ANAHEIM - An NHL owner once told this reporter, as he was extending his GM to a contract which was going to be unpopular with some of the rabble, that he never wanted his hockey operations boss to be managing for his job. He never wanted decisions being made with just an eye for the moment.
Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee must have picture-in-picture vision when doing his job. Keep the team winning in the here and now, but also have focus on what's down the line.
Such thinking went into the decision on Friday to send Brandon Pirri back to the AHL's Chicago Wolves.
Pirri is on fire, with six goals and three assists in seven games since being recalled, and by all accounts is not deserving of being reassigned. He's earned a spot on the Golden Knights NHL roster.
"We're thrilled with Brandon's play. He's improved, he's made a great impression and he'll be back with our team," said assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon. "I think it's important that our fans understand that. Really, what this does is buy us some time. Brandon is able to be returned to Chicago without going through waivers because he has played less than 10 games in the National Hockey League. This will give us some time to make a decision."
The return of veteran winger Max Pacioretty pushed the roster over the maximum of 23 players and someone had to go. McPhee had lots of choices but Pirri and regular Alex Tuch were the only players eligible to go to the AHL without having to clear waivers. Had McPhee chosen another player on his roster - other teams would have had the option to claim that player without having to give Vegas anything in return in terms of player assets.
So, McPhee simply bought himself some time. He refused to allow himself to be painted into a corner and lose a roster player for nothing.
Vegas claimed forward Valentin Zykov off the waiver wire recently, but immigration issues prevented him from skating with the team prior to Thursday. McPhee hasn't had a chance to see him in his lineup and wants to see what the 23-year-old Zykov, who led the AHL with 33 goals last season, can do when featured on his NHL roster.
McPhee made a similar decision at the beginning of the 2017-18 season with forward Alex Tuch and defenseman Shea Theodore, sending both of the youngsters to the AHL while he needed time to sort out his roster. He didn't want to give players away and used his available roster flexibility to buy some time.
In the end, it worked for McPhee as his team marched to the Stanley Cup Final. It also worked out for Tuch and Theodore as they returned to Vegas to enjoy breakout NHL seasons. Both were also rewarded with long term contracts.
Pirri has proven he deserves a longer look. He'll get it.
McPhee has proven to himself that trusting his instincts and his methods work best for his organization. He has time, so he's using it. He has an opportunity to look at a young player in Zykov and learn if he can help his organization - so he's taking advantage of it.
In the moment, it may seem incongruent to take Pirri and his scalding hand out of the lineup, but McPhee is looking beyond tonight and next week. He's building an organization. He's focused on the war and not just the battle immediately in front of him.