General manager George McPhee knows transforming the expansion Vegas Golden Knights swiftly into a Stanley Cup contender will be nothing short of a David Blaine magic act.
McPhee may be licking his chops at some of the talent left unprotected by his 30 counterparts when the lists were made public on Sunday, but he also knows the recent history of NHL expansion teams.
Yes, it is true that since the NHL decided to expand from its original 21 teams to add nine more clubs between 1991 and 2000, two of those teams (Tampa Bay Lightning and Anaheim Ducks) have won Stanley Cups, and another four teams (Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks and most recently the Nashville Predators) have at least advanced to the final.
But the Panthers were the exception. They needed only three seasons to make it to the 1996 final, only to be swept by the Colorado Avalanche. The other clubs needed time, much more time: Lightning (12 seasons), Ducks (13), Senators (14), Predators (18) and Sharks (24).
The last three additions to the NHL — the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets 2.0), Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild — have taken their sweet time. The Thrashers/Jets have made the playoffs only twice in 17 seasons. The Blue Jackets have made three trips to the post-season in 16 years, while the Wild started much better with a berth in the West final in its third season but haven’t advanced past the second round ever since.
Still, this is a fun time to play the role of the 58-year-old McPhee, who played with Garry Galley and Brian MacLellan at Bowling Green University.
McPhee, a forward, won the Hobey Baker Award in his senior year. But the Guelph, Ont. native went undrafted managing to scrape out a combined 134 regular season and playoff games, mainly with the New York Rangers.
He learned the management game under Pat Quinn with the Vancouver Canucks and later went to his first and only Stanley Cup final at the helm of the 1997-98 Washington Capitals.
If you were McPhee, what would be your 30 choices during the expansion draft in Las Vegas on Wednesday evening?
Below is the roster I built (remember you can take only one player per team):
Goal (4) – Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh), Mike McKenna (Tampa Bay), Petr Mrazek (Detroit), Antti Raanta (N.Y. Rangers).
With this group, you have a personality to sell the game in a new market and Stanley Cup winner in Fleury as well as backups in Raanta and Mrazek who appear ready to take the next step. McKenna is a depth netminder, coming off a trip to the Calder Cup final with the Syracuse Crunch.
Defence (11) – Karl Alzner (Washington), Jack Johnson (Columbus), Dmitri Kulikov (Buffalo), Ben Lovejoy (New Jersey), Brayden McNabb (Los Angeles), Adam McQuaid (Boston), Marc Methot (Ottawa) Griffin Reinhart (Edmonton), Marco Scandella (Minnesota), Trevor van Riemsdyk (Chicago), Sami Vatanen (Anaheim).
I want a tough, defence-first group. I have shutdown guys in Methot and Johnson and potential power-play d-men in Alzner and Scandella, who checked in with an 11-goal season three years ago.
Forwards (15) – Brian Boyle (Toronto), Troy Brouwer (Calgary), Marko Dano (Winnipeg), Cody Eakin (Dallas), Brendan Gaunce (Vancouver), Barclay Goodrow (San Jose), Mikhail Grigorenko (Colorado), Charles Hudon (Montreal), Jon Marchessault (Florida), James Neal (Nashville), Brock Nelson (N.Y. Islanders), David Perron (St. Louis), Brad Richardson (Arizona), Lee Stempniak (Carolina), Jordan Weal (Philadelphia).
Up front, I wanted some skill to get me through a tough first season with Neal, Perron and Marchessault, some players who I feel are ready to emerge and some veteran grit. But most of all, with the skating game so important I wanted players with speed.
This will be an interesting week, not only to see the trades McPhee pulls off leading up to Wednesday but to watch other clubs get into the act.
There are whispers the Oilers have been shopping Jordan Eberle while the Montreal Canadiens are listening to offers for Alex Galychenyuk.
A fascinating expansion and entry draft week awaits.
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