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George McPhee Expansion Draft Interview Transcripts

The other day I was asked to do an interview for an upcoming documentary on the Golden Knights magical season. It’s called Valiant and it’s supposed to be released by the Summer of this year, but more on that when it comes out. I knew I would be asked plenty of questions about the Expansion Draft, so I was going through some of my notes, reading some of the articles we published around the time, and trying to relive the entire thing so I’d be prepared.

Looking back, that whole week was a complete blur, and I’m assuming it was for everyone as the Golden Knights went from having Reid Duke, Tomas Hyka, and Vadim Shipachyov to building an entire roster which would eventually go on to win the Western Conference all within about five days time.

While going through everything I found something interesting, transcripts from George McPhee’s press conferences during the three days of the Expansion Draft. If you don’t remember, teams submitted their protection lists, and then Vegas had 72 hours to submit its list of 30 selections to the league. The next day each of the 30 players were announced to a massive crowd at T-Mobile Arena and Marc-Andre Fleury, Jason Garrison, Brayden McNabb, and Deryk Engelland donned Vegas jerseys after being selected. Each morning during those 72 hours, McPhee met with the media to take questions and his answers were pretty amazing now that we have context.

It truly was a wild time and as always, time gives us perspective on things. The entire transcripts from those press conferences are below (plus a video of the Expansion Draft), but I wanted to highlight a few comments McPhee made during a time when everyone believed the Golden Knights would be among the worst teams in the league.

I think it’s going to be a pretty good team. We’re happy that, you know, we got a lot of defensemen, we got really good goaltending, we’ve got a lot of centers and we’ve got scoring on the wings. Should have good speed, so it’s going to be a good team. -McPhee on 6/20/17

Actually, I think we’ve done pretty well in all the positions. We have lots of defensemen lined up, we have lots of centers and we have scoring on the wings, a little more scoring than we anticipated. The goaltending is going to be pretty solid. It’s looking pretty good. It’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish and that is have a competitive club that people are going to enjoy watching play, and then having the draft picks to be able to draft our way to a contending team, a championship team. -McPhee on 6/20/17

Most mock drafts were full of players even fans of the teams they were being selected from had never heard of, yet McPhee was confident in speed, scoring, and goaltending. Not sure he ever thought he had just selected one of the fastest teams in the NHL, but the foresight is pretty cool.

Also, the plan was to draft the way to a championship team. Instead, they went to the Stanley Cup Final and have a chance to do so again, and not a single drafted player has stepped on the ice for the Golden Knights. Things changed quickly.

We’ve got all kinds of different screens that we’re working off of that were getting us different kinds of data that we needed. And just in terms of trying to put the team together, again, it’s not easy, because you’re trying to put all of these bodies together and you have to meet all these requirements, and again, as I mentioned yesterday, if you move one, if you make one change, it sort of changes the whole matrix. So, we just designated certain people in blue and I always use blue sort of as a ‘blue chip’ in ratings, and we usually have lots of different ratings. But, blue in this case was, this was probably a player that we’re claiming and keeping and don’t have interest in moving, and we used a different color for a player that we would claim and may have to move, just to allow us to see what the team sort of looks like as we’re making all the deals. -McPhee on 6/20/17

The mental image of that war room with names like Marchessault, Schmidt, Tuch, and Theodore highlighted in blue as “blue chip” guys is fascinating. We have a sense of which ones they got right based on long-term contracts, but it makes you wonder if there were any major misses among the blue chips. Griffin Reinhart? Oscar Lindberg? Brendan Leipsic? All were selected and kept following the Expansion Draft. Heck, Lindberg even signed a contract the next day.

Negotiating with GMs has been the same, but maybe the best way to put all of it on this whole experience, there’s just a glow about it. You know? It’s been such a positive experience for all of us that I’m keeping my fingers crossed, hoping it can continue to go the same way. -McPhee on 6/18/17

Hopefully, those fingers are still crossed.

Click through for the full transcripts.


Here are the transcripts in their entirety starting with June 18th, about four hours after McPhee was handed the lists of protected and available players.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS MEDIA AVAILABILITY QUOTES GEORGE McPHEE – EXPANSION PERIOD DAY ONE Sunday, June 18, 2017

Opening Statement…

This has been a fascinating experience to date. There was a certain intensity to the last two or three days because we were trying to keep an eye on all the other clubs and it certainly changed today. It’s a different phase. We have some control over what’s happening now, but now we’re on the clock. We have looked at the lists and there were no surprises. We have been really well prepared. Those mock drafts that we did have served us well. So, we are now going through the process of trying to put the team together. We are still talking to clubs and we are open to doing deals with clubs if they want to protect their rosters. So, that’s where we are this morning and we analyzed what transpired with the lists this morning, and there wasn’t a whole lot to analyze and we are now talking to teams.

