LAS VEGAS -- A little more than two hours after Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee received the lists of available players for the NHL Expansion Draft, he had a message for his colleagues:
McPhee made it clear he's ready to make trades before he decides on the 30 players, one from each team, who will make up the NHL's 31st team.
"We're going to go to that club and say, 'We have interest in this player. There's another club that has interest in this player. How do we want to do this? And how can we protect your roster?'" McPhee said Sunday. "You can negotiate your way out of this if you wish. Every team in this league has a chance to protect their roster. We will not make a claim with any club before we talk to the club."
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McPhee was in good spirits. He has already started talking to free agents during his 72-hour exclusive negotiating window. He was also thrilled and surprised that there weren't many trades Saturday before the NHL's roster freeze for the other 30 teams.
"We were expecting this mass redistribution of players that really didn't happen, which we were really happy about," he said. "The things we were worried about with no-move clauses and that sort of thing didn't happen. I think the harvest of assets that we're going to have now will be what we were hoping for."
McPhee is perhaps the most powerful man in the sport over the next three days. He's ready to use that leverage before his picks are unveiled at the 2017 NHL Awards and NHL Expansion Draft presented by T-Mobile at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN).
Video: NHL Tonight initial reaction to Expansion Draft lists
"We think we can accomplish two things," McPhee said. "We can put a good team on the ice and accumulate draft picks and be in a surplus situation here in the next couple of years. So we can start with a real good team and build it with these draft picks to a team that can win [the Stanley] Cup.
"We knew when we got into this window, this expansion window, that we would have some control. I thought we did real well in the weeks leading up to this, talking to teams about what we might be able to do and getting in the way of some things that may have happened with other clubs. I would say that if we were grading ourselves on how we've done things to date, it's an A-plus. We're really happy with how things have gone. Now we need to get an A-plus for these next three days."
McPhee praised the work of his staff and the decision to hold multiple mock drafts, saying there were no surprises when he saw the protected lists Sunday. Teams could protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or eight skaters of any position and a goalie.
There's an attractive list of players available that include Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Nashville Predators forward James Neal, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba and Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Marchessault.
Video: Brian Lawton goes through the potential skaters
McPhee wouldn't comment on any particular player. He did acknowledge he's likely to make multiple trades that will net numerous first-round picks in the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas in order to take or not take certain players.
McPhee said it's also possible he'll select a player in order to quickly trade him to another interested team. The number of quality goaltenders available, including Fleury, Philipp Grubauer of the Washington Capitals, Petr Mrazek of the Detroit Red Wings, Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers, Antti Raanta of the New York Rangers and Carter Hutton of the St. Louis Blues, make a goalie flip or two possible.
"We've got a lot of things lined up, but until we see everything, we don't have anything," McPhee said. "We're going to make all our final decisions late because we don't know what kind of calls we're going to get today. The same (general) manager may have different things to talk about today now that we're in the expansion window than he did the last few days.
"We're really pleased with what's available and this has worked out very well for the Vegas Golden Knights. We expect to put a good, competitive, entertaining club on the ice. We really like what we're looking at right now."
When McPhee spoke to reporters, Golden Knights owner Bill Foley stood in the back and smiled. Paying a record $500 million expansion fee gave Vegas favorable roster-stocking terms designed to quickly make them competitive.
Video: Johnston gives his input on the Expansion Draft lists
The decisions McPhee makes over the next three days will be closely scrutinized for years to come. But he said he's been too busy to think too much about the historical significance of putting together the first major professional sports team in Las Vegas.
"At some point we'll be able to exhale and say, 'Holy smokes, we really accomplished something,'" McPhee said. "It's a fascinating time for the NHL. All the attention this team has garnered all year long has been incredible.
"From a personal standpoint, I think I'll look back at this someday and say, 'Boy, those were the golden years. That may have been the best year of my life.'"