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Golden Knights general manager cherishing second chance

McPhee says vibe around expansion team upbeat, positive ahead of first regular-season game

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was standing outside the temporary practice facility during development camp, the Las Vegas Ice Center, deep into a conversation about what helped him plot a course for his expansion team. 

He didn't want a staff of clones. Or a team of clones, for that matter.

The goal was to get the best person in every available position.


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"You get one chance to do it right," McPhee said.

That chance comes when Vegas, the NHL's 31st franchise, plays its first regular-season game at the Dallas Stars on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN360, TVA Sports, FS-AW, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV). 

The Golden Knights are the League's first expansion team since the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets joined in 2000. Outside of the hockey world, they are a curiosity because they are the first major professional sports franchise in Las Vegas.

McPhee, hired on July 13, 2016 by owner Bill Foley, consulted with other expansion survivors: Bobby Clarke (Florida Panthers), David Poile (Nashville Predators) and Doug Risebrough (Minnesota) when it came to putting together the team.

"They all said to me it will be the most enjoyable year you've had in the game and they were absolutely right," said McPhee, who was GM of the Washington Capitals for 17 seasons. "Everything feels positive. You haven't lost a game and everybody is excited to be here whether it's their first job in the NHL or a promotion in the NHL. Or a second chance for people that had lost jobs.

"Everybody is really upbeat and positive and there's this year-long glow around your team. It's been a lot of fun."

The Capitals made the Stanley Cup Playoffs 10 times during McPhee's run in Washington including the Stanley Cup Final in 1998, when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in four games. He was fired on April 26, 2014 after the Capitals missed the playoffs that season but wasn't out of hockey long, hired as a special adviser by New York Islanders general manger Garth Snow in 2015. 

But the Golden Knights job represented a second chance in the general manager's chair. 

Video: Expectations for the Golden Knights

"It takes a few months to lick your wounds and decide that I would like to try it again," McPhee said about being fired by the Capitals. "It took me a full two years to really want to do it again. I believe I have come back with a better attitude, to smile a little bit more and to enjoy the business because you can take it too seriously."

Brian Burke, president of hockey operations with the Calgary Flames, thinks McPhee falls into a slightly different category than others because of his long tenure in Washington. McPhee twice interned for Burke early in his career.

"I would say this: I think everybody is better their second time (as GM)," Burke said. "But that's true when your first time is four years or less. You learn what it's like. You're driving to practice and it weighs on you. The second time you're much better at it.

"George had such a long run there and did such a good job. I don't know that he could be much better. But knowing him, he will be."

McPhee said the time away, which coincided with his son Graham being selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the fifth round (No. 149) of the 2016 NHL Draft, was just what he needed. 

"What you learn is the break is good. It's healthy," McPhee said. "It gives you a fresh perspective on everything. You come back re-energized.

"But there's always that angst, that anxiety. Will you get a chance to do it again? Do you want to do it again?"

Soul-searching resulted in yes on both fronts. Those two answers have guided McPhee to the Golden Knights' grand opening Friday and his second act as an NHL general manager.

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