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Finishing Touches

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

LAS VEGAS - The man who came out of nowhere to shoulder his way into the hockey world and then cleared space for the first-ever professional sports franchise in Las Vegas is munching his way through a bag of corn chips when we sit down in his office in the suburb of Summerlin.

Downstairs in the office complex, that now doubles as the headquarters of the newest National Hockey League team, general manager George McPhee and the rest of the Golden Knights staff are fielding calls from the 30 other NHL GMs interested in making a last-minute deal or adding a last-minute wrinkle to the team's expansion draft list, which will be revealed at the league's annual awards ceremony Wednesday night.

Earlier in the day, McPhee told reporters that he would field no more calls on deals beyond Monday and that by Tuesday he hoped to have his list of players prepared for the NHL for approval.

And so, the once fanciful notion of having an NHL team in the gambling mecca is on the verge of becoming a reality.

It's been a whirlwind journey for the admittedly reclusive owner of the Vegas Golden Knights Bill Foley, who made a fortune in the investment industry before turning his sights on the wine business. He has sat in on the multiple mock drafts that McPhee and his staff went through beginning early last season. He has been sitting next to McPhee in the boardroom the past few days, after the release of the protected lists of players submitted Sunday morning by the rest of the NHL teams.

Now, in a matter of hours his team will come to life in front of a national television audience.

Foley took time from putting the finishing touches on the roster to chat with us about one of the most important moments in league history in recent memory.

BURNSIDE: You must have imagined this for many, many months but has it been different than you thought it would be at this stage of the process?

FOLEY: "I think I know more than I thought I'd know because I've been now doing this kind of thing in the mock drafts for a year and listening about the players and trying to keep things organized in my mind. I'm a good chess player. As they're talking about this draft pick for this guy, I can't evaluate the players. These guys know the players but I can give input; George, your instincts are this, you should stick with it. That's about as far as my input really goes. It's very, very interesting on some of the players. And a couple of the GMs. The protected list releases quite a few good players. One team basically said you've got my list I'm not going to give up any draft picks and I'm not going to give you prospects. Just pick your guys. So, okay, circle a guy. That one's done. There's no maneuvers going on. The other guys, when they know they're losing someone, now they're panicked; okay, how do I get this person or can I get this person or what can I give you to not take him and take somebody else? In some cases we've said, sorry, that's the best guy and he's a guy that's going to be with us for six, eight years. We want him."

BURNSIDE: It sounds like you're going to have three or four players who will be selected by the Golden Knights on hand Wednesday night here in Vegas, have you thought about what it'll be like Wednesday night when it's revealed and you have actual players?

FOLEY: "It's going to be fun. The expansion draft piece of the awards ceremony's going to be really a lot of fun. Now, there are some players that they'll be picked and they'll be traded and they'll go to another team and we'll be getting an asset from the team. We want to be careful. We don't want to embarrass anybody. But there are 10 or 12, 15 players that we're going to select that we're very confident are going to be part of the team and those are the guys we're trying to get down here. And they have a chance to be with the media in that hour after the awards ceremony and the expansion draft ceremony. I'm just not exactly sure how we're going to do the expansion draft other than we have our segments, our minutes, our four or five or six-minute segments. One option is do we (reveal the pick) from the team that was the weakest last year and announce those and go kind of in that kind of order? Do we toss out with every segment enough time on one of the really good players that we're getting and give some data on that player? We've still got to figure that out. But it's going to be interesting. It's going to be fun. It's going to be a lot of fun. I got a new suit today. I got a new sport coat and pants."

BURNSIDE: What's the mood been like in that room where the group is finalizing the expansion roster?

FOLEY: "I'll tell you there was more of a sense of relief. The first thing that happened was that the trades didn't happen as we thought they might. We thought we might have a lot of players that would move from team A to team B and they would end up with an exempt player, and it'd make our life more difficult. Part of it was probably George had been talking to enough teams and saying we'll do this if you do this, so nothing's in writing but there are understandings, and so we believe that what happened was there were five or six teams that we had these understandings with and they basically locked down the market. So that was big for us. The other thing that happened was that we were worried that everyone would waive their no-move clause. And basically, a lot of the teams we had arrangements with, they didn't have to ask their players to waive no-move clauses because it was irrelevant. And a lot of teams didn't ask their players to waive. So, we didn't have that problem where no-move clauses were waived and a guy who's 34 then opens up a protection spot for a guy that's 23. It actually worked out the way I believe the league wanted it to, though we were worried it wouldn't. We were pretty anxious. Now when we finally got the list, the protected lists, it was almost always right on the money. We already knew who they were going to protect. We were 95% correct. Maybe more."

