The message must come from the top. And George McPhee made it clear on Thursday morning that he's moving forward and the rest of the organization is expected to follow. Players, coaches, management and fans.
This isn't what anyone in the Vegas Golden Knights universe wanted and it isn't what anyone expected. But adversity can come at any time and in any shape.
The facts are well known by now; the Golden Knights led 3-0 against the San Jose Sharks in the third period of Game 7 of their first round Stanley Cup Playoff series. Vegas was assessed a major penalty and the Sharks were able to score four power-play goals to take a 4-3 lead. The Knights managed a last minute goal of their own to force overtime before succumbing 5-4 in extra time.
Video review clearly showed a major penalty should not have been assessed. The NHL called the Golden Knights to accept responsibility for the mistake and referees handling the game have been taken out of the league's rotation for the rest of the playoffs.
All around, it was a tough deal for the Golden Knights. It was season defining but it's McPhee's job to make sure it's not franchise defining. If it's going to affect the future, it will be in a positive manner in the form of motivation to get better and stronger.
"The league did reach out and did apologize. I'm not aware of those referees not advancing. So, I can't comment on that. They made a mistake and I'm sure they feel bad about it. They want to get things right like we all want to get things right, when we are doing our jobs, but with respect to this organization, there will be no pity parties here," said McPhee. "We aren't feeling sorry for ourselves and wallowing in this or anything else. Stuff happens in games and we are going to take the rearview mirror out and move forward. We will put a really good team on the ice next year and go compete again. We aren't going to carry around a big suit case full of yesterdays. That's not happening."
McPhee has lots to deal with moving forward. He's got four unrestricted free agents including assistant captains Deryk Engelland and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Top center William Karlsson tops a list of five restricted free agents. The amateur draft is coming and the Golden Knights also look to be in a position where they'll need to shed some salary in order to be compliant with the cap.
McPhee has built a contending franchise in two years and the window to win the Stanley Cup remains wide open. Certainly the circumstances of his team's elimination will keep McPhee up for an undetermined number of nights. But the hockey business doesn't stop and neither will McPhee. What he's accomplished in Vegas so far is exemplary. The best part for Golden Knights fans is this is just the beginning. McPhee is bent on delivering a championship.
"It's been an extraordinary experience. Really beyond my wildest dreams. I really hoped that we could do something like this. We are two years old; we have made the playoffs both years. People in this market are watching this team and really supporting this team and watching this great game," he said. "A lot of people are watching, either coming to the rink, coming to this rink [City National Arena] or watching on television. Our TV ratings have been incredible. People are engaged. They seem to really like the sport, and more important, really like this team. And for good reason. It's a fun team to watch and again, the type of players on the team, if you are a parent these are people you want your kids looking up to. They do the right things; they say the right things. They are good in the community, they are humble, modest people that do a lot in this community. I think this team has been very good for hockey, very good for this league and sometimes we lose sight of the fact that we're only two years old. But it's been a great journey so far and we are hoping terrific things happen in the future. We would love to win a Stanley Cup, that's the whole objective."
Leadership is key to an organization and strong leadership results in success. In many ways this season wasn't a success.
But the manner in which the Golden Knights have responded and will continue to respond to a difficult blow will lead to success.