As the Vegas Golden Knights embark on their first season in the National Hockey League, all eyes are on what the franchise will develop into going forward. The first few years will undoubtedly be the honeymoon period, but for fans to stick around, they’ll have to produce a winning product.
It started before the expansion draft with the hiring of former Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee. Appointing McPhee to this position showed that owner Bill Foley wanted an experienced general manager with a track record of building a team from the ground up; two traits he can claim to possess.
McPhee Brings Experience to Las Vegas
While in Washington, McPhee constructed the core consisting of Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom as building blocks. Also, he added complementary pieces in Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and John Carlson. Although they never won a Stanley Cup, McPhee built a team can contend year in and year out.
Employing a general manager with experience wasn’t the only smart move Vegas made before the expansion draft. One of McPhee’s first moves was to hire Kelly McCrimmon, the majority owner, general manager, and coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings. With the hiring of McCrimmon, they have someone who has a pulse of the Western Hockey League and again, possesses experience, albeit at the junior level.
Experience was the name of the game for Vegas as it trickled down to their coaching search. Instead of going with a rookie head coach, McPhee hired Gerard Gallant, who again has experience and guided the Florida Panthers to the playoffs in 2016.
George McPhee Lays The Ground Work
After all the front office and coaching hires, all eyes turned to the expansion draft were Vegas was ruthless as it took advantage of teams that were unable to protect vital players. They were able to stockpile draft picks and acquire veterans that could help them win games, along with potential top-four defenseman Shea Theodore.
Theodore is the crown jewel obtained during the expansion draft considering his age and potential; however, Vegas made away with veterans that can turn into assets down the road. They drafted a number-one goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, who will keep them in games and will undoubtedly be the face of the franchise for the next few years.
The expansion draft helped them construct a team, but in today’s NHL, successful teams use the draft (and a bit of luck) to assemble their core of key players. Although Vegas didn’t win the draft lottery, they accumulated enough picks to allow them to build a solid prospect pool.
With three first-round draft selections in the top 15, Vegas made the most of them by adding center’s Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki. The front office knows that building a solid presence down the middle is vital. In Washington, McPhee drafted Backstrom and Kuznetsov, who have become a one-two punch down the middle.
Their next two selections focused on their defense in adding prospects Erik Brannstrom and Nicolas Hague, two defensemen with contrasting styles. Brannstrom is a puck-moving defenseman who could quarterback Vegas’s power play once he’s NHL ready. Hague, on the other hand, is a physical blueliner who will impose his size on opponents.
McPhee knows what it takes to build a team; that’s why their first four selections were at center and on defense—key ingredients for any team looking to build a contender.
What scares me the most about the Golden Knights is GM George McPhee has the support of ownership to be very bad in order to be very good!
— Dave Pratt (@DavePratt1040) September 14, 2017
Vegas will have lean years; every expansion franchise experiences this. The moves they made in the front office and coaching staff will are what separates them from other failed expansion teams like the Atlanta Thrashers. They have hired sharp hockey minds with proven track records when it comes to eyeing talent and forming a team from the ground up.
The draft also showed they understand the concept of what it takes to assemble a winning core. I hate to kick a dead team, but Atlanta only had one first-round selection entering their first year of existence. In contrast, Vegas accumulated 12 draft picks; six of these picks were in the top 65 with three in the top 15.
Yes, the novelty of having a hockey team on the strip will put fans in the seats; however, Vegas has a plan to keep these fans seated. Their hirings indicate that they do not want to follow the footsteps of Atlanta or 10 first ten years of the Columbus Blue Jackets. They want to follow a similar path to the Nashville Predators, who were competitive after a few lean years and have created their own identity in the hockey world.