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McPhee, Golden Knights At Fork In Road; Which Path Should They Take?

On the night of the NHL Awards, George McPhee answered a question of mine in a way he’d never done before. He listened to my poorly phrased but pointed question and said, “that’s a good question.” That’s the moment I knew I was on to something.

Before we get to my question though we need to go back a little bit to a discussion pretty much everyone close to the Golden Knights has had at some point over the course the past year. The “why were the Golden Knights good” discussion.

Apparently you don’t need to be talented to be good… or maybe you do and that was all just a mirage? (Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

You’ve been there, debated it with someone, maybe even me. I’m sure you touched on things like “chips on shoulders,” “increase in opportunity,” “character,” or some other way to explain the fact that the Golden Knights did not have the best collection of hockey players in the NHL, yet still managed to come within three wins of lifting the Stanley Cup.

That’s where McPhee comes back in. Earlier in the same press conference in which I asked my “good question,” McPhee said this…

We did go by some people that may have been more talented but we wanted the right personalities, the right people here, and we put a lot into that and it’s an intangible that’s hard to describe but you know it when you see it. It was those intangibles that really carried this team a long way because all the other teams were more talented than we were. -George McPhee

I’m going to make you read that last part one more time. 

…All the other teams were more talented than we were. -McPhee

According to their own GM, the Western Conference Champions were the least talented team in the NHL. Take it literally like that or not, the sentiment is still the same, the Golden Knights were not as talented as most, if not all, of their opponents. Yet, they won and won and won and nearly won the whole kit and caboodle.

You made it to the Stanley Cup Final with the least talented team built mostly around “character,” is that a sustainable strategy moving forward, or do you need to go out and add more talent to remain among the best teams in the league?

That was what I was trying to ask, instead, I said this…

Do you need to add a lot more talent throughout the coming up seasons or can you keep playing with the team you say is not the most talented in the league?

Even with my poor wording, it is a good question, and McPhee gave one hell of an answer.

That’s a good question and that’s part of the debate, what kind of model do you go with and so let’s see how things go and you’ll know which way we went. -McPhee

Cryptic, to say the least. However, one thing is proven by the answer, that the debate over sustainability is raging on in the Golden Knights offices. Surely there are people saying, “we were three wins away why the heck would we change anything now?” While there are probably others saying, “if we were that good this year imagine how good we’d be next year if we add some high-end talent like Erik Karlsson or John Tavares.”

I don’t know how things will go. Whether we do anything at all. There’s no urgency for us to do anything. We like the team we have. We like the model we have. If we can make it better by doing something that makes sense, then we’ll do it. -McPhee

That’s what McPhee said after the conclusion of the draft when he was asked about his free agency plans. can confirm there has once again been legitimate interest in completing a deal to bring Erik Karlsson to Las Vegas. We cannot confirm any discussions with John Tavares, Ilya Kovalchuk, James van Riemsdyk, or any other top free agents, but no matter which big name comes up, the word Vegas usually isn’t too far behind.

So, which path are they going to take? Do they go all out, use up the cap space, and bring in superstars? Or do they stay the course, let James Neal, David Perron, and others walk because that’s how the Golden Knights were built in the first place?

We’ll find out soon enough, and I know which way I’m rooting for (go big baby!). I’m just really glad I’m not the one making the decisions because this is uncharted territory, even for the guy who build both participants in the last Cup Final.

All I have to do is ask questions, and I’ve been told, I ask good ones.


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  1. Jason

    Is there a sense free agents may think we are a one hit wonder and it actually not the most attractive place to play compared to other established playoff franchises?

    • Can’t say I know the answer to that, but I highly doubt it. Every word coming out of this organization is good unless you talk to Vadim Shipachyov.

  2. Jason

    I would take a whole team of B+ players then a couple A and whole bunch of C and D. I want Karlsson but are there guys out there you like that are available that not many people are talking about? Great site and podcast. Listen while I’m driving around all day. Keep it up.

    • BL

      Seems not in the mix for Tavares (at least from Steve Carp). And with not alot on the FA market, is one thought to be to wait until the FA class next year?

      If Perron and Neal don’t sign, who fills the holes? Haula, Tuch, and Tatar on the second line? What is the third? Eakin, Carpenter, and Lindberg?

      Alot of depth players, but would the lines be enough?

    • KBC

      VGK is not made out of all B+ players. There’s some C’s and D’s that made up the starting cup roster. The Caps were a deeper team. Every one of their lines on offense and defense outplayed ours.

  3. Brian S

    My two cents but McPhee (and Gallant for that matter) have built themselves the kind of honeymoon period most GMs and coaches can only dream of. If VGK regresses next year even to not making the playoffs there will be grumbling, but it’ll be understated and there will be no noticeable ill effect to the relationship of the team to Las Vegas.

    So it appears to me at least that they’ve decided to try and build around most of the under-30 core of the team, which to my mind is the smart move. As much as I love Neal and Perron, we’re probably not going to love them in three years when they’re in their mid-30s and a cap drain when this team should be perennially contending for President’s Trophies and Stanley Cups. I’m not convinced that the magic of last year can be repeated this year, even with the exact same roster (were that even possible).

