I’m a sucker for guys who have seen the top of the mountain but didn’t have enough time to pull themselves all the way to the top. I have this image of Gollum in Lord of the Rings but I’ll spare you the metaphor.
I’m also a sucker for a guy who’s willing to put his career on the line by punching an opposing coach as he did 17 years ago when George McPhee and Blackhawks Head Coach Lorne Molleken squared off outside the Chicago dressing room after what he perceived to be dirty play. The best part about that was it was in front of the Blackhawks dressing room which meant he went looking for him.
Yesterday, McPhee was named the first General Manger in Las Vegas history. It was a historical event for Las Vegas. According to The Creator he will be given the reigns to mold, what is perceived to be, the best head start any new franchise has been given.
In some ways I like this situation a lot better and I think most GM’s do. Historically you take over a team that needs work. You have to dig out from under some bad contracts of players not getting the job done and you have to make changes with the staff and everything else. Here you come in and it’s clean slate and you get to pick everyone in the organization. I’m looking forward to that. In some ways this is what every GM wants to experience in his career. -George McPhee
When he took over the Capitals in 1997 he inherited only 2,900 season ticket holders. Las Vegas will give him a 15,200 head count to start.
I asked the new GM if there was a sense of unfinished business considering how close he’s been to winning a Stanley Cup. Here’s the response I got.
Not really, I’m happy with what we accomplished with those teams. -McPhee
Not the answer I was hoping for, but it was sincere, and honest. I was looking for him to say, Hell yeah it bothers me. To be fair he did mention winning the Cup at least six times so I’m not sure his nonchalant answer was the truth. I wanted to see the McPhee that led him to stick up for his team or the one who has permanently imprinted his name in the conscience of Rick Tocchet.
When you look up McPhee on YouTube it isn’t a highlight reel, it isn’t filled with flashy goals from his Hobey Baker season at Bowling Green, no, it will pull up a list of bouts that the 5’9, 170 pound McPhee would conjure up.
McPhee gets the best of Tocchet despite being outweighed by 44 pounds. I’m not advocating violence but I will back a guy with the kind of fire inside. There are certain qualities that make up a man like that, the same qualities that helped the Washington Capitals fight their way to the Presidents Cup Trophy this season. Yes, I know, Brian MacLellan was the GM last season but it was McPhee that laid the groundwork for the Capitals success whether he accepts that or not.
Under McPhee the Capitals appeared in their first Stanley Cup Final in 1997 while winning seven division titles between 1999 and 2012. Through all his achievements the one that sticks out the most is in 2003 when he and Caps owner Ted Leonsis decided to sell off most of the players who carried that franchise to the Cup in order to focus on building a deep farm system similar to what he will do in Las Vegas. McPhee went on to win five more Southeast Division championships while having the foresight to draft Alexander Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, and Nicklas Backstrom.
Unfortunately for McPhee, in 2014 he was let go by Leonsis without a Stanley Cup ring. May just turn out to be fortunate for Las Vegas. It’s reasonable to imagine he has carried that chip on his shoulder for the last couple of years as an adviser to the New York Islanders under GM Garth Snow, eager to prove that he can reach the hockey pinnacle.
Watching him tear up a bit when his son Graham was selected in the fifth round by the Edmonton Oilers in this years NHL Entry Draft is proof he is committed and passionate about what he does and it starts with family. A man who can instantly show emotion when watching a child succeed is a man who has their priorities straight. Family first, hockey second. Kids don’t grow up to be NHL draftees without parental dedication.
His pitch to The Creator had to be simple, I’m the only candidate who has built and re-built a Stanley Cup contender.