BOCA RATON, Fla. – It has taken Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee a while to truly feel like a real NHL GM again.
He has held his current title since last summer, but he wasn’t able to make personnel decisions until the team completed its $500 million transaction to join the league. That happened Wednesday, which enabled McPhee to finally start to mold the franchise in his image.
“It really felt (real) on Wednesday, around the trade deadline. I actually had some butterflies,” McPhee said.
While McPhee didn’t quite have the same stress before the start of this week’s general managers meetings he did claim to have some “nervousness coming in.”
Added McPhee, “These meetings are important.”
McPhee’s presence at this event is significant. It’s important for him to get back into the swing of being an NHL GM and it’s also key for Vegas to be heard at a major league gathering and provide input on policy decisions.
The Golden Knights weren’t at previous NHL off-ice events, such as the Board of Governors meetings in December and the GMs meetings in November, this season because they hadn’t finished payment to join the NHL as the league’s 31st franchise.
McPhee was the general manager of the Washington Capitals from the 1997-98 season through 2013-14 and still has solid relationships with many of the league’s other managers.
“A lot of guys have worked in the league with George, and George is a great guy,” New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero said. “He has been around a long time, also – as a player but certainly as a manager. He has always been very insightful about the league and the game and he takes these meetings very seriously. Having him back, I think is good for everybody.”
On Monday, McPhee said that he didn’t add much the conversation and noted that, “I just thought this first day would be a good day to absorb and listen and then we’ll maybe get more involved. We’ll see.”
The meetings should also give other general managers more opportunity to talk to McPhee and gauge where his head is at with the expansion draft process. Teams are probably curious on which of their players they could lose in the draft and would like to know who has piqued McPhee’s interest. Currently, they can offer handshake deals involving draft picks for McPhee in order for him to not take their players.
“I might ask him these three days, but I’m pretty sure what he’s going to say,” Shero said about talking to McPhee about the upcoming draft. “I think they’re just going to kind of wait and see how things go. I think it’s way premature. They’ve done their mock drafts. Every team keeps track of who’s going to be available, who their qualifiers are, all those things, and everything’s going to be subject to change based upon who might have been acquired at the trade deadline, how a team does the rest of the way. Might change their own opinion on a player, who they might want to keep or trade. There’s going to be so many moving parts. Once you get down to that, it will be a little different and exciting. I don’t think George is going to give me any great insight as to what they’re doing, that’s for sure.”
It also gives McPhee a chance to talk to teams and try to figure out where they stand with their players in expansion and who could be available.
“We talked to probably half a dozen teams about what they might want to do in expansion and what our interest would be in their club,” he said. “We just think it’s in our best interest not to do a whole lot until we get there, just to see the whole universe of who is available and who’s not.”
McPhee said he wasn’t all that surprised that some deals around the NHL trade deadline were made, or not made, in order to help a team better set up its expansion list. In some respects, he sees the list of potential protected players as a moving target.
“We knew in September that was going to happen. It’s still going to happen. I don’t think there’s a whole lot we can do about that,” McPhee said. “When the dust settles, we’re going to get the list, then we’ll go to work. To pre-empt that, we didn’t think we’d be able to do that. To do some deals in advance and then get to expansion and say ‘Geez, maybe we should have done something else, but now we’re committed to that,’ that’s not the right way to go.”
McPhee was also asked about where he is on hiring a coach, and didn’t say much in regards to how close he was on a decision. It was previously reported that McPhee wanted a coach by the spring and preferably someone with NHL experience.
“We’re trying to take our time,” he said. “We don’t get this kind of time very often, so we want to do this as best we can. We’d like to find someone who would be good right now who will help us through the first couple years that will be tougher than the rest, and someone who will be there when we’re trying to compete for a Cup.”
After the Monday meetings broke up, the team made its first transaction, signing Reid Duke of the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Golden Knights can’t make moves for players currently playing their NHL seasons, but this decision was a tangible notification to other GMs at the meetings that Vegas is open for business and McPhee is ready to start creating a roster.
“It’s great to have George back in there,” Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. “He’s a good man and a good friend, but it doesn’t seem as – a year ago I guess (a Vegas expansion franchise) was this foreign land and an idea. We’re a 31-team league now and it seems like we’ve been that for longer than we probably have. I think there are still some people nuancing around how the whole expansion draft and things are going to work, but it feels like – it doesn’t feel odd.”
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