As more than 50 NHL scouts and executives sat in a row Saturday, it was fitting that George McPhee was in the first seat. He’s the most intriguing man in hockey, a guy who’s having talks with the Sabres and every other team.
Being Vegas’ general manager certainly has its perks – more than McPhee ever imagined.
The NHL expansion draft will be held this month, and every team will lose one player to McPhee and the Golden Knights. Needless to say, there are plenty of guys that teams don’t want to lose. There are also guys that teams would love to give away.
Those options come with a cost, and McPhee holds the pricing gun.
“When we first looked at the expansion draft and were going through it, we sort of had an idea of what we might be able to accomplish,” McPhee said in HarborCenter. “But there are teams that really want to protect some people and protect their rosters, and they’re willing to pay a pretty fair price to get us to lay off certain people and go in a different direction.
“There’s certainly been a lot of discussion, and most of the guys have been really forthright in what they want to do, who they’ll probably expose and who they’d like to protect. We’re trying to find ways to accommodate each other. We won’t be able to do that with everyone, but there will be some deals that happen.”
The trades should start in the coming days, McPhee said. He’ll be on his phone Monday and Tuesday, examining options and cementing deals. He will be talking with Buffalo GM Jason Botterill.
“We’ve had one conversation so far that went really well,” McPhee said. “I imagine things will pick up next week. He’s certainly had a lot going on as well.”
In addition to hiring coaches for Buffalo and Rochester, Botterill needs to prepare for the expansion and entry drafts. Former GM Tim Murray had the framework of a deal in place with McPhee, and Botterill needs to decide whether to proceed with that protection option or design his own.
“We’re pretty fluent in what everybody has and what they want to do,” McPhee said. “You just try to do the best deal you can on a team-by-team basis and determine what’s the best you can extract and what’s fair and reasonable, and you go from there.
‘We’ve had some real good discussions, and we expect some things will start happening next week.”
The expansion rules essentially provide Vegas with a third-line forward, second-pair defenseman or backup goaltender from every team. In Buffalo, that means netminder Linus Ullmark will be available, and forwards Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons could be options for the Golden Knights.
To entice McPhee to select Moulson and his $5 million salary, the Sabres would have to hand over a draft pick.
“There will be some of that,” McPhee said. “We’re willing to take on a couple of contracts that people would like to move. We have a lot of teams that are offering us some big contracts.
“We’ll take a few of those for the right price.”
Prior to the expansion draft, Vegas will have a chance to negotiate with free agents. If it signs one, that counts as an expansion pick and the player’s former team won’t lose anyone else. Brian Gionta, Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson head the Sabres’ list of unrestricted free agents.
“If that’s the best asset with that particular team, then we’re going to be aggressive and negotiate with that player,” McPhee said.
Teams will submit their draft protection lists June 17, and they will be released to the public June 18. From June 18-21, the Golden Knights can sign free agents. Vegas will submit its picks at 10 a.m. June 21, and the expansion draft results will be announced that night during the NHL Awards Ceremony.
“I’m certainly not going to talk about who we might be interested in … until we see the whole universe of who’s available,” McPhee said. “We might like a particular player, but there’s another player on that roster we like, too, and is a better fit. Everything’s related to everything else. Doing one thing with one club may change how we approach another club.
“We’ll be looking for younger players, people that will be with us three or four years from now.”
McPhee knows other teams will also be interested in seeing the full list of available players.
"Clubs look at the list and they see someone that’s a good fit for them," McPhee said. "Why not ask us to claim that player who might have a year or two left on his deal that fills a hole for them rather than that club having to go out and sign a free agent for five or six years? There’ll be some of that, for sure."
With all the deals available to the Golden Knights, they could wind up with an insane number of draft picks. As much as the hockey world focuses on the expansion draft, McPhee has just as much attention on the entry draft June 23-24 in Chicago.
“That’s going to be our most important draft,” McPhee said. “We’ve got to get better players out of the entry draft than the expansion draft if we want to be a good team and compete for the Cup one day. We’re going to have to be really good at the entry draft.
“The attention that this new franchise has garnered is amazing. It’s certainly special for all of us and a stimulating and positive experience all year long. But we’re at that point now where we’ve planned and prepared a lot, and now we have to deliver.”