Since the list of unprotected players for the expansion draft came out Sunday morning, George McPhee has been the puppetmaster of the NHL.
Months of scouting by McPhee and his staff will reach a climax Wednesday night, as the first NHL members of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights are finally revealed in T-Mobile Arena. The home of the NHL's 31st team will be the site the for annual NHL Awards Show (8 p.m., NBCSN), and it's during the show that the selections made by the Knights will be announced on a team-by-team basis.
Each existing NHL club will lose one player to the Golden Knights but the intrigue stretches far beyond those selections. McPhee essentially conducted a swap meet Sunday, Monday and a couple of hours into Tuesday before locking out other teams' trade requests and moving forward on the final selections for his own club.
In his final meeting with the media before the announcement of his picks, McPhee dropped a bombshell on reporters who visited the team's complex Tuesday in suburban Summerlin when he said he's completed at least six trades.
It's assumed this means deals for actual assets and not just side agreements to take or lay off certain players in the expansion draft. It's expected, according to reports, that McPhee is going to pick up first-round draft picks from the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders, and perhaps a couple of more teams.
It's believed the Sabres had a deal of some sort in place with McPhee under former GM Tim Murray, and the inclusion of younger winger William Carrier on their unprotected list is seen as a sign that new GM Jason Botterill also has something in place with McPhee.
Botterill is expected to next meet with the media in Chicago, likely Friday morning, in the wake of the Expansion Draft and in advance of Friday's Entry Draft in United Center.
Carrier is the most likely Sabres player to be selected but it's conceivable Buffalo, like every team, could make futher moves with Vegas by having the Golden Knights select a player it is interested in and then flipping that player.
"We're in a really good place," McPhee said Tuesday. "We've done well with timing and everything. We wanted yesterday to be the final day of discussion with clubs. We've done a lot of things. We've tried to talk to every club before we make a selection and different things result from that."
In particular, McPhee said he is going to pick extra defensemen with the idea of acquiring more assets in trades for them.
There are some solid young blueliners who are unprotected and would undoubtedly interest many teams, including the Sabres. The list includes the Anaheim duo of Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson, Minnesota's Matt Dumba and Calvin de Haan of the New York Islanders. While the Golden Knights would certainly benefit by claiming and keeping a player like that, the greater benefit might be to claim and move the player to a team willing to give up high draft picks to acquire them.
McPhee ended trade talks early Tuesday to focus solely on the expansion selections. He had put a deadline of Monday on such discussions but extended it for a couple teams whose GMs were having travel issues. One of those reportedly is Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello, who is also on the prowl for blueline help.
The Knights have until 10 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday to turn in their final roster and McPhee said he'll likely do it in the last five minutes he has available.
"We've done pretty well at all positions," McPhee said. "We have lot of defensemen lined up, lots of centers and scoring on the wings, more scoring than we anticipated. Goaltending is going to be pretty solid. It's looking pretty good. It's what we've been trying to accomplish to put together a competitive club people will enjoy watching play."
The top players that could be headed Vegas' way are Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Nashville forward James Neal. The Golden Knights could also be busy flipping goaltenders with names like Detroit's Petr Mrazek, Washington's Philipp Grubauer and New York's Antti Raanta all available. So are many veteran netminders, both currently signed and unsigned.
"It's really hard to believe we're here now and we're submitting this list," McPhee said. "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 it's 'What kind of flavoring do we have to add to the team?'"
McPhee also had an exclusive window to sign free agents this week, prior to the standard July 1 date that teams adhere to. Asked if he had made any inroads on that front, McPhee smiled and said, "Well, we'll find out tomorrow night I guess."
Things will also heat up in Chicago Wednesday in advance of this weekend's Entry Draft. Nolan Patrick, expected to go either first overall to New Jersey or second to Philadelphia, will throw the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Chicago Cubs' matinee against San Diego in Wrigley Field. Several of the top prospects will attend that game.
TSN is reporting that Patrick, who had an injury-plagued season at Brandon of the WHL, is likely to go second in Friday night's first round. TSN said that the Devils are focusing on Swiss-bred Nico Hischier of Halifax as the No. 1 pick.