On who has been the aggressor in trade talks, other clubs or you…

It’s mostly the other clubs, and certainly will be henceforth. There are clubs that want to do some things and they have been calling us.

On lack of trades before the roster freeze…

That was the bigger surprise yesterday, because we were expecting this mass redistribution of players that really didn’t happen, which we were really happy about.

On lack of trades opening doors for him…

Well, what it does is, some of the things we were worried about with no-move clauses and that sort of thing didn’t happen, and I think the harvest of assets that we are going to have now will be what we were hoping for.

On feeling how historic this week is…

Every once in awhile, when someone like you asks that question, yeah, you get a jolt. But, I have been, maybe I don’t think deep enough to be able to think about those things often. I’ve been so focused on the mechanics and all the details of what we’re doing. At some point, we’ll be able to exhale and I’ll say ‘holy smokes, we’ve really accomplished something really neat.’ It’s been a fascinating time for the NHL. The attention this team has garnered all year long has been incredible. And from a personal standpoint, I guess I’ll look back on this someday and say ‘boy, those were the golden years. That may have been the best year of my life, from a professional standpoint.’

On potential salary cap increase affecting strategy…

No.

On having more money to work with…

Well, 2% more. But no, we’re going to do what we have to do to build a good team, and if we have to go over the cap, we will. But, that affected other teams more than it affects us.

On balancing taking players and getting draft picks…

We’re doing what’s best for this hockey club and we think we can accomplish two things. We can put a good team on the ice and accumulate draft picks and be in a surplus situation here in the next couple of years so that we can start with a real good team and then build it with these draft picks to a team that can win a Cup.

On if playing field is different than he anticipated when he took job…

We knew that when we got into this window, the expansion window, that we would have some control. I thought we did real well in the weeks leading up to this, talking to teams about what we might be able to do and getting in the way of some things that may have happened with other clubs. So, I would say that if we were grading ourselves on how we’ve done things to date, it’s an A+. Really really happy with the way it’s gone. Now we need to get an A+ for these next three days.

On amount of focus on unrestricted free agents…

We’re focusing on everything. We’re talking to unrestricted free agents, we’re talking to restricted free agents, and we continue to talk to teams.
On potential surprise of Marc-Andre Fleury being available from Penguins…
No, as I said earlier on, there are no surprises for us. We’ve done this well enough that we were happy with what we saw this morning. I can’t get into specific names at this point. We do have a show in three or four days that we want to go real well. Until a player is our property, I can’t talk about them.

On how many deals he has in place right now…

We don’t have anything, we have lots of things lined up. But until we see everything, we don’t have anything. We’re going to make all of our final decisions late because we don’t know what kind of calls we’re going to get today. They may be different than the calls the same manager may have different things to talk about today, now that we’re in the expansion window, than he did the last few days.

On the caliber of players unprotected allowing them to accomplish their goals…

Yes. We’re really pleased with what’s available and this, as I’ve said, has worked out very well for the Vegas Golden Knights. We expect to put a good, competitive, entertaining club on the ice. We really like what we’re looking at right now and then, again, we thought it was important to get those picks to help us draft our way to a championship.

On having difficult decisions in picking certain player positions…

Yes. That’s a very good question. The issue for us isn’t going to be ‘can we fill out the roster?’ it would be ‘do we have too many players?’ There are lots of good players there, and we have sort of a master list right now, a team up on the board with all the possibilities, which is different than what we did leading into this with individual clubs. Now, this is our club that’s up on the board. We are going to be taking things out or marking a guy in blue because he’s a blue-chip guy, he’s going to be here.

On expecting to get calls about picking players in order to trade them…

Yes. Yeah, we expect that that will happen today. In fact, it’s already started to happen. People have identified people on other clubs that they’d like to have and we have to establish the value for that and whatever you want to give us has to be better than what we can claim from that club. So, that is starting to happen and then we’re going to go to that club and say ‘We have interest in this player. There’s another club that has interest in this player. How do we want to do this? How can we protect your roster? You can negotiate your way out of this if you wish. Every team in this league has a chance to protect their roster. We will not make a claim with any club before we talk to the club.