BURNSIDE: You didn't have to rethink your strategy after seeing lists?

FOLEY: "Absolutely not. We also in our mock drafts rated a gold, silver and bronze team and it almost came out that way. Our picks were almost all there. Dallas had two guys they could have protected, and they coughed up one and they protected the other one. We didn't know which one so that was, I wouldn't say it was a surprise. It was either going to be (Cody) Eakin or (Stephen) Johns going to be protected and they protected Johns."

BURNSIDE: George talked again this morning on how he expects he'll look back on this as a golden time in his career, that this is a once in a lifetime thing, what have you learned about him through this process?

FOLEY: "Oh, he's exactly what I thought I was going to get. He's very focused, organized, thoughtful, no B.S. by the numbers, but honest. If he tells another GM something you can depend on him. They all know they can depend on him. There's no wishy-washy and he's a very smart guy. He knows the business and he's very smart and he's hired very smart people around him. So, these guys are, Kelly McCrimmon (assistant GM) is unbelievable. He really is. He's really good. Vaughn Karpan (director of player personnel), unbelievable. Our amateur scouts, Lowes (Bob) and Luce (Scott), both great and really get it. And the other scouts get it. They all get it."

BURNSIDE: When you and I first talked, and that's a long time ago, we talked about how you weren't a hockey guy, are you a hockey guy now?

FOLEY: "Oh yeah I'm a hockey guy now. I just got to get on the ice and start skating again."

BURNSIDE: When were you last on skates?

FOLEY: "On ice skates? Probably 25 years. It's been a while. What I've got to do is I've got to get organized and I've got to practice my skating sometime when no one's there. Because there's going to be some headers taken."

BURNSIDE: You're almost at the end of the first big part of this journey and you've got lots of firsts to come yet, but how does it feel to be at this point?

FOLEY: "It's really fun. It's exhilarating being down and listening to everybody. Everybody's getting a little bit tired now. What George has done though today by saying we need to get these things out of the way because we are not going to work until 5 a.m. Wednesday morning getting our list in so we need to know where we are right now. And downstairs in going through the lists and going through team by team, okay this team, got it done. Here's the guy. Put him on the board. So that's happening right now. It's starting to narrow down."

BURNSIDE: What are you looking forward to most after Wednesday?

FOLEY: "I'm looking forward to getting through my first Board of Governors meetings (on Wednesday). I'm looking forward to getting through my piece on the stage of the expansion draft. Getting that done. And getting all of the interviews after that out of the way and then I'm done for a while."

BURNSIDE: Sort of slide back into the shadows a little bit?

FOLEY: "The only thing I have to do hockey wise is we have the development camp next week, so (Ryan) Zinke is coming in to talk to all the guys on Monday night so I'm going to come back in and introduce Zinke. He's the Secretary of the Interior. Used to be a Montana congressman, he was Seal Team 6 force commander. He's a good guy. So, he's going to talk to the guys a little bit about duty and so on."

BURNSIDE: Are you surprised at how people have embraced the notion of this team and the process all over the hockey world?

FOLEY: "Isn't it great? I'm a little surprised by it because at first I didn't know the depth of the market here in terms of selling tickets and that turned out to be a deep market and we sold a lot of tickets. But the outside interest from all over, we've kind of gotten away from, well, why would they expand to Las Vegas? Why a team in the middle of the desert? Why do that? The people now, because of all the processes we've gone through in the last year and the logo and the name, and they can bitch about the name and they can say what a stupid name, but almost everyone likes the logo fortunately so the logo's risen to the mark that it needs to rise to. But there is a lot of interest and there are a lot of people who want Golden Knights gear."

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB

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