With staff in place, McPhee confident he'll bring winner to Las Vegas
They are without a coach, and a roster, and a distinguishable brand, or the requisite prefix to license "Knights," but the NHL franchise that lies dormant has a team. And they're fully operational.
While the hockey community took its collective breather this summer, George McPhee poured through his contacts. It was in the neighborhood of 450 days before NHL hockey would arrive in Las Vegas, but the man spearheading the project was immediately working on deadline. Eight weeks until World Cup training camps.
The good bottle remaining corked, the rush was on to assemble hockey operations and manufacture a network of scouts with comparable reach to the NHL's 30 in-competition franchises, all of which have been greasing their production lines from their outsets.
What was paramount for Las Vegas - the installation of manpower in order to effectively evaluate talent in rinks across the globe in sufficient time to begin a season devoted to thorough appraisal of others' assets - seemed unfeasible.
Sure enough, placed calls led to press releases. The Vegas Is Hockey team had a morning daily for your cup of coffee as McPhee rolled out hire after hire like clockwork. Now, Las Vegas will arrive in Toronto for the World Cup on time, and well represented.
"We're really happy with where we are in hockey operations, with the people we've hired, with how well organized we are," McPhee told theScore.
"We'll be off and running."
Hockey minds assemble in Nevada
Las Vegas has achieved more than mere presence in the mind of its skipper.
McPhee's confident that with hockey minds like Kelly McCrimmon, Scott Luce, his hand-picked web of professional, amateur, and European scouts, and the staff continuing to assemble in Nevada, the framework's in place to build a winner.
"Hire talented, experienced people that want to work. People of high quality and integrity. If you're hiring like that, every time you make a hire, ultimately the organization turns out to be in pretty good shape."
That standard could prove essential to the prosperity of the club, especially considering that McPhee hasn't previously worked with some individuals he hustled to hire.
Because while on the surface, the job of an NHL executive without a roster seems as simple as bingeing on hockey, and evaluating players' strengths and weaknesses to determine values leading up to expansion and amateur drafts in June, that's simply not the case.
McPhee explained that while he'll jump from rink to rink at times this season, it's his responsibility to run point in Las Vegas as well.
"We have a practice facility to build, and there are things that the rest of the staff in Las Vegas are going to have to learn. They're going to need direction from the hockey department, so if you want to work well as a team off the ice, then you have to be there to provide instruction."
Sin City Stability
There are myriad uncertainties when it comes to Las Vegas expansion. Hand and hand with the ownership group that footed the enormous franchise fee, McPhee will pilot the first big-four professional sports team to break into the market. For that, it's viability still remains very much suspect.
(For what it's worth, he believes in it profoundly).
But as McPhee returns to a prominent role in the NHL, he does as one of its more proven executives, and he possesses the stability Las Vegas will strive to achieve as an organization - on and off the ice.
McPhee both tore down the Washington Capitals and built them back up into a perennial contender around a No. 1 draft pick in the cap era during a tenure that spanned parts of three decades. He's witnessed the sport evolve. He's adapted along with it.
And though he didn't see it through and win a championship, and tweaks to his design have certainly seen the Capitals progress since, McPhee believes in his process, and is confident he'll fashion another NHL powerhouse.
When asked if there's something he learned in retrospect, and that he looks forward to applying, McPhee responded:
"Not really. We left Washington in great shape. It's among the best if not the best team in the league right now. The organization is talented and deep.
"The staff's terrific."