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McPhee, Golden Knights not satisfied just reaching Stanley Cup Final

General manager back with Vegas 20 years after first appearance

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Almost 20 years have passed between Stanley Cup Final appearances for Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee.

In 1998, the then 39-year-old McPhee, who was at the time the youngest GM in the NHL, reached the Cup Final in his first season with the Washington Capitals before losing to the Detroit Red Wings in four games.

It has been a long wait to get this close again to hockey's ultimate goal.

Which is why an older and wiser McPhee, who called this season one of "the neatest experiences of our lifetime," is not content with what the Golden Knights have accomplished so far, reaching the Cup Final in their inaugural season.

"It's more than that," McPhee said. "We have more games to win. It's why we're here. We're not just satisfied at just getting here.

"We've all been around the game long enough to know you don't get these opportunities very often. For some of us, it's been 20 years."

Video: George McPhee on Vegas going to the Stanley Cup Final

Vegas, which defeated the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday, will face the Washington Capitals.

McPhee said he was able to enjoy the series-clinching win against the Jets, but on Monday, his focus had shifted to the Cup Final.

"We just hope this fairy tale that we're in can continue the next couple of weeks because it would be really great to deliver a championship to this city and these people," McPhee said. 

For some perspective on how long it has been for McPhee, during the Capitals run to the Final in 1998, forward Brian Bellows had to leave the series against the Red Wings between Games 1 and 2 when his wife gave birth to their son.

That son is Kieffer Bellows, who will turn 20 on June 10 and was selected in the first round (No. 19) by the New York Islanders in the 2016 NHL Draft.

After 17 seasons (1997-2014) in Washington, McPhee spent the 2015-16 season as a special advisor to Islanders GM Garth Snow before he was hired by the Golden Knights on July 13, 2016. 

"You learn lots of things along the way," McPhee said. "I've always been patient in managing teams. You understand the game better, watching it so long and being a part of it. You can analyze it better and handle it better in regards. 

"It just feels like we have a very good team this year and capable of doing something special. So far, so good."

Video: Breaking down the finalists for GM of the Year

On March 16, McPhee was named one of the three finalists for NHL General Manager of the Year for his job building the Golden Knights, who became the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four major North American pro sports leagues to start from scratch and win its division.

He was also a finalist with the Capitals in 2009-10.

"Despite some of the age differences, it's a very mature group, a high character group," McPhee said. "We don't want a bunch of clones. We never wanted a bunch of clones either in the front office or anywhere else in the organization. 

"Very proud of the way they've come together as a team."

When the Cup Final begins, McPhee and the Golden Knights could be facing the Lightning and coach Jon Cooper, who McPhee interviewed in 2012 for the coaching position in Washington. He ended up hiring Adam Oates.

Hockey certainly is a small world.

"We probably should have hired [Cooper]," McPhee said. "In fact, I know we should have hired him. Really an exceptional coaching record. If you look wherever he had coached, teams just had terrific records. It couldn't be a coincidence year after year."

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