On how smooth the process has been…

Beyond the first couple of weeks when I was upstairs by myself trying to sort things out, I am amazed at how well this has gone for us and I think we did an outstanding job of hiring people. Sitting in that room, we have tremendous chemistry in the room. There, that’s one team we have, and then our amateur scouts, it’s the same sort of thing. We have great chemistry in the room, and that has made this, again, just a wonderful experience for all of us. We have smart people in there, experienced people in there, and we get to a place with some healthy debate, but no arguing. Lots of understanding and it’s really been a pleasure.

On whether or not the process has been ‘business as usual…’

Dealing with the other GMs is similar to what we’ve done in the past. Some of the things we’ve done internally out-of-the-box has been really neat for me personally to see what some of these young people that we have on our staff have created, some of the tools that we’ve used have been really neat. It’s just a different generation and how they do things. So, that has been a neat experience. Negotiating with GMs has been the same, but maybe the best way to put all of it on this whole experience, there’s just a glow about it. You know? It’s been such a positive experience for all of us that I’m keeping my fingers crossed, hoping it can continue to go the same way.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS MEDIA AVAILABILITY QUOTES GEORGE McPHEE – EXPANSION PERIOD DAY ONE Monday, June 19, 2017

On what last 24 hours have been like…

The last 24 hours has been similar to the last three or four days in that we are having discussions with clubs about what they want to do and how they can protect their rosters if they want to do that. What we’ve told everyone today is that today will be the last day that we are going to have those discussions, that we are going to pick our team tomorrow. We want to have a discussion with the league tomorrow night about what our team is going to look like to make sure we meet all of the requirements, and then if everything’s okay, I’ll sleep on it and then just send it in Wednesday morning. But, today is the last day for those discussions.

On whether or not he has completed any trades yet…

No. Everything is, we have things lined up, but nothing is final until everything is final.

On his discussions with free agents…

We’ve had a lot of discussions with free agents, we’ve had a lot of agents call, healthy discussions, and at this point, I don’t know what direction things will go with respect to free agents. But, we are having a lot of dialogue with them.

On hard deadline for trades…

Midnight eastern standard time would be ideal. But, we’ll see. But, we will be done with discussions tonight.

On how much he’s been on phone in last 24 hours…

I’ve been on the phone all day long for four or five days here.

On how many of his picks will be at Expansion Draft announcement on Wednesday…

I don’t know. Two or three or four. That would be, I think…

On sweet spot for how many picks he wants in each year moving forward…

Hard to quantify that. We’re just, as you talk to each team, you try to figure out what makes sense for them and for us, and you put it up on the board and we’ll see where it goes.

On whether or not he could get too many draft picks…

I don’t think you can ever have too many picks. Sometimes, that gets hard to manage in a draft. So, could we spread them out? Sure.

On whether or not teams have contacted him to pursue unprotected players and how it works, and trading his Expansion Draft selections…

Yeah, there has been a lot of inquiries about players on other teams. All of the GMs have looked at the lists and they see players on the other teams and have asked us ‘What would it take for you to claim that player for us?’ And our response is ‘We’re either going to claim that player for us and keep him or the value you give to us has to be better than something else we could have claimed from that team.’ And will there be some players announced on Wednesday that aren’t with us in a couple of weeks? Maybe. It’s a real possibility.

On balance on building for future and putting a competitive team on the ice…

The balance is whatever feels right for our team and we just had that discussion 30 minutes ago on one particular transaction that may happen where there’s a player there that we think would be really good for our team, another offer has come in on that player that is really a nice, healthy offer that we also like, but what’s best for our team? What’s best for our team is keeping the player. So, that’s essentially how we measure things.

On saying who that player is…

Not today. In 3 or 4 days from now, I won’t be able to remember any of these conversations, so it’ll probably never happen.

On if anything compares to this in his experience…

No. No, this is, as someone working in the game and as a manager in the game, you feel privileged to just be in the game and around all the great people in this game. To experience something this unique, as I said yesterday, and it sounds cliché, but I’m going to look back some day and say ‘That was one of the golden years. That was one of the better years, personally and professionally, of my life.’

On sense of market on groups of players by position…

I anticipated that question, and it’s really all over the place. Managers have different holes they want to fill, and so the requests have come in and some of them are interesting because it’s not someone that we were going to claim, but it fits for their team.

On whether or not he can create a market…

Yeah, I don’t know if we’re smart enough to really complicate things too much, and this is a complicated process. Because, as you can imagine, and one of the reasons we want to finish the dialogue today and pick our team tomorrow, is it’s going to take us awhile to pick the team tomorrow. Because one change in this matrix affects everything with your cap now, with your cap going forward, with the cap that you have done for this expansion draft, with the cap that you need for the regular season, tagging room and everything else, is a player under contract, not under contract, does he fit one of the positional requirements. So, that’s why you can’t get too cute and try to complicate it too much. We’re just being real direct with people and when we call managers back, we’re basically saying ‘Do you want to hear what’s going on with your team or are you just content to sit and we’re going to do what we’re going to do?’ And most of them want to talk about it and then we tell them exactly what’s going on, and is there something you want to do about it or not? And so, that’s the way we’re doing this because it is a very complicated process.