    The prudent move is to build around the useful, younger pieces; bring in a guy like Karlsson even if it means trading away some draft picks and second-tier prospects (but not a top-tier prospect like Glass or a guy like Theodore), work on developing the burgeoning group of prospects and take a flyer on some cheaper UFAs with high upside like Austin Czarnik.

    The problem with swinging for the fences is if you miss, you don’t get another swing for half a decade. This is a chance to build a real, true perennial power right from the get-go that has never existed in professional sports. I trust GMGM to not overextend.

    • RJ

      I love your point about building on our under-30 core, but it just seems like trading for Karlsson undoes that since it almost certainly will take all three of Glass, Theodore, and a 1st; AND bringing on Bobby Ryan and his contract.

      If we get Karlsson, we aren’t cup in 6 anymore, we are fully in the Cup window and it really is time to sell our future for the most post season wins we can get.

      If we lose Perron and Neal, we need to focus on our young core and work on giving our youth the most growth over the next 2-3 years so we hit our ‘true’ window in 2020 or so.

      We all want it both ways, but winning the Stanley Cup is HARD. Look what it took the Blackhawks and Penguins and Capitals to do it. I believe in what GM does-and it’s looking more and more like we are going to go down the road you describe-but I can’t pretend to understand it.

    • KBC

      You don’t get an Erik Karlsson for 2nd tier prospects even with taking on Bobby Ryan’s ugly contract and there’s a good chance that the contract could be bought out in a few years. This isn’t the NFL where you can get a star player for a 3rd or 4th round pick.

  4. What about guys like a Riley Nash to fill roles? The type of guys that can play on the 3rd line but also move up to the 2nd when they are on a roll? I think Tatar and Tuch fit that mold.

  5. Michael V. Smith

    Again I really like Riley Nash. Lots of upside and I think he would blossom here.

  6. RJ

    A couple guys have mentioned Riley Nash, and I’m curious what I’m not seeing. He seems like a Cody Eakin type, and we already have too many of those. Help me out?

  7. Bent Hermit

    Most teams that make a deal for a elite player like EK is in a win now mode. The problem for Vegas is that trading for EK with Ryan does not help with a win now mode due to Ryan’s cap hit. Neither Ryan or EK addresses the real problem of center depth and with the cap hit both are going to cost it doesn’t give them much room to improve those areas. Next year EK is going to be looking for around 10 mill a year. That makes for 17.25 mill for both EK and Ryan. With that cap hit Vegas will still be looking at 4 years, Ryan’s contract length, until they are going to make a true run at the cup. Any trade will have Theodore in it, in 4 years he will be 26 and really hitting his prime with a large window for a cup run. EK will be 32 and on the down hill with a small window for a good cup run. With that 17.25 mill they could sign JVR, Neal, Stastny and Cole to 3 or 4 yr contracts, using salary speculation from Matt Cane . This would give them a deep team that could compete now without selling the future. Plus these players could turn into trade bait at the deadline if they have a bad year.

    • Jason Bentley

      But, think of this…. Reilly Smith was a Bobby Ryan type player. He might flourish in Vegas if throw in on a deal with EK. Plus he plays on a wing we don’t have solid depth on.

      • Bent Hermit

        The real question you should be asking is who is going to be better? Theodore from age 26 to 31 or EK from age 32 to 37 (end of EK’S next contract)

        • Richard

          I would take a 40 Year old Karlsson over an any age Theodore. Forget Karlsson’s last year, he fought through injuries through most of it. I used to live in Ottawa and saw him on a regular basis. The guy is a Lidstrom type talent, and he lead the Wings to cups into into his mid to late 30’s with a Conn Smythe to boot.

    • KBC

      JVR, Neal, and Stastny are not taking 4 year deals.

  8. Jack

    I am really starting to believe that Vegas is going for a soft rebuild this year. If they make no moves this summer and allow Perron and Neal to walk, they will likely regress out of a playoff position. While that may hurt the fan support a little, they have developed enough good will to last them until free agency next year when there are some bona fide stars hitting the UFA market. Moreover, Gusev will be in a position to sign with the Knights if he chooses. However, in order for the Knights to be truly competitive long-term, they will need to grow a deeper prospect pool, and a down year helps to accomplish that.

    At the beginning of the season, McPhee fully planned on moving Neal and Perron for picks. If he’d stuck to the plan and not acquired Tatar, Vegas would have had another 3 or 4 blue chip prospects. That is what the team needs more than anything right now.

    Do don’t be surprised if McPhee just sits on his hands this summer and waits for what may come.

    • Bent Hermit

      I agree with you to just sit on the team. I would only sign Neal to something like 5×5 and not sign Perron. Next year bring over Gusev and put him with Tuch. Then the following year move up Glass with them. So starting the 3rd year the lines would look something like:
      1st : the same
      2nd: Tuch/Glass/Gusev
      3rd : Tatar/Suzuki/Neal
      4th: Nosek/Belly/ Carrier
      Based on projected signings and players already signed.

  9. Cappy

    Didn’t Kovalchuk sign with the Kings a few days ago? Kind of takes him out of consideration, doncha think?

    Why didn’t the Knights win? Although he’s put together some good teams, George McPhee has never, ever, been part of a team that won a Stanley Cup.

    Maybe one of these years he’ll break that curse.

    Meanwhile, watch for him to make some truly awful trades and acquisitions. (He’ll never be able to shake the fallout from the Filip Forsberg trade.)

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