George McPhee (Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)
Las Vegas expansion is official, but the work isn’t over for Bill Foley and Co. The next major order of business will be assembling a front office staff, and Las Vegas’ GM hire will be incredibly important to the franchise’s early years.
Bill Foley’s goal of getting a team to come to Las Vegas has been realized, but the hard work doesn’t end there.
Foley’s Las Vegas franchise still has to be named, have its logo designed and jerseys created. Oh, and there’s the little part about assembling a competitive roster through an expansion draft to make sure the first year of hockey in Nevada isn’t an absolute disaster.
With the preparation that will have to go into the expansion draft, it’s likely that Foley and Co. will want to start getting their management team in place sooner rather than later, and one of the most important pieces in the front office is going to be the GM. Finding a GM that can help the new Las Vegas franchise wade through the expansion waters is going to be of utmost importance.
Luckily, there will be no shortage of candidates to take on the role. Here are five potential GMs who could take on the role:
Past: GM, Arizona Coyotes, 2007-2016
Not only would Maloney be a great hire because he knows what to do in a desert market that will likely need to build without breaking the bank, it would make for a good underlying story for what could become a great rivalry between the Arizona Coyotes and the Las Vegas franchise. Maloney spent nine seasons working with the Coyotes and he was at the helm during some of the franchise’s best seasons. However, that success didn’t last very long.
Arizona, then Phoenix, had a three-year run in the post-season that saw them out twice in the first run before making an unexpected Western Conference final run with goaltender Mike Smith playing lights out.
Maloney’s acquisition of Smith was a key one for the franchise — though one could argue Smith’s current contract isn’t great — and Maloney did some good work at trade deadlines in the past. At the 2015 trade deadline, he turned Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle into two first-round picks, a second-round pick, Klas Dahlbeck, Anthony Duclair and John Moore. Not a bad haul.
Current: Sr. Advisor, New York Islanders
Past: GM, Washington Capitals, 1997-2014
McPhee took a year off after being let go from his role as GM of the Capitals, the only job he had known for the better part of two decades, but he got back into the game this past season in an advisory role with the Islanders. He may not be long for that position, however, if Las Vegas is looking for a GM who has a history of putting playoff teams on the ice.
In McPhee’s first season in Washington, the Capitals made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final. There were some lean years in the middle of his tenure — 2003-04 to 2006-07 saw zero post-season appearances and one abysmal season that led to the selection of Alex Ovechkin — but McPhee’s run as GM ended with six playoff appearances in seven years.
One knock against McPhee might be his trade record, though. It’s not just the Martin Erat-Filip Forsberg blunder, either. There aren’t many great trades on McPhee’s resume, and the best deal he made in the back half of his time in Washington may have been his acquisition of Jason Chimera from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina.
Current: Dir. of Player Personnel, Los Angeles Kings
Past: GM, Owen Sound Attack (OHL), 2002-2007
Before the Maple Leafs went out and shocked everyone by bringing Lou Lamoriello on board, there were some who considered Futa one of the top candidates to take over in Toronto’s front office. Futa has spent seven seasons working for Dean Lombardi’s staff, and that’s invaluable experience under a GM who is widely considered one of the best in the league.
Futa doesn’t necessarily get the credit for the Kings’ Stanley Cup victories, but he was the director of amateur scouting during a period in which Los Angeles selected Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds, Kyle Clifford, Brayden Schenn, Alec Martinez, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson…you get the point. Futa’s draft record has shown he’s a good talent evaluator and he’s hit big on a few selections, some of which are second-round or lower selections.
The experience in the OHL won’t prepare him entirely for the role as an NHL GM, but his time in Los Angeles will have. That’s not to mention he would understand the Western U.S. market.
Current: Asst. GM, Nashville Predators
Past: Dir. of Player Personnel, Nashville Predators, 1998-2006
Few will understand what it takes to get an expansion franchise off the ground like Fenton does. He started with the Predators in their first season and has been with the team ever since. He and David Poile have built hockey in Nashville from the ground up, and there’s no reason to believe the lessons Fenton has learned in ‘Music City’ can’t translate to ‘Sin City.’
The Predators have had consistent success under Poile and Fenton and they’ve done it while keeping a budget. Nashville doesn’t make big splashes often, choosing rather to develop from within, and that’s a model that has worked well for them.
The one knock against the Fenton-Poile years in Nashville may be that they’ve never been able to get over the hump and advance past the second round of the post-season. That’s part of being a budget team, though, and Nashville has become a legitimate hockey city. This past season the Predators’ average attendance was nearly 17,000. If Las Vegas can build to that, that’d be outstanding.
Current: Asst. GM, Dallas Stars
Recent: Dir. of Player Development, Dallas Stars, 2009-2013
There were rumblings that Jackson was at one time considered an option to take over the Arizona Coyotes GM gig. Instead, that job went to John Chayka, but that doesn’t mean prying Jackson out of Dallas is an impossibility.
The one thing about Jackson in Dallas, though, is that he’s been there for what feels like forever. He started with the Minnesota North Stars — yes, that far back — in 1985, and other than a brief leave to be the assistant GM in Atlanta, Jackson has spent more than a quarter century with the Stars.
He’s currently in his second go-round as Stars assistant GM and he has more experience than almost any other candidate. Aside from one and a half seasons in the GM role with Dallas, though, Jackson has never held the top job. However, he did make one significant trade in his short stint as Dallas’ GM, acquiring Brad Richards from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a four-player package that included Jeff Halpern, Jussi Jokinen and Mike Smith. Richards worked out well in Dallas, scoring 70 goals and 227 points in 220 games.
Would Las Vegas intrigue Jackson? It’s a possibility. He’s left the Stars organization before, and this could be his opportunity to branch out once again.