Las Vegas GM George McPhee pledged on his first day on the job to quickly build a Stanley Cup-contending team, but he’ll be faced with some interesting options in the expansion draft.
It certainly doesn’t look as though either Bill Foley or George McPhee has the patience to slowly build their expansion team into a contender. Everything both of them said when McPhee was named GM of the team pointed to transforming this franchise into a contender sooner rather than later.
McPhee will certainly have a better chance at doing that than his predecessors. The expansion draft rules will give the team a chance to ice a competitive roster in the short term. By being able to protect only seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie, some of the other 30 teams in the league will be forced to expose some legitimate NHL talent. But when you’re looking at, in a best-case scenario, the No. 8 forward, the No. 4 defenseman and the No. 2 goalie on each team’s depth chart who are third-year pros, the pickings might not be quite as spectacular as you might think.
Still, the Vegas team will be off to a running start when the puck drops in 2017 and, at the very least, will have NHL-caliber goaltending. It was either that or his giddiness at the situation that, let’s say, prompted McPhee to get a little ahead of himself when he talked about the prospects for the expansion team. “Our mission here is clear: We’re going to build an organization and a team that people in Nevada and Las Vegas will be very, very proud of,” McPhee said, “and we’re going to do it quickly, and we’re aiming at the Stanley Cup. It’s that simple.”
The first part, great. Second part of that quote is what is giving your trusty correspondent some trouble, for a couple of reasons. First, there is no shortcut to success in the NHL. Particularly when building from the ground up, it is a painstaking procedure full of stops and starts, but one that must be seen through to completion in order to be successful. Secondly, why would McPhee not take the currency he has with a team that is new and intriguing? That will be enough to hold people’s interest for at least the first couple of seasons, or it should be. If Las Vegas is the hockey market we’ve been led to believe it is and that its advance season-ticket sales suggest it could be, then people there will be smart enough to know that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and they’ll be happy enough to have NHL hockey to put up with a couple of bumpy seasons.
And that’s particularly true if it turns out that the speculation is right that the NHL will allow a 30-day window in advance of the expansion draft to allow teams to make deals with Las Vegas. That has not been the case before, at least not officially, and it could be a game-changer for Vegas in terms of the long-term plan.
So let’s say the Los Angeles Kings, after protecting Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin, would prefer Las Vegas take Dustin Brown from their roster rather than, say, Brayden McNabb. Well, the Kings would then be able to make a side deal with the Las Vegas, which would pre-determine which player is taken. That would cost the Kings a draft pick and it would be a great way for the expansion team to pile up a bunch of draft picks if they do it with enough teams. Or take the Minnesota Wild. Regardless of whether they go 7-3-1 or eight skaters and a goalie, they will be forced to expose a player in his prime. But if they can convince Las Vegas to take Eric Staal in exchange for a draft pick or a prospect, that would solve a potential problem.
So now McPhee is faced with an interesting choice here. Does he go with a stable of decent established players and muck around trying to contend for a playoff spot in the first couple of seasons or does he afford this unique opportunity the NHL might give him and load up on draft picks instead? That would, in turn, compromise the quality of his roster for the first couple of seasons, putting it in a better draft lottery position and enhancing its chances at landing a franchise player around whom to build. And armed with more second- and third-round picks, the Vegas franchise would be able to build up a stockpile of prospects.
NHL deputy commissioner told thn.com the possibility of a 30-day trade window, “hasn’t been finally decided yet.” But it would be a good way for some teams to get through the expansion draft process without losing a player in whom they’ve invested considerable resources. It would also provide the expansion team with a way of formulating a long-term plan that might mean more pain at the beginning, but has the potential for bigger rewards down the road.
Which way Las Vegas goes will be up to McPhee.