BOCA RATON, Fla. – There may not be a busier man in hockey right now than George McPhee.
At a time when many of his peers are catching their breath after the trade deadline, the Vegas Golden Knights general manager is ticking off milestones by the day.
Sometimes two a day.
On Monday morning, there was his return here to the annual GM meetings following a two-year hiatus since being fired by Washington. Then in the afternoon, the expansion Golden Knights made their first-ever transaction by signing free-agent forward Reid Duke of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
In between, McPhee has been juggling a slew of meetings and phone calls – many of them from rival GMs anxious to get a read on his plans for the expansion draft and, in some cases, from those looking to discuss trades involving players they’ll be exposing.
“We’re just trying to get some parameters with teams and try to figure out if we were seeing things the same way,” said McPhee. “Some teams came right out and said ‘we have this issue and we’d like to talk about that’ and other teams were a little more coy.
“We think we’re better off in terms of what our return might be if we wait until we get closer to the expansion draft to see what everything looks like before we make deals.”
It has been 17 years since the NHL last held an expansion draft and the rules were tweaked this time to ensure Vegas got a little more bang for the $500 million it paid to enter the league. Other teams have already made transactions to try and lessen their exposure, but the rules were designed to make it tough on those with four quality defencemen or two good goalies.
Teams can either protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie or eight skaters (forwards/defencemen) and a goalie.
The 72 hours between when teams submit their protection lists on June 17 and Vegas makes its selections on June 20 will be a fascinating exercise.
McPhee and his staff may hardly sleep. They are required to select a player from all 30 teams, but only 20 of them need to have a contract for 2017-18 – meaning the Golden Knights will almost certainly take free agents, some of whom they may not even intend to sign.
They don’t need 30 waiver-eligible players in a league that uses a 23-man active roster.
A priority will be placed on limiting the number of bad contracts on the books. The one advantage they enjoy over cap-strapped rivals is that they get to build from scratch and shouldn’t have any salary cap-related issues in the early years of existence.
Then there are the trades Vegas can make in the next few months to stockpile future assets by either promising to take a specific player in the expansion draft or not take a specific player.
“I think we’re going to get a little bit of everything in this experience,” said McPhee. “I can’t tell you what it’s going to look like when we’re done. We’re just going to go in really well prepared and do our best.”
He said there are six teams that have already expressed a strong inclination to consummate a deal related to the expansion draft. Technically, the Golden Knights can start making those moves immediately – but McPhee would prefer to wait.
One theory that has been making the rounds is that Vegas might select as many as seven goalies in the expansion draft with an eye on trading them away afterwards.
“I don’t know where that’s coming from because it didn’t come from us,” said McPhee. “If we were going to do that, I wouldn’t tip my hand on it – like we’ve tried to avoid that. I can’t tell you who we’re going to take or what we’re going to take until we see it all.
“Whatever you think might be available might not be available.”
It all makes for good talk and speculation with the GMs gathered together this week at the Boca Beach Club.
McPhee is keeping his cards close to the vest. Ray Shero of the New Jersey Devils has known his counterpart for years, but wasn’t expecting to gain much insight on his expansion draft plans.
“I might ask him these three days, but I’m pretty sure (of) what he’s going to say: I think they’re just going to kind of wait and see how things go,” said Shero.
McPhee spent 17 years as GM of the Capitals and has been welcomed back into the club with open arms.
“It’s great to have George back in there,” said Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving. “He’s a good man and a good friend, but it doesn’t seem (strange to have a new team) – a year ago, I guess it was this foreign land and an idea.
“We’re a 31-team league now and it seems like we’ve been that for longer than we probably have.”