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McCrimmon promotion to GM keeps Golden Knights on right track

Partnership with McPhee has resulted in success on, off ice

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

When the Vegas Golden Knights announced Kelly McCrimmon's promotion to general manager on Thursday, it was a window into what has made them so successful and a promising sign that there will be more success to come.

Not everyone would give up the title of general manager even while remaining president of hockey operations with the final say, as George McPhee will when McCrimmon rises from assistant GM on Sept. 1.

 

[RELATED: Golden Knights promote McCrimmon to general manager]

 

Not everyone would want to be general manager under his old boss when he could run another team himself, as McCrimmon almost certainly would have had the chance to do.

But this is a special relationship and a special situation.

"I don't know that I would have done it for anyone else," McPhee said. "But it felt right. It felt natural. It's easy to do when it's the right thing to do."

It goes back to the foundation of the franchise.

After the NHL announced expansion to Las Vegas on June 22, 2016, owner Bill Foley set out to build an organization of low-ego, high-character people. McPhee and McCrimmon had never met before but clicked immediately.

They worked together to build the rest of the hockey operations staff and prepare for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, each studying and dealing with 15 teams. Though McPhee received most of the credit for the players and assets they collected, it was a team effort.

It continued as the Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18 and returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, improving the roster by adding players like Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone.

"The thing that's special about our organization, our relationship, really, is just the collaboration," McCrimmon said. "From Day One, we made every decision together."

Video: Kelly McCrimmon promoted to GM of the Golden Knights

When you win, your employees become attractive candidates for other jobs. McPhee confirmed teams started calling about McCrimmon.

The difference here is that the Golden Knights are such a young organization. They worked so hard to put everything together and are just getting started.

"I was thinking, 'How can we keep the band together?'" McPhee said.

McPhee said he thought about promoting McCrimmon for three or four weeks, then spoke to him about it Friday and approached Foley on Saturday.

"I'm not going to discuss specific teams or anything like that, but there's no doubt in my mind that if interviewed Kelly would have been a manager someplace else," McPhee said. "So why not do it here?"

This is good for everyone in Vegas.

It sets an example and reinforces the culture the Golden Knights have tried to create. It keeps not only McCrimmon's ability but his proprietary knowledge. Let's say the expansion team that will play in Seattle starting in 2021-22 wanted to hire McCrimmon to replicate what Vegas did. Why help a future Pacific Division rival?

McPhee is still in charge and working with someone he trusts, but he's free to do more of the things he loves, like scouting, and less of the things he doesn't, like speaking publicly. When he pointed out McCrimmon would handle the press conferences, McCrimmon drew laugher by saying he "might answer some questions."

McCrimmon doesn't just get to become a GM. He gets to become the GM of a Stanley Cup contender, a rarity, and of the Golden Knights in particular. Why would he rather fix someone else's mistakes? Why would he want to start over when he's already helped build something from scratch and set a standard that will be difficult to match?

"If I went into a new opportunity and I did my job well, I would try to do exactly what we're doing here," McCrimmon said. "That's how I would do it."

Sitting between McPhee and McCrimmon, Foley said he was proud.

Video: McCrimmon becomes the Golden Knights General Manager

"George is still the boss; Kelly's now the GM," Foley said. "But we're all still going to be together, and we'll all be working together and talking. It's a ratification of what we did three years ago when we brought the guys in on the business side or the hockey side. We have the right group of people. They're treating their obligations really, really correctly."

McCrimmon will represent Vegas at NHL GM meetings and be the point of contact for other GMs. But in the end, not much will change day to day. McPhee said he and McCrimmon always agree.

"We've shared everything, basically co-managed, for three years, and that will continue," McPhee said.

This exchange said it all:

"We were meeting with the coaches the other day and finishing each other's sentences like a married couple," McPhee said.

"Happily married," Foley said, drawing laughter.

"So, anyway," McPhee said, "this works for all kinds of reasons."

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