Skip to main content
Five Questions With...

Five Questions with George McPhee

Golden Knights general manager on buzz in Las Vegas, challenges of building team from scratch

by Dan Rosen @DRosenNHL / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee:

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee is slowly starting to settle into his new home even if his family hasn't joined him yet.

McPhee's wife and youngest daughter are still in Washington for the remainder of the school year but they bought a home in Summerlin, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas, and when he's not there, he's traveling North America to scout players while he and his staff prepare for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and the 2017 NHL Draft.

McPhee, who returned to Washington last week for the holiday break, doesn't have to look too hard to realize why building a winning hockey team in Las Vegas is going to matter. All he has to do it walk out of his house, go to the local restaurants and shops, the pharmacies and grocery stores. He finds his inspiration there.

"There's a natural buzz whenever you land in Las Vegas because you're right near the strip and there's just so much energy there that it's a neat place to be to begin with, but when you get out into the suburbs and you talk to people, it's very palpable," McPhee said. "People are proud to have a pro team. All you have to do is look at the attendance at whatever event we seem to stage. They are very well attended.

"It's the residents. We sold our season tickets to residents, to locals, to families, to small businesses. Typically if you go to one of those headliner events on the strip only 4-5 percent of the people in attendance are from Vegas, but if you go to a hockey game [next season] 94 percent of those tickets have been sold to local residents."

McPhee, 58, feels rejuvenated by the challenge he's in the process of tackling. He spoke about his role, his job, his challenge and what it's all been like so far in a recent interview with NHL.com.

Here are Five Questions with…George McPhee:

We always talk about experience and how it can be useful regardless, but you have no experience in starting a franchise from scratch. So, how, if at all, has your experience as the GM in Washington played a role or helped you in the experience you're going through now?

"It really helps. That experience really helps. We had our own rebuild in Washington right before we anticipated the long lockout so we did our own rebuild and did it really well. I think the confidence that you have as a manager from that experience really helps when you're doing it again. There's a big difference between believing you can do it and knowing you can do it. Really having that experience and deeper understanding of how things need to work, and how important every single hire is, has really helped we believe in putting together a terrific infrastructure so far."

It seems like it would be fun, starting a franchise from scratch, putting an original stamp on something instead of taking over for another GM or group running a team. Has it? Have you found this enjoyable work or is it just work and the enjoyment will come when you actually see a team on the ice?

"It has been fun. It's been so much fun. It's been some of the most fun we've ever had in the business because you're not digging out from under something else. Everything is fresh and new. I guess the positivity that comes with all of this, people like [special adviser to hockey operations] David Conte are getting a second chance, or young people are getting a first chance. Other people are getting a promotion to come here. There's lots of positive energy surrounding our organization, not to mention the tremendous energy around the franchise in Las Vegas. This is a town that is really proud to have their first professional team. The civic pride has been amazing."

Have you read up and researched the history of expansion in the NHL to take any queues from it, from what went right and what went wrong in other places?

"We had a young fellow do a research project on it so we've looked at it in that way, in what might be the best way to do things and lessons learned. But we've also met with Doug Risebrough [GM of Minnesota Wild when they came into the NHL] to talk about his experience. We had a meeting in Las Vegas with Doug. And we are arranging a meeting with Bob Clarke based on his experience with expansion [GM of Florida Panthers when they came into the NHL]. There were a lot of good takeaways from the meeting with Doug. Certainly he talked about the positive environment, but there were other lessons and pretty obvious, like get the best coach you can find and expect the unexpected and embrace that. You can't plan for every single thing. Although we've been trying to, there are some things that you can't plan for, but he said just embrace that. There will be some surprises along the way and that's OK."

You're still not 100 percent certain who is going to be available to you in the expansion draft, but you may have an idea on some, if not most players. What are you looking for when you go scouting now?

"The emphasis would be on trying to focus on the players that you think are going to be those available players. It's pretty easy to identify the first six, seven, eight players on a team's roster, but where do they go from there? So we're looking at those players specifically, but we do have to know everyone. Things change. There is going to be a redistribution of players a few weeks before the deadline and there will be some trades as well so we have to know everyone in an organization.

"When you're managing, you are trying to do a couple things, watch other teams and see how they're doing and how they've been constructed, and then try to get to know individual players. This way it seems to be the other way around, really trying to get to know four or five players on each team at each game. And you do pick up some things about the way teams are playing and how they're constructed. I saw a game recently where a team was doing something that I hadn't seen before in terms of a way to check that was interesting.

"It's still not, 'Oh, I'm going to go watch a hockey game and have fun watching hockey.' There's still a mandate and this is your chance to watch a team and get to know as much as you can about four or five players. You have to walk away with a good understanding of who those players are and what they can do on the ice because it's going to matter in six months."

Can you scout coaches too? Do you need to scout coaches too?

"You can tell whether a team is organized. You can tell whether a team is performing for a coach. You can pick up things about a coach. How much of his bench does he use? The way he comports himself on the bench."

View More