On whether or not he walks through all moving parts with each deal…

Oh sure. Yes. Yes. And at this point, we’re trying to block out with each team, do we know exactly what we’re doing with that team? Is anything else going to affect that? And if it’s not, then we are boxing that player out as the guy we’re going to pick.

On preparing for Amateur Draft…

No, we’ve got another office in there preparing for the entry draft. We’re doing most of the expansion stuff during the day and at the end of the day, when everybody’s tuckered out, then we go in and deal with the amateur stuff.

On how entry draft side of things look…

Yeah, we’re in a good place. We’re really well-prepared for it, and as you know, we’ve had an entire year to prepare for both of these drafts, and we are prepared and organized and that’s why I feel a little more relaxed up here than I anticipated I would be at this time, but we are in a good place.

On how involved Bill Foley has been in expansion process…

He is sitting right next to me and he is absorbing everything and has really, for the most part, just taken it all in and letting us do our work.

On reaction from free agents when the team approaches them…

That’s a good question, Scotty. They have been very excited. They have been delighted to hear from us and have been aggressive in trying to do things with us, so that obviously, that’s fantastic for this franchise.

On why he would sign a UFA as an expansion pick instead of a player under contract…

Well, because the free agent is better than anything we could pick from that team. That’s why we’d sign them.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS MEDIA AVAILABILITY QUOTES GEORGE McPHEE – EXPANSION PERIOD DAY THREE Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Opening Statement…

Hi, everyone. First update would be that we’re in a really good place. We’ve done well in terms of timing on everything. We wanted yesterday to be our final day of discussions with clubs. There were a few GMs that had some travel issues last night, who requested to talk today. So, we’ve agreed to do that and we’re doing that this morning and we’ll wrap that up soon, I hope, and then start picking our team.

On if he’s been getting pressure from league to get list submitted on time…

No. No. The league has been great. We are going to use every minute that we have and we’ll put our team together today and hopefully not have to go too deep into the night and we’ll submit it about five minutes before 7 AM tomorrow.

On how many trades he has worked out…

I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question. We’ve done a lot of things.

On whether or not he’s up to about a half a dozen deals…

Transactions? Yeah. Yeah, certainly at least that. We’ve tried to talk to every club before we make a selection, and different things result from that. I certainly haven’t been able to keep track of it, and I guess we’ll tally it all up at the end and you guys can tell us how we did.

On whether or not he is a go-between for clubs in trades…

There’s been some of that, yeah. Probably more of it after the Expansion Draft.

On if he’s spoken to some players to come for Wednesday’s show…

No.

On how to get players here for the show…

We’ll make phone calls later on today, I guess, and try to get them here for tomorrow.

On if there’s one position that he is happy with the number of players available…

Actually, I think we’ve done pretty well in all the positions. We have lots of defensemen lined up, we have lots of centers and we have scoring on the wings, a little more scoring than we anticipated. The goaltending is going to be pretty solid. It’s looking pretty good. It’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish and that is have a competitive club that people are going to enjoy watching play, and then having the draft picks to be able to draft our way to a contending team, a championship team.

On perspective doing this a year after getting the club…

It’s really hard to believe we’re here now and we’re submitting this list tomorrow. Three days ago, we had a whiteboard with no names on it, and now it looks like we’ve got a hockey team. And we like the way it looks and we’ve got a few things to move around and change, but it’s interesting that the debate has gone from ‘What are we doing with clubs?’ to now, we have a couple of things to wrap up, but now we’re entering that phase where, you know, what kind of flavoring do we have to add to the team? What other things do we need to do here? And it’s all about what we look like and do we have left shots or right shots or do we need to move a center to a wing and we’re going to have to move some defensemen because we’re going to claim a bunch and so things of that nature.

On Mr. Foley’s comment about the number of deals and picks he has…

Well, we have a show to do tomorrow night, and we’ve gotten this far, sort of protecting that show, and I think it’s going to be a real exciting event to have everything laid out, the players that are going to become Vegas Golden Knights and then you can look at our draft picks, and again, you can evaluate how we’ve done.

