Wednesday, 13 July 2016

And So It Begins

Mel Gibson's character in the movie Payback might have said it best: "you go high enough you always come to one man". While Porter had nothing to do with hockey, Las Vegas' entry into the NHL now has one man who will be making all of the personnel decisions as 58 year-old George McPhee will bring his many years of running a franchise to Sin City as the new general manager of the currently unnamed team. Owner Bill Foley narrowed the list to seven candidates, and McPhee was chosen from this streamlined list thanks to his 17 seasons running the Washington Capitals. While starting an expansion team is never an easy endeavor, McPhee's recent experience with the Capitals should provide hope for the Las Vegas expansion team.

George McPhee is the man most responsible for the current success of the Washington Capitals. McPhee drafted and rebuilt the Capitals around star winger Alex Ovechkin, adding pieces such as Brayden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson, while moving out pieces such as Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov, and Alexander Semin. He's still considered one of the sharper GMs in the game despite Washington never reaching the Holy Grail. Getting McPhee to run the new Las Vegas franchise is somewhat akin to David Poile's work in Nashville in this writer's eyes.

"He took Washington from being a team that was scrambling and sort of turned it around, so I think that experience will be a big plus," Sportsnet's Doug MacLean said. "I think it's a real good fit."

McPhee has extensive knowledge of the NHL landscape already, so he shouldn't need much of a introduction there. Having been in charge of one of the better AHL teams for the last decade in the Hershey Bears also should help him find serviceable players for wherever the Las Vegas AHL franchise lands. Without knowing who the other two finalists or anyone else on the short list, McPhee is an incredibly shrewd choice.

What bothers me about the choice of McPhee, though, is that the rebuild for the Capitals hasn't resulted in any success outside of a couple of division-winner banners, and he often has shown the tendency to make horrific trades for immediate results. The Washington Capitals are still feeling the effects of the Filip Forsberg deal, the Anton Gustafsson draft is still a sore topic, and the failure of finding any effective coach after Boudreau makes fans cringe.

Not every move that McPhee has made has been gold to which I can say that no move that any GM has made will always pay off. With an expansion team, however, the first few years have to be filled with many more hits than misses, and it was the piling misses in the end that cost McPhee his job his Washington. Misses like that in the first couple of years of an expansion franchise can set the team back years, so it's imperative that McPhee be at the top of his game for the first few seasons of Las Vegas' existence.

The good news is that George McPhee has a year to prepare without a lot of distractions. Sure, he'll need to hire some key staff and get things rolling in the front office, but a year with very few distractions should prove to be beneficial to the Las Vegas franchise. On top of that, he's the first expansion GM to not have a rival expansion team picking players since 1999 when the Thrashers were introduced to the league. That expansion draft turned out to be decent for the Thrashers, and the same should hold true for next season's expansion draft with all the new rules the NHL has put in place.

McPhee's experience and track record helped him get a job in Las Vegas, and he seems like he would be the consensus best choice when looking at other mentioned candidates. It doesn't mean he'll get a free pass when it comes to mistakes, especially if they cripple the franchise in its first couple of years. That being said, I believe George McPhee is a capable GM at the NHL level, and I expect this Las Vegas team to have a good first season with McPhee at the helm.

Granted, they won't make the playoffs, but I doubt we'll see Las Vegas compare to Washington in its first few years.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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