BOCA RATON, Fla. â€” George McPhee is hardly a rookie at the NHL general managers meetings, but there were some butterflies Monday when he reunited with former colleagues as the representative of the league’s 31st team.
The GM of the fledgling Vegas Golden Knights, McPhee preferred to keep quiet on the first day of the gathering, content to simply absorb his new seat at the table, one he held for 17 years with the Washington Captials before he was fired by the team in April 2014.
Lunch with Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello beckoned afterward as did the signing of the first player in franchise history: Reid Duke, a former sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Wild who played for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League this season.
McPhee is a popular man right now among the league’s GMs as the chief decision-maker for Vegas at the upcoming expansion draft. Rivals have been trying to get a sense of his intentions, sussing out which players of theirs he might be interested in grabbing on June 20.
Each club has the choice of protecting seven forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender from the Golden Knights or eight skaters and one goaltender. Vegas will select 30 players â€” one from each club and a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defenders and three goaltenders.
Clubs are free to send draft picks and/or unsigned prospects to the Golden Knights in exchange for agreements from Vegas not to select a certain player. Those trades can’t be officially completed until the player has completed the 2016-17 season nor can Vegas trade for roster players until they’ve finished playing this season.
McPhee thought he was likely to wait as long as possible before pulling the trigger on anything.
“We think we’re better off, in terms of what our return might be (in a trade), if we wait until we get closer to the expansion draft to see what everything looks like before we make deals,” McPhee said.
“When the dust settles we’re going to get the lists (of protected players) and then we’ll to go to work,” he added. “To do some deals in advance and then get to expansion and say, ‘Geez, maybe we should’ve done something else, but now we’ve committed to that,’ (is) probably not the right way to go.”
McPhee has already had conversations with around six teams about their likely protection plans for expansion with other clubs opting to remain coy in their approach. The born-again GM was evasive himself, shooting down a rumour that the Golden Knights might select a boatload of goalies at the expansion draft.
“If we were going to do that I wouldn’t tip my hand on it,” McPhee said.
Vegas has compiled a short list of head coach candidates, though they’ve not had an opportunity to speak with everyone just yet and will probably wait until the season ends before coming to a decision.
McPhee hinted at hiring a veteran voice with experienced hands like Ken Hitchcock or Gerrard Gallant, both currently available.
“We’d like to find someone who would be good right now to help us through the first couple years â€” that might be tougher than the rest â€” but still be there when we’re trying to compete for a Cup,” McPhee said.
On the first day of meetings in rainy Florida the GMs were tasked with coming up with “blue sky” ideas for the league for five to 10 years down the road, which included such concepts as a faceoff dot in the slot area, no more shot blocking and changes to the league’s point system.
League officials planned to refine some of those ideas and bring them up for further discussion on Tuesday.
Colleagues were just happy to see McPhee back in the fold.
“It’s not like there’s a new face in there,” said Brad Treliving, the Calgary Flames GM. “It’s great to have George back in there.”
“It feels like running into an old friend or meeting with an old friend,” McPhee said. “Within 15 seconds everything seems the same. But it’s really important for our club now that we’re official to have a seat at the table and understand what’s going on and where the game’s going and be able to make a contribution.”
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press