On if some of his announced picks will be traded quickly…

Yes. Well, we knew that from the start that we were going to claim 30 players. But, your roster can only be 23, you can only dress 18 and 2. But, we understand and I don’t know that the terminology is the right terminology, but people call it ‘throwaway picks.’ There are some teams where there isn’t a whole lot to do and you’re going to make a throwaway pick rather than taking on a contract that you don’t like. So, there will be some of those claims, people that won’t be qualified, and that sort of thing.

On if he’s signed any free agents…

Well, we’ll find out tomorrow night, I guess. That’s what the show is all about.

On if he anticipates adding players through free agency…

Maybe so, yeah.

On if there will be players tomorrow that will actually play for the Golden Knights…

Yes. Well, there are going to be some guys that we hope will be core players for us for a long time.

On how many GMs contacted him with travel issues/if it’s become a problem…

No. It hasn’t affected, it’s three or four, yeah. I was talking to Lou Lamoriello last night, he had travel issues and so we talked last night at 11:30, and then we talked again this morning at about 4:45. And then there were a couple of guys in the East, one in the West that were trying to get here and had some issues. But, nothing major in terms of deal- making. I think we just need to talk one more time and we’ll know where we are.

On keeping ‘blue chip’ guys intact…

Well, no, that was just, we have different, we’ve got all kinds of different screens that we’re working off of that were getting us different kinds of data that we needed. And just in terms of trying to put the team together, again, it’s not easy, because you’re trying to put all of these bodies together and you have to meet all these requirements, and again, as I mentioned yesterday, if you move one, if you make one change, it sort of changes the whole matrix. So, we just designated certain people in blue and I always use blue sort of as a ‘blue chip’ in ratings, and we usually have lots of different ratings. But, blue in this case was, this was probably a player that we’re claiming and keeping and don’t have interest in moving, and we used a different color for a player that we would claim and may have to move, just to allow us to see what the team sort of looks like as we’re making all the deals.

On his uniforms being unveiled today…

Well, that’s a great question, I really, as we’ve talked a number of times about the importance of your culture and everything else, and sometimes that gets to be cliché, people really don’t understand what it is. But, your culture really is important in performance and in winning and our colors stand for something. Bill Foley is a West Point guy, sort of using those colors. You know his history at West Point, you know about the classmates he had that he lost serving this country. So, those colors mean a lot to us, and will mean a lot to our players. And we’re really proud of the logo. It’s clean, it’s symmetrical, it’s kind of bold, and again it stands for something. Bill has mentioned a number of times what the Knights stood for: protecting their realm, never retreating, and always attacking. That was one of the things that we had to accomplish when we were putting this franchise together. We suddenly had to come up with uniforms and a logo and those things take awhile. I remember the ones that are being worn in Washington now, it took us two years to get those right. Because you sit down with people, you tell them what you like, what you don’t like, they try to create something. They come back three months later, and you either like it or don’t like it and they go away and then they come back. We did this in a couple of months, I think, and it turned out really nicely. It’s one of the many things that we’re proud of on this journey.

On how good his team will be…

I think it’s going to be a pretty good team. We’re happy that, you know, we got a lot of defensemen, we got really good goaltending, we’ve got a lot of centers and we’ve got scoring on the wings. Should have good speed, so it’s going to be a good team.

On if anything surprised him in the process…

No. No. We worked really hard at this, as you know. We’ve needed the whole year to do it. We’ve talked to a lot of people about how to do it. We’ve done a lot of planning, we’ve had a great blueprint. And it’s worked very, very well. We’ve gotten through this process. I had some concerns yesterday about 1:00 about whether we were going to have enough time. It was kind of overwhelming, but we were handling it. And then we sort of looked up at the clock at 4:00 and said, ‘You know, we’re going to be alright. We’re going at a good pace and things are falling into place.’ So, it’s worked. It’s kind of like going in for a final exam and knowing you know it. There haven’t been that many surprises. Doug Risebrough said six or eight months ago when we met, you know, ‘You can’t plan for everything, there will be some uncertainty.’ But, I think we actually planned for everything. We’ve done alright.

On if he’ll sleep well tonight…

Tonight, I hope I can. I got to bed about 12:00 last night and I woke up at 3:10 and I was like ‘Boing, here we go. I’ve got to go.’ I was up and came in. So, hopefully we’ll get the team put together and we’ll be ready to send it in in the morning. We’ll sleep on it and send it in the morning, but I think we’re ready to go.

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2 Comments

  1. Brian

    Wow—–what a great read. Good job, thanks. I can’t wait to see the documentary. Should be amazing.

  2. Glen

    Yes, awesome read!

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