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Former Expansion GM’s Offer Advice For McPhee, Las Vegas

Since 1991 there have been six expansion drafts ushering in nine new teams to the NHL. Three such drafts had a single team drafting their players from the available pool like Las Vegas is set to do beginning on June 17th. Four of those nine general managers, and one (Waddell) who drafted in the similar situation as Vegas faces, offered up some advice to George McPhee via NHL.com.

In our case, we wanted hardworking, high-character people. You have to score goals, but scoring wasn’t going to be a high priority at the start, because no NHL team is going to give you their scorers in an expansion draft, so you build from hard workers and character and team players. -Bobby Clarke, Florida Panthers first GM

We were looking for players with good character and hardworking players. You are trying to create the culture, or at least start it off with a good footing. I don’t think there was anyone that year that questioned the work ethic of the Ottawa Senators. -Mel Bridgman, Ottawa Senators first GM

Patience always is important. There’s no reason to go out and spend millions of dollars on older players because you have to be honest and truthful about the first few years, which are going to be tough years. The patience of not getting caught up in these bidding wars that occur is critical. -Don Waddell, Atlanta Thrashers first GM

I get a sense that there’s a rush to be a playoff team, and in my opinion, that will hurt them in the end. There are no shortcuts in the NHL. My advice for them would be to hit singles instead of trying to hit home runs. -Doug MacLean, Columbus Blue Jackets first GM

There are two re-occuring themes from the men who have been there before. Patience and hard work. 

The hard working portion sounds a bit to me like an excuse. Essentially saying, we couldn’t get good players so we got guys who tried hard. It’s a losing mentality spewed out by players, coaches, and managers who believe their talent is not on par as their opponents.

Personally, I don’t a team who talks about how hard they work, I want a good team who doesn’t have to talk about their hard work because the W’s are doing it for them. George McPhee has made it sound like he believes there will be some real talent out there, and he plans on scooping some of it up in an attempt to win. Which is where our second piece, and the better piece, of advice comes in.

Winning straight out of the gate may not be the best thing for Las Vegas, both on the ice and off. On it, if they are going to make it happen, it’s likely going to be with older players who may be here now, but likely won’t three to five years down the road. Off the ice, winning in year one could set an unrealistic expectation for the future. I’d love for the franchise to be one that expects to be the in the playoffs each and every year, but at the same time, there’s something special about a fan base that has a hopeful believe rather than accustomed expectation.

The question remains, and McPhee will refuse to answer it siting “not wanting to give away my strategy,” how will the team balance patience and the will to succeed. The league has put measures in place to kind of force the team to be competitive, but if McPhee does it right, which I believe he will, it’s not going to happen overnight.

A team and fan base that grows together will have long term success, which is much better than a bunch of lesser-talented hard working players who ban together to squeak out an eight seed at the expense of a future cupboard left dry. The Creator wants to win, McPhee wants to win, I want them to win, and I bet you do too, but we all must heed the advice of the guys who have been there before and remember the magic word.

Patience.

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3 Comments

  1. As the Original TV Voice of the Mighty Ducks for 9-seasons, I thought our GM Jack Ferreira did a very wise thing. Once the team was selected, he instructed everybody in the Organization to NEVER use the word EXPANSION. A $50.00 fine in “Kangaroo Court” was immediately enacted and let’s just say it took some getting used to. If I recall correctly, Coach Ron Wilson threw a nice big season-ending party with the proceeds. However, you cannot argue with the pure genius of the psychology involved here. EVERYBODY bought into it. And if I recall correctly, both the Ducks and the Panthers set inaugural season records for points. Furthermore, can you imagine in the “stream of consciousness” as a broadcaster the challenges not being able to say “expansion” presented? So, to avoid the faux pas, I would tape a piece of paper with the word EXPANSION written in ALL CAPS above my game notes EVERY GAME so as not to slip up. Delighted to tell you that I never slipped…but…”Coach Willie” did dink me for $50.00 for having a dog with the most ridiculous name (in his opinion) ever–Sugar Plum. Which was OK by me…she was one of the best pups ever! Love “The Sin Bin”–read it daily and enjoy the podcasts, too–and hopefully we’ll have more to discuss when Vegas names their first-ever Play-by-play Announcer. Yours in Hockey, Chris Madsen

    • RJ

      Great perspective! I think that’s a great concept for setting a culture. Once the puck has dropped at the first game then there is nothing ‘expansion’ about the Las Vegas Hockey Club any longer-we are just an NHL team like the other 30.

  2. Dude I love this. Wonder what GMGM thinks about calling it an expansion team.

    Chris, send me an email, I’ve got a couple questions for ya. Ken@sinbin.vegas

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