The next Guest Post comes from one of our most outspoken fans. If you read the comments, our Twitter feed, or have ever attended a Golden Knights/SinBin.vegas sponsored event, you’ve probably heard from Jerry. He goes by the name PhiSig150 and he has a lot to say about the idea of tanking vs respecting the process it takes to win in professional sports.
The recent NHL expansion into Las Vegas was an armchair GM’s dream come true. The Golden Knights have never signed a free agent to a horrendous contract. The Knights likewise have never been swindled out of young prospects or potentially high draft picks in a lopsided trade. Vegas was a completely blank canvas onto which an amateur GM could paint their masterpiece of the perfectly constructed roster. Wannabe front office personnel spent the months leading up to the Expansion Draft imagining which players they would select and concocting various trades with other teams to allow them to protect certain players. I know from first hand experience. I was one of those nerds. SinBin.vegas and CapFriendly.com let us indulge in our fantasies even further by hosting a contest that let fans pretend to be not only McPhee but the other 30 GMs as well. Each fan was able to create his or her own protection list for each team and then conduct a mock draft on behalf of the Golden Knights. I spent more time doing research for this contest than I care to admit.
Once the expansion draft came and went most fans were satisfied with the Knights mixture of solid vets, promising prospects, and future draft picks. There are a few fans, however, that feel that the club is trying to put a bad team on ice to lose games on purpose or what we NBA fans have come to call: tanking. Teams tank in an attempt to land a high draft pick with the hope that, that prospect will one day turn out to be the next Crosby or McDavid level superstar. Some Knights fans have argued that they pay good money for tickets and that Vegas is a nontraditional hockey market so McPhee needs to put a winner on the ice as soon as this upcoming season. McPhee drew further ire from the win now crowd by trading away players like Marc Methot and Marcus Kruger, two players who could contribute on the ice immediately, for future draft picks. In their minds McPhee has already thrown in the towel on the season and gone into full tank mode. While I wish this truly were the case, McPhee hasn’t done anything in his long history as a GM that would suggest he even knows how to tank and the word definitely isn’t in Foley’s vocabulary. McPhee is no Sam Hinkie.
Sam Hinkie took over as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers in the Summer of 2013. He inherited a perennial loser that had been searching for years for its identity since the departure of Allen Iverson. Hinkie was an analytics savant with an MBA from Stanford. His hiring represented the further changing of the guard across sports from the traditional ways to evaluate talent to the new school of advanced analytics. Hinkie’s roster building philosophy was simple. To win championships in the NBA you need star players. Teams land these superstars in the draft. These players are typically selected within the first couple of picks of the draft. To get into the very top of the draft you need to be really, really bad.
The Sixers during Hinkie’s brief tenure weren’t just bad, they would go on to become one of the worst teams in NBA history. Hinkie made almost as many trades as the 76ers won games. Hinkie didn’t just love sexy high first round picks he loved draft picks of all shapes and sizes. He took on bad contracts for future picks. He traded away both solid seasoned vets and young players with upside for more draft picks. He would also trade draft picks for even more future draft picks. In a three-year span Hinkie made nearly 30 trades and the 76ers would lose almost 200 games but they also landed a top three NBA Draft selection every year from 2014-17.
After yet another loss a player would utter the phrase that would go down in infamy thanks to a 76er blog that ran with it: Trust the process. Trust the process became the mantra for Hinkie’s small cult of true believers and was also used by his numerous detractors to mock his efforts. The murmurs soon began around the league that Hinkie was undermining the integrity of the game. Finally the grumblings from a disheartened fan base and the fever pitch of derision by the media would prove to be too much. Hinkie resigned during the 2015-16 season. The ripples of his moves, however, live on to this day. The 76ers look to finally have an exciting team on the upswing. Some even go as far as to say they may have the core of a title contender in a few years if everyone can remain healthy. Like many other people that were ahead of their time but were roundly ridiculed, Hinkie may just end up having the last laugh after all.
Despite both valuing draft picks McPhee is a far cry from Hinkie. James Neal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathon Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and David Perron caliber players wouldn’t have any place on a Hinkie led team. Foley’s West Point background and competitive nature won’t allow for Hinkie on Ice. McPhee walks the fine line of trying to please an owner with an edict of “Playoffs in 3, Cup in 6” and carefully building a team through the draft while avoiding quick fixes in free agency that will hinder future cap flexibility. Hinkie is the type of gambler that if he ever got some inside information on a bowl game he would then proceed to bet his kid’s entire college fund on that one game. McPhee is more like a sharp bettor who spreads his money around and hedges his bets. He hasn’t put all of his money down on the promise of youth. Instead he’s got some money on established veterans like Neal and Fleury, some on a few dogs like Smith and Cody Eakin who might have bounce back seasons, and a bit laid down on heavy favorite in Shea Theodore who many feel will become an all star one day. If any of his long shots come through in the draft he’s got a backer in Foley that will bankroll him to the finish line. I am confident that McPhee isn’t going to make a rash trade or grossly overpay a middling free agent to appease the fan base. I would urge the Vegas Golden Knights Kingdom to practice patience. One day our patience will go rewarded. The team isn’t going to throw games as some have suggested. Players are going to play hard and Gallant is going to try to win each and every game but we still will lose much more than we win early on. It will be far better for a Knights fan’s emotional and psychological well being to be invested in our prospects’ development and look forward to the entry draft than to live and die with each win and loss. This roster simply isn’t built to win now. McPhee is trying to arm us with the necessary draft ammunition to build our core while preserving the needed cap space to add key players to this core in free agency when the timing is right.
There are only so many avenues in which a GM can use to acquire talent. Franchise cornerstones almost never hit UFA. RFA is too cost prohibitive when you factor in draft compensation. Trade waters must be treaded very carefully to ensure a team doesn’t entirely sacrifice the future. Which leaves the draft as the most likely place where our club will find the bulk of their high-end talent. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a recent prime example of the value in building a franchise primarily through the draft. From 2002 to 2006 Pittsburgh had a top 5 pick in each entry draft including two 1st and two 2nd overall picks. The players selected in these slots included Evengi Malkin, future Golden Knight Marc Andre Fleury, and everybody’s favorite player Sidney Crosby. In later rounds they also found valuable players like Kris Letang in the top of the 3rd round. They would go on to form not only the core of the 2009 Stanley Cup winner but also help the Penguins bring home the last two Stanley Cups. Cup winning teams aren’t built over night. It’s a process, a frozen process if you will, that we all must place our trust into for the time being.
No one is saying that the frozen process is guaranteed to work. Players like Crosby and Fleury don’t come along very often. A tremendous amount of luck had to occur to land both of them. It is however much more complex than simply losing and hoping for the best. The process is a calculated gamble. Every time you gamble there is a certain degree of risk involved. The draft picks might not pan out, Vegas may not become a desirable free agent destination, and the club could end up alienating a large segment of the fan base. If it does work though, the payoff could mean winning a Stanley Cup or perhaps even building a budding dynasty. While Foley is much too conservative to fully embrace the process, I think he’s given McPhee enough latitude to properly build the team from the ground up. Just as the Vegas Golden Knights Kingdom must remain patient so too does the man ruling it. Foley needs to continue to place his trust in McPhee and remain a hands off unobtrusive type of owner. I see great things in store for the Golden Knights but they just may not happen as quickly as people would like or as some have demanded. We live in a time of instant gratification but most good things in life take time. Until then have a Golden Knight ale, enjoy the hockey and above all trust the process.
-Jerry Tomeo (PhiSig150)
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