Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee loved Gerard Gallant as the team’s first head coach, but admittedly had a wandering eye before hiring him this week.
“When we interviewed him three months ago, the inclination was to hire him then. But we just wanted to make sure that we, not unlike the expansion draft, know the whole universe of what’s out there. There was some risk in it, but we had to do it,” said McPhee.
The risk was that Gallant, a highly sought-after coach following his dismissal from the Florida Panthers this season, would be snatched up by another team as Vegas waited out other potential candidates. But Gallant understood that the Knights had other options to explore, something they made clear to him during the interview process.
“People would call. They were under contract, or working with teams, and they were hoping to talk to us after the season was other. So there was that other element,” said McPhee. “We wanted to make sure we knew everything when it came to coaches and teams, and who might be available. But then we thought that we better hire the guy we want now.”
McPhee said he and assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon did the legwork on finding the team’s first coach. Team vice president Murray Craven was focused on business affairs. Foley, the owner who anted up $500 million for the expansion team, wasn’t overbearing in the process.
“He didn’t tell us who to hire. That’s not his style,” said McPhee, who previously was the general manager of the Washington Capitals under owner Ted Leonsis. “He’s been terrific in allowing us to do what we want to do.”
Gallant fit the primary criteria for the Golden Knights, which was NHL experience.
“The thing that was important to us was that in trying to evaluate your players and your team … that’s a hard enough job in itself. It’s not going to be easy for us in these first couple of years. But trying to make those evaluations AND evaluate a coach at the same time? It’s hard to do both,” said McPhee.
“So why not hire an established coach who will help us win a little bit quicker? And we know if the team isn’t playing well, it’s because of the personnel and not the coach.”
The timeline for winning has gotten a lot of play this week. Foley wants a playoff team within three years. Gallant’s expected to be the kind of coach who can plaster over an expansion team’s deficiencies with his system, making a team that might look mediocre on paper closer to respectable on the ice.
“We’re focused on ‘what’ and not ‘when.’ And if we’re right about ‘what,’ then ‘when’ will take care of itself,” he said.
The “what” will come into focus in June, when the expansion draft gives Vegas their first roster of players. How many of those players actually suit up for the Knights remains to be seen.
“There’s going to be a little bit of everything. We want to have a really good team here. You can’t just go with a bunch of young guys. We’re going to need solid veteran player and solid veteran leadership,” said McPhee.
“But it’s going to be a busy time, and there are going to be a lot of teams that see people on other lists that they like, that they want to deal for as well. I don’t know how many deals there will be.”
Those deals include the ones teams will make to ensure McPhee lays off players they’re forced to expose – deals, McPhee says, that will be agreed upon well before the lists are submitted.
“If you’re a team, and you haven’t done a deal with us, it’s probably going to be difficult submitting that list not knowing what’s going to happen,” he said.
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