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Inside How The Golden Knights Prepared For Tonight's Expansion Draft

George McPhee approached the Expansion Draft with a very specific strategy

by Gary Lawless @GoldenKnights /

The NHL issued a three-page document with bylaws to the Expansion Draft but it was a rule instituted by Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee which had dramatic and surprising impact.

McPhee and assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon believed from the onset of their expansion quest that the other 30 NHL teams could prevent Vegas from achieving its goals by trading amongst themselves.

A "massive redistribution of talent," was how McPhee described the wrinkle he worried most about when making his plans. The Golden Knights hockey operations staff decided they needed to get in front of such a possibility. To clog the market and make sure they controlled the process.

They got on the phone early and let GMs around the NHL know they were open to deals.

The caveat, however, was once a team had agreed to a deal, Vegas told them they couldn't make other trades which would affect the expansion draft.

McPhee and McCrimmon worked to close their deals and once an agreement was set - they informed their trade partner of the condition attached to the agreement.

Deal with Vegas and no one else was the arrangement. And it took hold and deflated the market.

It was a stroke of genius by McPhee and McCrimmon.

Vegas took the offensive and clogged up trade traffic. 

Video: The Golden Knights submit their picks to the NHL


"First of all, we wanted to do deals that people were happy with when it was all over, that they paid a little bit more than they wanted to and we got a little bit less than we wanted, but at the end of the day, the deal worked and we can go back to that team six weeks from now or they can come to us six weeks from now and we're all friends and we're professional and there are no issues," said McPhee. "When we talked to teams about trying to do a deal, we tried to explain that if they wanted to do a deal to protect players and so on, there was an opportunity cost to us, and that was with them directly or another team, that would have interest in one of the players that was exposed, and whatever we did had to match that, the opportunity cost for doing the deal with them. And so, that's what we did."

There was a smattering of trades prior to the roster freeze and delivery of protected lists but only one of note - which saw Tampa trade forward Jonathan Drouin to Montreal for defenceman Mikhail Sergachev.

The rest was, as they say, small change which put McPhee in position to control the board and attempt to achieve his two priorities: Build a competitive team for the 2017-18 season and stock up on draft picks which would allow him to build a legit contender in the NHL.

"We will have a very competitive team and what we like about it most is we have a lot of the elements that we were looking for. We have scoring on the wings, we have speed and skill down the middle, we have mobility and depth and size on the blue line, and we have outstanding goaltending," said McPhee. "We have some young players that are going to be with us for a long, long time, and the right veterans around them and we have as many as ten additional picks, I believe, to help us draft our way to being an elite team."

Evaluating McPhee's expansion selections as well as what he eventually does with the draft picks he's collected is a study for another day. But his strategy and subsequent execution has been a master class.

"What we did not in terms of substance remains to be seen. But in terms of the process, that's what we did really well and we already know that," said McPhee. "We had a blueprint and we kept developing the blueprint, but we worked really hard at it, we prepared very, very well. All year long, we were exceptionally well organized, we tried to think of every-single-thing that could occur once we got into the expansion window and people are going to judge how well we did or how we didn't do well. One of the things were most proud of is we think we did well, but we were professional in the way we did it, and we've had two comments from highly-respected managers, calling us after the fact, and basically saying 'You did it well for yourselves and this league' and we're proud of that."


Video: George McPhee speaks before the Expansion Draft


McPhee has said in recent days that when he has a chance to reflect on the past 12 months he believes it will rank as one of his greatest professionally. The veteran GM has shown an immense reserve of energy over the last few weeks and took only a few minutes after sending his selections into the NHL to catch his breath before immediately turning to other matters such as the amateur draft, post-expansion draft trades and free agency. He's still busy but there was a sense of elation on Wednesday morning.

"It feels so good right now. It really does. That the NHL and Bill Foley had faith in us to do this. It's a big event for the league, really important and the attention that this franchise has garnered in the last year has been amazing and it's certainly no greater than it is right now, and we had to deliver," said McPhee. "And it feels great to have been given that responsibility, and we feel like, on the very first critical step, we delivered. And we get about 20 minutes to reflect on it and move on to the next step."

Late Tuesday night when McPhee and his staff had finally settled on their expansion draft selections - the GM wanted to invest some time in thanking his staff but he was only able to grant himself a short amount of time. The work and effort put forth by his group is a source of pride for McPhee and he knew his emotions would be difficult to control were he to indulge them.

"I wish I had more time to reflect," he said. "I think we did a really good job on the Expansion Draft, but the internal reward for all of us was sharing that challenge and this year together, and knowing at the end of it that we did a good job. It wasn't an easy thing to get up and walk away last night. What I wanted to do was walk around the room and shake everybody's hand. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't have gotten through it."

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