LAS VEGAS – They are hunkered down in a boardroom about 20 minutes from the Strip and meticulously working towards giving the NHL’s 31st franchise an identity.
Here’s how one conversation went Monday morning: Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee and his staff were discussing a player they really liked who had been left unprotected in the expansion draft. However, that same player had also garnered what McPhee termed a “healthy offer” from a team hoping to acquire him in a trade.
So, when you’re building an organization from the ground up, what do you do? How do you negotiate that delicate balance between wanting to ice a competitive team next season while also stockpiling future assets?
“The balance is whatever feels right for our team,” McPhee said Monday.
At the end of a year of non-stop scouting and 72 hours unlike any this veteran executive has ever seen, a lot of this comes down to instincts. There are so many potential moves on the table – trades made or not made, free agents signed or passed on – that McPhee won’t have an opportunity to really look back and wonder: What if?
Instead, he’s put faith in his preparation and process.
On Monday, that meant establishing a deadline for teams looking to make a deal around which player they’ll lose in the expansion draft. Those conversations have been ongoing for four or five intensive days and Vegas has basically reached the point where they need to turn off the phone and pick a team.
“We’re just being real direct with people,” said McPhee. “When we call managers back we’re basically saying, ‘Do you want to hear what’s going on with your team or are you just content to sit and we’re going to do what we’re going to do?’ Most of them want to talk about it, and then we tell them exactly what’s going on and, ‘Is there something you want to do about it or not?’
“So that’s the way we’re doing this because it is a very complicated process.”
It is so complicated, in fact, that McPhee plans to run his selections by the NHL on Tuesday night to make sure they meet the requirements. Then he’ll sleep on those choices and file them before a 10:00 a.m. ET deadline on Wednesday.
Under the rules, Vegas must take at least three goalies, nine defencemen and 14 forwards – leaving four wild-card spots that can be used on any position. The Golden Knights also need to select players that count at least $43.8-million against the cap in 2017-18.
One interesting avenue the team has started exploring is signing a free agent during this exclusive negotiating window. That player would count as his former team’s selection in the expansion draft.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions with free agents, we’ve had a lot of agents call,” said McPhee. “Healthy discussions.”
Behind closed doors, the Golden Knights are starting to take shape.
The organization is even hoping a couple players will be able to make it to T-Mobile Arena for the reveal on Wednesday night – with Marc-Andre Fleury, the team’s likely No. 1 goaltender, expected to be among them.
While Vegas has some deals lined up, none of them were officially completed as of early Monday. The GM had marked off the rest of his day to finalize those transactions.
“Nothing is final until everything is final,” said McPhee.
Once he knows what trades he’s making, the Golden Knights staff will really dig down on every expansion decision. Owner Bill Foley, who paid $500 million for the franchise, has been sitting in on the meetings.
They are going team by team.
In some cases, it’s obvious who they’ll select. In others, any flip-flop between players carries a ripple effect across the board.
“It’s going to take us awhile to pick the team tomorrow,” said McPhee. “Because one change in this matrix affects everything – with your (salary) cap now, with your cap going forward, with the cap that you have done for this expansion draft, with the cap that you need for the regular season, tagging room and everything else.”
Despite the challenge in front of him, he already sounds a little wistful about the experience. The former Washington Capitals GM is already describing this as a “golden year” – one of the best of his personal and professional life.
Even after spending four straight days on the phone, he didn’t seem daunted by the task.
“We are prepared and organized,” said McPhee. “That’s why I feel a little more relaxed up here than I anticipated I would be at this time. We’re in a good place.”
Regarding the player that sparked some internal debate on Monday morning – the guy who could either be in the starting lineup for the Golden Knights in October or traded away for assets – McPhee said they’ve ultimately decided to select him and keep him.
Naturally, he wouldn’t reveal the identity of the player.
“Not today,” said McPhee. “And three or four days from now I won’t be able to remember any of these conversations.”