Longtime Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee has become the first general manager of the NHL's expansion franchise in Las Vegas.
After an exhaustive process that included interviews with as many as seven candidates, owner Bill Foley -- with the help of adviser Murray Craven, a longtime NHL player and close associate of Foley's -- opted to go with McPhee. He was announced as team GM at a news conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon.
The Las Vegas team, as yet unnamed, was awarded the NHL's 31st franchise in June, shortly before the league's annual awards ceremony held in Las Vegas.
"Our mission here is clear: We're going to build an organization and a team that people in Nevada and Las Vegas will be proud of, and we're going to do it quickly, and we're aiming at the Stanley Cup," McPhee said Wednesday. "It's that simple."
Prior to the expansion announcement, Foley had said in an interview that hiring the right GM was a crucial step to building a team that can be competitive early in the process. Although there were a number of current assistant general managers or top player personnel executives considered for the job, McPhee's experience was a key factor in his earning the post, those close to the process said.
"We all want to win, and he's going to win for us, but I like to have people that I really get along with and that I can communicate with," Foley said of McPhee. "We had great candidates; they were all good. I just felt there was a little something extra with George."
Among those also considered for the post were associate Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jason Botterill, assistant Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julien BriseBois, and Paul Fenton, who holds a similar position in Nashville. The Las Vegas team also asked for permission to speak to former Florida GM Dale Tallon, who recently moved into a more senior position with the Panthers, but it's believed the two sides did not speak about the job.
McPhee, a 58-year-old native of Guelph, Ontario, was most recently an adviser to New York Islanders GM Garth Snow.
One of McPhee's top priorities will be to build a scouting staff, a source close to the process said.
Many NHL scouts have a window in their contracts that would allow them to seek other employment opportunities, and it will be key for the Las Vegas franchise to move quickly to assemble a top-notch scouting staff for the coming season.
The Las Vegas franchise will begin play in 2017-18. In advance of its first season, the team will draft players from the current 30 teams in an expansion draft that will be held next June, shortly before the annual entry draft.
Each NHL franchise can expect to lose one player in the draft, and it will be up to McPhee and his staff to assess which players might be made available to them, as well as any potential deals that could be made in advance of the expansion draft.
McPhee said tearing down and rebuilding a team can be "negative fun" and called taking over a brand-new team a phenomenal opportunity.
"Here you come in and it's a clean slate and you get to pick everyone in your organization," McPhee said. "This is what every GM wants to experience at some point in his career, to be able to start with a new franchise."
McPhee began his NHL management career with Vancouver and was part of a Canucks team that advanced to the 1994 Stanley Cup finals.
He was named GM of the Capitals in 1997 and guided the team to its first and only trip to the Stanley Cup finals the following spring, when the Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
McPhee was forced by ownership to sell off the team's high-priced players during the 2003-04 season. He then rebuilt the team behind homegrown stars, such as Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, a process that no doubt was a factor in his hiring for the Las Vegas position.
"Here you come in and it's a clean slate and you get to pick everyone in your organization. This is what every GM wants to experience at some point in his career, to be able to start with a new franchise." Las Vegas GM George McPhee
"He took Washington from being a team that was scrambling and sort of turned it around, so I think that experience will be a big plus," said Doug MacLean, who was the Columbus Blue Jackets' GM when they entered the league in 2000. "I think it's a real good fit."
Under McPhee, the Capitals became a regular-season titan, winning seven Southeast Division championships and a Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team in 2009-10.
Apart from the obvious selections of players such as Ovechkin, McPhee was also responsible for drafting and developing key Capitals personnel, including defending Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby (drafted 93rd overall in 2008), highly skilled forward Evgeny Kuznetsov (picked 26th overall in 2010) and promising young netminder Philipp Grubauer (selected 112th overall in 2010).
Although the Capitals could not replicate their significant regular-season success in the playoffs during McPhee's tenure -- ultimately leading to his dismissal in the spring of 2014 -- the Capitals under his watch became one of the most vibrant hockey markets in the United States.
In a short period of time after the 2004-05 lockout, fans began flooding to the Verizon Center in Washington to support the Capitals, and they continue to do so to this day.
"I think I'll be hopefully even better the second time around," McPhee said. "There are lots of GMs in this business that have done a good job in one place and gone to the next place and won Cups. I'd like to be one of those guys."
For all his talk about wanting to win right away, McPhee has shown restraint and patience as a GM. A title is his goal, but first it's about putting a team on the ice that will thrill the 15,000-plus fans who signed up for season tickets to make the NHL in Las Vegas happen.
"The whole thing is a process,'' McPhee said. "We'll play a brand of hockey that people will like. I've never enjoyed that sit-back style of hockey. I like a team that's attacking all the time, 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."
McPhee played for four years at Bowling Green State University and won the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player in 1981-82. He went on to play 115 NHL games as a forward, all but one with the New York Rangers.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.