Caps being big players in free agency.

Why? For that same reason. McPhee isn’t going to sign free agents, or even guys that they got at the trade deadline last year, for 3 or 4 year deals if a young player is coming up.

“All we wanted to [do was] reinforce our lineup for the playoffs, and those players want the long term deals. Big money and long term…we’re not going to play that game.”

“I dont want to get in a situation where you sign someone to a 3 or 4 year deal and within a year you’re looking to move it because you have some kids that are ready. But you cant move it, then you stunt the growth of the kids. We drafted and developed really well, so we’ll go with those guys if we can’t get the right deals with people.”

If you look at it so far, the team looks like it is really trying to get that bad taste out of their mouth when it comes to their early playoff exit to the Canadiens. That loss still haunts McPhee and the team.

“I’m not sure we are. You learn to live with it I guess. But it was really tough. There is no shame in losing in the playoff. There is no shame losing to the Montreal Canadiens.  They’re better than people thought because they had so many injuries during the year and they got healthy going into the playoffs and they were good.”

“It’s when you get up 3-1, you have to close it out. You cant miss opportunities like that. When you’re up 3-1 in an NHL playoff series, you’ve got to win it.”

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