Kelly McCrimmon is a hockey man. In fact, it's hard to imagine meeting anyone who is more 'hockey' than the man universally known as Crim.
First of all, he's from Saskatchewan. Maybe there is a place which is just as much about hockey as the province planted right in the middle of the Canadian prairie. But that's a slim maybe.
Owning, operating and coaching the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League wasn't enough hockey for McCrimmon. So he added assistant GM of the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights to his portfolio.
McCrimmon played for the Wheat Kings as a junior before returning and beginning a progression which saw him eventually purchase the club.
Accomplished as a coach and GM, McCrimmon also has a keen business sense. He did is MBA while riding the bus over a number of WHL seasons and the Wheat Kings are an efficient and successful operation. Put simply, McCrimmon came to embody the Wheat Kings and the organization is respected as one of the best in junior hockey.
Golden Knights GM George McPhee spoke during the expansion draft process of a partnership between himself and McCrimmon.
"Kelly was critical. We developed a bond and a trust. One guy couldn't do it all himself," said McPhee. "We did it together. It was wholly collaborative."
McCrimmon sat down with VegasGoldenKnights.com in Los Angeles recently and talked about the summer that was the season to come.
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VGK.com: You work very closely with George McPhee. What's that arrangement like in terms of divvying up responsibilities?
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KM: George and I have spent a lot of time together since Day 1 of the expansion year. Constant communication. I think we got to know each other really well during that time. I think we have a lot of respect for each other. I personally really enjoyed learning from a person who has as much experience as he does as a general manager and one who has the success that he's enjoyed. I think when we get to this stage of the game, which is our first training camp it's more watching players than anything else. I think when we're observing rookie camp and commenting on certain players; what a player might have to work on, what the timeline might look like for some others. For the most part, finding good things we can appreciate with the caliber of players that are at camp.
VGK.com: You've had a long, successful career in the WHL. What's different at the NHL level?
KM: "Well it's interesting. I've had the conversation over the years. I've always felt that the Western Hockey League is the NHL lite. Everything we do is very similar to running an NHL team. So, in junior hockey you're in a draft-and-develop world. That's where your players come from. The job you do as an organization in developing those players is going to dictate what level of success you're able to enjoy as an organization. That applies directly to what we do in the National Hockey League. Running a scouting staff, being involved in those discussions, evaluations, working with people. I think there's a lot of similarities with what I did with the Wheat Kings too and the job here now in Las Vegas. I think there's always lots to learn and last year based on the nature of our challenge, it was a great opportunity to learn a lot about the National Hockey League. We talked a great deal about contracts, salary cap, player evaluation. Those were all areas where I didn't have experience, so I certainly had a lot to learn and gained insight and wisdom working with the people that we had. I think one thing that's important on any level, in any industry is to hire good people. If there's one thing that we couldn't be happier with the job that we did, we hired really good people. They're low maintenance and they do good work. Obviously, no organization has success without really quality people in it.
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VGK.com: You've spent your life in a competitive arena. No games last year. How anxious are to get back into competition?
KM: We talked so much about Year1, the expansion year and what a unique and special opportunity that was. This is Year 1, all over again. We're in the inaugural season, we're at our first training camp. Exhibition games and evaluating our player and selecting a team, opening night all of those things that are going to come with it. So that's exciting. We know it's a long process to do it the way we want to do it. It's going to take time. We need to make sure we are providing the resources to people in our organization to be their best and to put us in a position to have success. You say we're one of 31 teams, that's exactly right. When we play we're trying to win and so are the teams that are playing against us. We'll rely on the quality of our coaching staff, the quality of our scouting staff both on the pro and amateur side, George McPhee's leadership in terms of having been through this before. I'm real confident that we'll have a good process, good attention to detail and we'll do a really good job with leading this franchise.
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VGK.com: What is the organization's goal at training camp?
KM: For me, sorting out our players. We have no returnees, it's the first time on the ice with the players that we have watched a great deal prior to any of them being selected in expansion. We think great books on the players that we did select and now to see them on the ice with each other, to continue the evaluation process, to detect and understand where there is chemistry and where there's not. Like every team now, identifying your strengths and weaknesses in areas that you can address, some that you might not be able to address right away and all of the things that come along with being a hockey team getting ready for opening day.
VGK.com: George calls this team and process a blank canvas. How do you see it?
KM: I think when you're leading a franchise or running a hockey team, you always have to look ahead at all of the possibilities, all of the scenarios that could happen and yet you still have to trust the process. We've got a lot of questions that the players will answer for us. There's always an urgency with what you do but it also has to be balanced off with patience and a clear understanding of where you want this to go. I think any organization, whether it's sports related or non-sports related, you have to always have the bigger picture of you in mind. That's what management is. Yet, particularly in sports we only care about the next game. The balance of those two aspects is where we'll focus our attention.