A bit before the Expansion Draft, George McPhee and the Golden Knights signed a 30-year-old Russian player name Vadim Shipachyov. He was described as a top-six forward with elite vision and passing skills and was expected to be one of the most talented players on the Golden Knights roster come opening night in Dallas.
Then opening night in Dallas came, and Vadim Shipachyov wasn’t on the roster. He eventually got a shot for a few games, but the organization made it clear, they didn’t believe he was good enough to stay over the likes of Alex Tuch, Erik Haula, Oscar Lindberg and others. So, they sent the team’s highest-paid forward (at the time) to the AHL and eventually back to Russia, and in doing so they also sent a message to the entire Golden Knights roster. A message the GM believes may be a major reason they are still playing today.
It wasn’t my observation, it actually came from a coach of another team that I was talking to about 30 or 35 games into the year. He thought the best thing we did all year was take a guy on the big contract who wasn’t performing and ate it, or were prepared to eat it, because it was what was best for the team… Ownership supported it, and we did it, but it turned out to be a bigger move than we anticipated in terms of setting the template right for this team and how we would operate. -Geroge McPhee on Hockey Central
That was just one of the many examples McPhee, Gallant, and the Golden Knights have made to set that type of culture for the NHL’s newest team. Brad Hunt made the roster and remained on it for the entire season despite being a free agent that was signed to play in the AHL. Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch deserved spots out of camp, so the team made room for them. They healthy scratched Tomas Tatar in the playoffs, the trade deadline acquisition that cost three draft picks, because Ryan Carpenter, a waiver claim, was better. And the list goes on and on.
We just tried to make it clear to all of our players, and it started in camp but it’s been that way all year long that it doesn’t matter where you were drafted in your career, how many teams you’ve been with, what your contract status is, what your age is, you are going to be on this team if you are a fit, if you’re the right personality and you are ready to work, and if you are that kind of person we’ll find room for you. So that’s how we’ve operated and it’s really helped in creating this great culture that we have. -McPhee
The culture of the Golden Knights has become one of winning, but it got there because it was about competition and fairness. The best players were going to be afforded the best opportunities, and every player, despite any preconceived notions, would be given a fair shot at earning their place in the lineup.
It’s the laws of accumulation. You keep making the right decisions and doing the right things based on what’s right for the organization. The organization comes first and the individual comes a close second. -McPhee
Now, that organization is eight wins away from completing one of the most improbable stories in sports history. It’s because they’ve done it the right way. Many teams say they’ll operate the way the Golden Knights have, but few actually do it. There’s just something about this team. Everything seems to work out. Even when there appears to be a colossal mistake, somehow it finds a way of turning itself into something useful. That’s because of the culture that’s been created.
The signing of Vadim Shipachyov was a mistake, but a great organization finds a way to take that lemon and made lemonade, and that’s exactly what we have here, a great organization, and hopefully soon a giant metal Cup to hold that lemonade.