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.