Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee is a man of his word.
He told reporters ahead of last week’s NHL Expansion Draft that he and his team would be selecting plenty of defencemen with the intent of flipping them in trades, and so far he’s been doing just that.
The brand new club picked up 15 rearguards during the expansion process, and has already dealt away three.
The latest — and biggest — name so far is Marc Methot, who was traded to Dallas on Monday.
McPhee described the thought process that went into the trade during an interview on Prime Time Sports on Tuesday, saying it was a tough call to trade away someone with that kind of valuable experience.
“That was not easy,” McPhee said. “He’d be the perfect guy to play with some of the young defencemen that we have: [Shea] Theodore, [Colin] Miller, [Nate] Schmidt, players like that, [Griffin] Reinhart, we’ve got a bunch of young ones. We ended up having too many players.”
McPhee explained that he and the rest of his staff were also hoping to focus on acquiring more goalies via expansion, but weren’t able to.
“Interestingly enough, when we went through the draft, we were looking for those young goalies that maybe we could claim and still get through waivers and have develop in the American league but they weren’t there. Most of those players were exempt,” he said. “We thought we’d be able to get five goalies, two at the NHL level and three working their way up in the minors, but that wasn’t there to do. So we loaded up on defencemen and we had to move some of them.”
Vegas also traded Trevor van Riemsdyk to the Carolina Hurricanes and dealt David Schlemko to the Montreal Canadiens. Both transactions saw draft picks sent to the desert in return.
Of course, the Golden Knights added a goalie to the system with the Methot trade, sending the former Ottawa Senators D-man to the Dallas Stars on Monday in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2020 and goaltending prospect Dylan Ferguson, a seventh-round pick at this year’s entry draft.
At this point, McPhee is keeping his focus on youth and developing — or at least assessing — what he’s got right now.
“What was most important in my mind was to be able to play these young guys — again, Reinhart, Miller and Schmidt, and some of these young players — and see what they can do, because Reinhart hasn’t proven himself yet, Schmidt looks like he’s on the cusp, Miller needs more ice time, Theodore needs to play, so now is the time to find out if they can do it in these first couple of years,” he said. “And we do have veterans that can play with them, whether it’s [Jason] Garrison or [Deryk] Engelland or [Brayden] McNabb.”
As for Methot, McPhee said it was “not an easy transaction,” but acknowledged that the timing was right.
“We don’t really have cap issues, but we did have too many players,” he said. “And as you know, if you don’t move them now, good luck trying to move them after July 4 or 5 because at that point, everything locks up, there’s no liquidity, and people can’t take anyone. So we made our move.”
McPhee also talked about player development, ongoing trade talks, and the fine art of landing a franchise player. Here are some excerpts:
On acquiring franchise players:
“Time will tell whether we can pull that off through the draft. We’ve tried to accumulate a lot of picks to be able to hit on one of those, and sometimes, you know, you get that guy in the second round — a Shea Weber, or something like that, or a Braden Holtby, who [Washington] got in the fourth round. So we’ll do our best to do it through the draft, if there’s another way to do it at some point we’ll try to do that as well.
“As we all know, those guys are the real difference-makers and if you can get those guys in the right positions, you can win. We’ve got our base now, I thought we had a really good draft and we’ve got a lot of picks going forward. That’s the plan, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’ll work.”
On his philosophy when it comes developing young players:
“I am, in a lot of ways, conflicted on that right now because I always believed in, ‘take your time, send them back to junior or college and let them develop’ because that will never ruin them. What does ruin them is if you put them in too early. That’s what I’m comfortable with, and will probably continue to go that way, but you know we’ve got a different generation of kids now. This millennial group is not patient. They don’t believe in going up on every rung of the ladder, that you have to hit every rung — they leapfrog things.
“They’re better players than we’ve ever had, they’re better informed, they have everything they need at their fingertips, either on their smartphone or laptop at home, to find out better ways to train, better ways to eat, better ways to mentally prepare, and that group is better prepared to play in the league than we’ve ever had.
“So while I may really want to take our time and do this right, what I believe is right, it may not be right with some of these kids. Some of these kids may come in and show us they’re ready to go.”
On any ongoing conversations with other teams:
“We have some deals that we’re still talking about. We came back right after the draft on Saturday night and we met Sunday morning and went through the day and were talking to teams. We knew we’d have to move some people and we wanted to get on it quick … we’ve got a couple more moves to make and then we’re in a good place.
“We’re still having lots of discussion and lots of people are calling. Everybody wants the younger, cheaper player, and we’re not prepared to do that at this point.”