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George McPhee gets to work with Golden Knights

GM signs first player, but knows building Vegas will take time, patience

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- It's getting real for George McPhee.

The Vegas Golden Knights officially became an NHL franchise when owner Bill Foley made the final payment of the expansion fee Wednesday. McPhee represented the Golden Knights at a general managers meeting for the first time and made his first transaction Monday, signing forward Reid Duke of Brandon of the Western Hockey League to a three-year, entry-level contract.

McPhee said he felt butterflies in his stomach when he started talking to colleagues about trades ahead of the NHL Expansion Draft and was a little nervous when he joined them at the Boca Beach Club.

"It's really important for our club now that we're official to have a seat at the table and understand what's going on, where the game's going, and be able to make a contribution if necessary," he said.

But McPhee was GM of the Washington Capitals from 1997 to 2014 and has been to the same meetings in the same room in the same resort many times before. He was special advisor to New York Islanders GM Garth Snow the past two seasons. He knows the game. He knows the guys. He knows the drill.

"Within 15 seconds, everything seems the same," he said.

And he knows he needs to be patient.

The expansion draft isn't until June 18-20, with the selections being announced June 21. Training camp doesn't start until September. The season doesn't start until October. He should not rush into hiring a coach or making trades just because he can. He should wait for the right time.

McPhee reiterated he wanted a coach who would be a good fit for the first couple of seasons, when the Golden Knights might struggle, and still be there when they are trying to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Video: NHL Now: George McPhee joins the show

He reiterated he had a "very short list" but added: "We're not going to add to the list. Just want to make sure we talk to every person on the list, and we haven't had a chance to do that yet."

Asked if the season needed to end for him to do that, he said: "Probably. Yes."

That indicates he wants to speak to at least one candidate still under contract with another team.

"We're trying to take our time," he said. "You don't get this kind of time very often. So we're trying to use it as best we can."

McPhee can sign junior players 20 and older, like Duke, a 21-year-old in his fifth WHL season, and free agents from colleges and European leagues. He can make trades involving prospects and draft picks.

He cannot acquire a player with an NHL contract until the player finishes the season. He also cannot commit to claim or not claim a player in the expansion draft in exchange for something until the player's team has finished the season and the player is no longer eligible to play in the American Hockey League. But he has been free to talk to teams about possibilities and could make handshake deals.

The expansion draft has factored into decision-making across the League all season. The rules are complex, but basically teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. Vegas must select one player from each team and end up with 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

"That's good for the League," New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero said. "Vegas, they're paying a good amount of money to join the League, and they should get some quality players, and they should be able to obviously ice a competitive team. But those things have come into play quite a bit."

Teams have traded players they would have had to expose in the expansion draft to make sure they received something in return rather than risk losing them for nothing. They will continue to maneuver leading up to June 18. McPhee said he had spoken to probably half a dozen teams so far about trades in which he would claim or not claim a player.

Video: A look at the 2017 Expansion Draft rules

"We're just trying to get some parameters with teams and trying to figure out if we're seeing things the same way," McPhee said. "Some teams came right out and said, 'We have this issue. We'd like to talk about that.' And other teams were a little more coy."

Pardon the Vegas metaphor, but it's a game of poker.

"I'd like to get as much information as I can, like who they like and don't like, like who would be a consideration for them, if there's a couple of guys on our team that will be available that aren't a consideration," said Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray, who has not spoken to McPhee about the expansion draft yet. "He doesn't have to tell me that. But I don't think he's going to mind giving out some information to certain teams because it means that he could possibly make a deal with that team."

McPhee said there was little he could do to head off other teams' maneuvering, and he thinks the Golden Knights will reap better returns if they wait until closer to the expansion draft and see all of their options.

"I think we're going to get a little bit of everything in this experience," he said. "Can't tell you what it's going to look like when we're done. We're just going to go in really well-prepared and do our best." 

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