George McPhee and Las Vegas owner Bill Foley (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Las Vegas formally announced George McPhee as the team’s first GM. McPhee said he’s looking forward to building the organization from a “clean slate,” and said the generous expansion draft rules can help make Las Vegas successful quicker than any expansion team in the past.
George McPhee wasted little time outlining his goal as the first GM of the Las Vegas expansion franchise. He wants to achieve something he’s yet to accomplish in the NHL: win a Stanley Cup.
McPhee, 58, was introduced Wednesday by owner Bill Foley at a press conference at T-Mobile Arena. And McPhee, who has been to two Stanley Cup finals during his front office career, said there’s only one goal for this franchise and that’s the only thing this organization will be building towards.
“Our mission here is clear,” McPhee said in his opening statement. “We’re going to build an organization and a team that people in Nevada and Las Vegas will be very, very proud of. We’re going to do it quickly, and we’re aiming at the Stanley Cup. It’s that simple.”
McPhee comes to Las Vegas via the New York Islanders, where he was a senior advisor this past season, and once again finds himself at the helm of an NHL club after spending 17 seasons as the GM of the Washington Capitals from 1997 to 2014. However, unlike those situations, McPhee pointed to the unique opportunity that being a part of the Las Vegas franchise provides.
“Historically, you take over a team that needs work,” McPhee said. “You have to dig out from some bad contracts or players that aren’t getting the job done, and you have to make changes to the staff and everything else…Here, you come in, and it’s a clean slate. You get to pick everyone in the organization. I am looking forward to that.”
That doesn’t necessarily make the process any easier, however. McPhee said the work has to begin immediately — he would start making calls as early as Wednesday evening, he said — but that doesn't means he's going to make any rash decisions. When it comes to building the management and the staff, McPhee said he wants to establish the right culture. He’s not going to rush his coaching hire, either.
“For me, (the coach) has to be someone the players respect, like and want to win for,” McPhee said. “Someone who cares about the players, and they care about him. It’s a person with some sort of magnetism that the players are drawn to.”
Even with careful consideration going into the coaching staff, it seems likely that the Las Vegas franchise, like other expansion franchises in recent history, will have the coaching staff in place before the expansion draft comes at the culmination of the 2016-17 campaign. And when it comes to the expansion draft, McPhee sounds excited about the prospect of picking and choosing who he wants on his squad, especially considering the “generous” talent pool McPhee said he’ll be able to draw from.
“We may have an opportunity here that other expansion teams haven’t had to put a good team on the ice a lot quicker than in the past,” McPhee said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make ‘em good real fast.”
Even with what is likely to be the strongest group of expansion draft players in recent memory, though, McPhee continuously put emphasis on the entry draft, saying time and again that it was where Las Vegas’ star players would come from. He said the most important thing will be finding a strong scouting staff and creating a framework that will allow Las Vegas to build a strong prospect base. While with the Capitals, McPhee’s staff selected much of the team’s top-six, including Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov. During McPhee’s tenure, the Capitals also added John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Braden Holtby through the draft.
“I think (we did) tremendously well in the draft over the years in Washington,” McPhee said. “We had terrific scouts that came up with a methodology that worked, and really worked for us. We’ll bring that here and try to be every bit as successful.”
Foley said he expects to be informed of what McPhee wants to do in terms of putting together the franchise — and both mentioned communication being the key to a strong partnership — but the expectation is that McPhee will be left to operate and make the hockey decisions without much, if any, interference from Foley.
The only major input it appears Foley will have, at least at this point, is the potential hiring of Murray Craven to the front office staff. Craven, a former NHLer, has helped Foley through the expansion process, and it was he who helped set up the meeting between Foley and McPhee. Foley said Craven has been “invaluable” during the process, and Foley said he wants Craven involved in the team in some capacity.
In Las Vegas, though, it will be McPhee’s team and a chance for the former Capitals GM to build a winner from the ground up. He has come close to Stanley Cup glory in the past without reaching his dream, but he’s hopeful the second time will be the charm.
“There are lots of GMs in this league that have done a really good job in one place, gone to the next place and won Cups,” McPhee said. “I’d like to be one of those guys.”
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.