The Vegas Golden Knights have done nothing but make splash after splash since entering the league just three short seasons ago. From on the ice to off it, they are making a case as the best expansion franchise in sports. But three off-ice moves stand out from the rest as being the best franchise decisions. Let’s break them down.
3. Establishing the Henderson Silver Knights
At first glance, the franchise’s AHL affiliate may not seem like it should be within the same ballpark as top franchise moves, but Henderson is a little bit of a different story. The Golden Knights have had the Chicago Wolves as their AHL affiliate for the past three seasons, but starting in 2020-21, the team’s development will be right in their backyard.
Purchasing an AHL team and moving them to a neighbouring city means that players the Golden Knights bring into the franchise can get settled in the area, regardless of which level they wind up playing. The other level to the new geographic location allows for flexibility with personnel. Not only are replacements readily available should someone get injured or sick, but the younger guys can go down for a weekend to get a boost in playing time.
The Golden Knights are also bursting at the seams with up-and-coming talent who are teetering on the edge of consistent NHL minutes whose developments can now be closely watched by Vegas’ front office. And in Henderson, player development will be front and centre, seeing as they are playing in the AHL’s Pacific Division, even though they typically play eight fewer games than the rest of the league because of geography.
In sum, purchasing an AHL team and putting them in your backyard is a stroke of genius by Vegas’ management. It affords them the luxury of closely watching their crop of young talent develop while allowing their guys to comfortably move up and down through the organization.
2. 2019-20 Mid-Season Coaching Change
The dismissal of Gerard Gallant seemed rushed, bold, and somewhat misplaced at first glance. While all those adjectives tie back to the change in some way, the move, and subsequent arrival of Pete DeBoer, were one of the biggest factors at play in creating the Stanley Cup favoured Golden Knights that took to the bubble in Edmonton.
The Golden Knights relieved Gallant of his coaching duties amid an inconsistent third season. Fans were quick to voice their displeasure towards the move, but the front office knew the team was better than the 24-19-6 record that was on the board at the time of the change. And being that you can’t sack an entire roster, the next best option was to move on from the veteran coach.
The Golden Knights appointed DeBoer to the position immediately. If we zoom out on the optics of the situation, the quick decision and faster turnaround matched the NHL trend of bringing in a fresh voice before things started to go really south. St. Louis had done this during the 2018-19 season, a decision that helped them literally go from worst to first and Stanley Cup champions.
The reason this move lands at number two on this list is because of who the organization decided to hire in place of the only coach they had ever had. George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon brought in a division rival; DeBoer was with San Jose during that highly contested 2019 playoff series. This meant that he would know this team better than anybody else they could have brought in based on the amount of film he would have seen of the Knights in preparation to try and take them down. That knowledge would now be useful in building them up.
DeBoer had found himself on the outs with San Jose after the team had gone stale, which is what was also happening in Vegas, namely in the areas of secondary scoring and goaltending. The speed with which management made the coaching change surely lit a fire under those who remained in the dressing room. The message was clear: we are not scared to make changes to get to where we know we can be.
Not only did DeBoer know the Golden Knights as well as you would expect an outsider to, but he also knew the ins and outs of a ridiculously competitive Pacific Division. During his four full seasons in charge of the Sharks, the club never missed the playoffs, a feat of consistency the Golden Knights are looking to emulate.
1. George McPhee Giving Up His Job to Kelly McCrimmon
Shortly after the Sharks abruptly eliminated the Golden Knights in the 2019 Playoffs, George McPhee admitted to fielding calls from opponents asking to speak to assistant GM, Kelly McCrimmon. After consulting with owner Bill Foley, McPhee stepped down as GM and into the role of President of Hockey Operations as a way of keeping the market’s hottest managerial candidate in Sin City.
The management team was instrumental in getting the Golden Knights to where they had gone, and the risk of it becoming separated put the team in jeopardy. A year down the line, the team is doing better than ever, and it’s not hard to see why.
The duo of McPhee and McCrimmon led the scouting charge for the expansion draft, as well as having worked together throughout 2016, preparing for the team to take the ice. It would be hard to separate the work done by the two or attest it to one over the other, as it was their combined effort that laid the foundation for the expansion team.
“What was important to me was that there were no disruptions to our staff,” said McPhee after the organization announced the decision. His selflessness in relinquishing the title in order to preserve what had grown into such a good thing cannot go overlooked. It proves the desire to win in Vegas is as strong as it is in any other front office across any other sport. With the move to keep McPhee and McCrimmon together, the Golden Knights had done more to succeed on the ice than any trade could.
So there is my take on the top three off-ice moves in Vegas Golden Knights history. Should something else have made the list? Let me know down below!
Casey is a Canadian Sports Journalism student who focuses on the Vegas Golden Knights. A lifelong sports fan, she developed a passion for telling the stories that are rarely seen in the sports world.