He’s the NHL’s reigning General Manager of the Year for a reason. George McPhee achieved something no one else in sports history has managed. He took a team with nothing—when he arrived it didn’t even have a name—and built the Vegas Golden Knights into the Western Conference champions, three wins shy of a Stanley Cup.
He worked the expansion draft as no one has before, drafting a contender and acquiring key players such as Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore through draft-day trades. He signed players to extensions to ensure the core stayed together and brought in players in free agency. He’s been everything Vegas needed and more.
McPhee recently sat down for a one-on-one interview covering a wide array of topics pertaining to the whirlwind past two years.
How has the philosophy changed from year one to year two as far as building a team from scratch to building upon what was a successful season?
Nothing has really changed for us. We have the same approach, and we’ll continue to have the same approach. We do the best we can to develop our players and create an environment where there are no excuses and they have everything they need. Ultimately, it’s about the players … they’re the ones that played their guts out for us.
You’ve signed a lot of players to contract extensions. Has that been part of trying to build an identity with the team and maintain continuity from year to year?
I don’t think we’ve done any more extensions than other teams have done. We acquired a lot of players through the expansion draft that either didn’t have any time on their deal or maybe one year, so we had a lot of work to do to catch up to the rest of the league. Rather than wait on it, we were aggressive and got it done.
Has there been any progress on an extension from William Karlsson? That’s one that fans have been waiting for.
Nope. And our policy has always been that we don’t talk about contracts until the contract is done.
Bill Foley famously said, “Playoffs in three years, Stanley Cup in six.” You blew past that expectation. Has that changed anything?
We basically focus on “what” and not “when.” If you’re right about what, you don’t have to worry about when. We’ll just continue to build the best team we can right now and see where it takes us.
Seattle was recently awarded an expansion franchise, and you guys don’t have to lose a player in the expansion draft. How nice is that?
It eliminates any confusion and any additional work. It’s nice to know we’re exempt, so we’ll just focus on our team and not put any time into expansion issues.
Do you think your success this past year puts any pressure on the Seattle team and redefines expectations for what an expansion team can do?
I think the league was very prescient in coming up with great rules to allow the expansion teams the ability to do well. They did the right thing for sports. The history of expansion, in all sports, is expansion teams didn’t have a chance for six or eight years. [Commissioner] Gary Bettman and [Deputy Commissioner] Bill Daly were smart enough to look at it differently and say, “We gotta give these teams a chance for the sport to take hold in that market. They’ve gotta have some success.” The rules were good for us, they will be for Seattle, and who’s to say they won’t do even better than we did?
In Arizona, Auston Matthews is kind of a cult figure: growing up rooting for the Coyotes, getting into hockey and becoming the No. 1 pick. How cool would that be for you to see that happen in Las Vegas—for a kid who grew up rooting for the Golden Knights to turn into a superstar player?
It’s part of our mission. We really believe strongly in developing grassroots hockey here, for boys and girls, for adults, and we’re going to and are investing a lot of money, a lot of time in it, a lot of personnel in it. I hope I live long enough to see that—a young man, or maybe even a young lady, from Vegas playing in the NHL.