“Our mission here is clear,” McPhee said. “We’re going to build an organization and a team that people in Nevada and Las Vegas will be very, very proud of, and we’re going to do it quickly, and we’re aiming at the Stanley Cup. That simple.”
The Las Vegas team was approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors on June 22 and owner Bill Foley got to work at the “exhaustive process” of hunting down the first general manager. Together with special adviser Murray Craven, he interviewed several potential candidates before narrowing the field to three.
McPhee won out.
Hockey fans will know the McPhee name from 17 seasons as GM of the Washington Capitals. He was released after a disappointing 2013-2014 season, but the franchise was extraordinarily successful during his tenure. The Capitals won the Southeast Division seven times and secured the Presidents’ Trophy in 2009-2010. They qualified for the post-season 10 times.
The most pressing job for McPhee in Las Vegas is to establish a team identity that a fanbase can attach itself to.
And if Wednesday’s announcement press conference is any indication, McPhee is very interested in building an attacking team.
“The sit-back style of hockey, I don’t like it,” McPhee said. “Teams are attacking all the time and pressuring pucks all over the ice. I love the way Pittsburgh played this year, and they won the Stanley Cup. We’ll be doing the same sorts of things.”
If the model put together in Washington is to serve as any indication, McPhee knows how to build dynamic hockey clubs. With Alex Ovechkin and head coach Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals were an offensive force. In 2009-2010, they led the league in goal-scoring with 313 goals.
Unfortunately for the Capitals and for many other NHL teams, like the Vancouver Canucks, team identity can slip away in a state of panic. In the case of the Capitals, Boudreau shifted things and tried to turn Ovechkin into a defensive player. And Dale Hunter was brought in to nearly initiate the trap. In Vancouver, key players were traded away and the team scrambled to find new purchase.
In Las Vegas, McPhee will have a chance to establish something from the ground up. And his two years of scouting for the New York Islanders and Team Canada will pay obvious dividends.
“When you have a break like that, it gives you an opportunity to reset,” McPhee said. “Sometimes as a manager you get so locked into your own team, you don’t know the players around the League as well as you’d like to. I’d have to say my best trades were when I really knew the players, and my worst were when I didn’t. And so I spent the last couple years watching all kinds of teams at all kinds of levels.”
The Las Vegas franchise has a logo and a nickname to decide on next and Foley says he’s working through the process right now. He’s apparently had several ideas, with one or more of them complicated by trademarking concerns.