NHL's new Las Vegas team hires George McPhee as first GM: 5 things to know
The former Capitals GM wants to win right away and build through the NHL Entry Draft
George McPhee, former general manager of the Washington Capitals, was introduced as the first ever general manager of the NHL's Las Vegas expansion franchise Wednesday during a press conference at T-Mobile Arena.
McPhee spent 17 years with the Capitals before being relieved of his duties following the 2013-14 season. Prior to that, he was the director of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks for five years. Last season, McPhee served as a senior advisor with the New York Islanders and worked with the team the year before. He also served on multiple national teams with Hockey Canada, including as co-GM of Canada's recent gold medal team at the 2016 Men's World Championship.
Las Vegas would have found fewer people more experienced than McPhee, and it's clear that factored heavily into his successful candidacy. According to reports, as many as seven individuals interviewed with owner Bill Foley in what he called an exhaustive process. McPhee spent two days with Foley and had multiple phone conversations before he was ultimately hired to one of the most unique posts his profession has to offer.
Though his last stint as a general manager came to an unceremonious end, the fact that McPhee was able to stay in one place for as long as he did in this business is truly remarkable. The Capitals may have never won a Stanley Cup, but McPhee helped construct one of the more successful teams of the last 10 years and helped put the Caps on the path to brighter days ahead.
While the job ahead in Las Vegas is difficult, both McPhee and Foley expressed their desire for the team to be competitive right away.
"Our mission here is clear," McPhee said during his remarks. "We're going to build an organization and team that the people of Las Vegas are proud of."
Here are five things to know coming out of Wednesday's press conference.
1. McPhee has a pretty clear vision for how he wants this team to play.
Having the unique opportunity to build a team from scratch, McPhee is going to have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to forming a team with a clear identity. Based on his time in Washington, and what he said Wednesday, McPhee has a clear vision for how teams should play.
As he noted in his remarks, he has built teams in the past that play exciting hockey and that's what he expects to have in Las Vegas. His explosive Capitals teams won five divisional titles in six years, but never were able to translate that to postseason success. They still were a lot of fun to watch and it looks like they were a bit ahead of their time as so many more teams play that attacking style now.
"I don't like that sit back style of hockey," McPhee said. "I like pressuring pucks all over the ice. I love the way Pittsburgh played this year and they won the Stanley Cup. We'll be doing the same kinds of things."
With that in mind, he sees a chance to be competitive right away.
"I want to win now, too," McPhee said. "We may have an opportunity that other expansion teams haven't had in putting a good team on the ice a lot quicker."
2. Las Vegas is in no rush to hire a head coach
McPhee stressed the importance of building a culture. A big part of that is who he will pick as a head coach, but he does not plan to hire one soon. With the club not starting until 2017-18, he'll have a chance to survey the landscape a bit. McPhee also didn't sound like he had any interest in bringing in a coach now and have him participate in roster construction.
Though no timeline was set, it'd be a good bet that the new coach doesn't get hired until next summer.
3. McPhee expects to start hiring additional staff within the week
"When we're done here today, I'm going to be calling people about joining us," McPhee said of his plans to build a staff. "I expect to be adding people by next week."
This is an area where McPhee's experience and long tenure in the NHL will come in handy. Building a pro and amateur scouting staff is going to be so important and he's worked with a lot of them over the years. Other teams will hate to lose their guys, but McPhee will most definitely be poaching some top candidates.
The pro scouts in particular will play a massive role in working on the expansion draft. McPhee said that his plan right now is to be in a rink every day next season scouting both pro and amateur players to be involved in both the expansion draft and the NHL Entry Draft.
While he is excited to build a roster from scratch, he is definitely relishing the opportunity to bring in a whole new staff as opposed to having to rebuild one as he did in Washington.
"In some ways, I like this situation a lot better," McPhee said of expansion vs. the Capitals rebuild. "Historically, you take over a team you have to dig it out from under some bad contracts and making changes on the staff.
"Here you come in and it's a clean slate. You get to pick everyone in your organization and I am looking forward to that. We'll select hard-working, quality people. In some ways, this is what every GM would want to experience."
4. It sounds like the NHL Entry Draft is more important than the expansion draft to McPhee
While the team is going to be primarily built through the expansion draft, McPhee is putting a big emphasis on the NHL Entry Draft. He acknowledged that the team is going to have a better opportunity to build a competitive roster thanks to the new expansion draft rules, but that doesn't change where the team's elite players will come from.
"I think your best players are your draft picks," McPhee said of the NHL Entry Draft. "We'll get a nice squad together [in the expansion draft], but our elite players will have to come through the [entry] draft.
"I think we'd done tremendously well with the draft in Washington. We came up with a methodology that worked and I'm going to bring that here."
He's right about Washington doing tremendously well, particularly in the first round which has not been as friendly to some other teams during the 17 years McPhee was making picks.
There were the easy picks like Alex Ovechkin (No. 1 overall in 2004), but they had a high hit rate throughout the first round no matter where they were picking. Nicklas Backstrom (No. 4), Semyon Varlamov (No. 23), Karl Alzner (No. 5), John Carlson (No. 27), Marcus Johansson (No. 24), Evgeny Kuznetsov (No. 26), Filip Forsberg (No. 11), Tom Wilson (No. 16) and Andre Burakovsky (No. 23) were all NHL regulars last year, with only Varlamov and Forsberg not with the Capitals. That's nine drafts worth of players that became contributors, some of them stars.
The team will also be active in free agency, and it does not sound like there will be many, if any financial limitations with how close they can go to the salary cap.The new GM sounded more cautious on his free agency plans, and continued putting emphasis on how important the entry draft will be.
5. McPhee shared what he learned from mistakes he made in Washington
While it is clear that McPhee did a lot more good than bad during his time in Washington, the team was a bit of a disaster his last season there. Some of the moves that were made, especially when it came to coaching hires, did not pan out. There was also that awful Filip Forsberg-for-Martin Erat trade which may have been the biggest blunder of McPhee's tenure.
Here's what he said he's learned in the three years he's had since being let go by Washington:
"Sometimes you get so locked into your own team," McPhee said. "My best trades were when I really knew the players, and the worst were when I didn't."
That Erat trade had to be at the top of his mind with that comment. Forsberg went on to become a star forward for the Predators, while Erat was traded for a minor package the year after he was acquired by McPhee at the 2013 NHL trade deadline.
McPhee said that his recent job as an advisor with the Islanders allowed him to see a lot more players from outside of their organization and will continue taking a closer look outside. Additionally, he expressed the importance of communication with ownership as a key factor in his chances of being successful in this stint.
This is going to be new territory for McPhee, as it would have been for any GM. However, it seems like Foley had the right idea in hiring him. Getting someone with his level of experience is going to help in so many facets. Building an organization from the ground up is no easy task, so having someone who helmed the hockey operations for one of the teams that has grown into one of the model franchises is a great place for Las Vegas to start.
Now McPhee just has to get to the task of surrounding himself with the right people so as to make this club a success as soon as possible. It should be interesting to see what he does with the blank slate.
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