Vegas Golden Knights' game plan could include Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal and plenty of side deals

Could Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal be teammates next season in Vegas? Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire

As Gary Bettman likes to say, "Vegas Golden Knights, you're on the clock."

These days, Golden Knights general manager George McPhee, 58, is the most popular man in the NHL.

From his team's war room in the Knights' training facility in Summerlin, Nevada -- about a 15-minute drive west of the Las Vegas Strip -- McPhee will guide a hockey ops team that includes assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon, director of player development Wil Nichol, senior vice president Murray Craven and head coach Gerard Gallant in the selection of the first NHL expansion team since 2000, when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild entered the league.

On Sunday morning, the Knights were given a list of 673 players made available by the NHL's 30 other teams. McPhee can take one player from each of those teams to complete a roster that must have at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders, with a minimum of 20 players under contract for next season.

McPhee told reporters he will have no problem spending the required 60 percent ($45 million) of the league's new $75 million salary cap for the 2017-18 season and plans on being active in the trade and free-agent markets as he looks to feast on what he calls "a harvest of assets."

McPhee said he might wait until Wednesday's 10 a.m. ET deadline to wring as much as he can out of other general managers, but here's an early look at the Knights' potential game plan and some of the side deals McPhee might have up his sleeve:

Duck hunting -- for draft picks

Although no deals will be officially announced until Wednesday night during the awards ceremony, McPhee already has worked out a handful of gentlemen's agreements. One might be agreeing not to select Anaheim Ducks defensemen Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson in exchange for an undisclosed asset, possibly a top prospect or high draft pick of the Ducks, who lost their first-round pick in 2017 in the Patrick Eaves trade with the Dallas Stars.

Forwards-thinking Islanders?

New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow was the only GM in the league to protect five defensemen from the expansion draft and that leaves talented forwards Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome free for the taking, along with defenseman Calvin de Haan. That has led to speculation that Snow has agreed to send the Knights the Islanders' first-round pick (15th overall) in the June draft to select someone other than Nelson, Strome or de Haan. That could mean forward Josh Bailey will be on the Knights' roster on Wednesday.

Stripping the Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets knew they could lose defenseman Jack Johnson, right winger Josh Anderson or goaltender Joonas Korpisalo in the expansion draft and reportedly agreed to give Vegas their first-round pick (24th overall) in this month's draft for McPhee to take someone else from their available list, presumably center William Karlsson or left winger Matt Calvert.

Bobbing for Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks would not mind having center Marcus Kruger taken off their books, especially since he produced just five goals and 12 assists in the first season of a three-year, $9.25 million contract. They'd also like to keep the Knights' hands off defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who was left unprotected. McPhee might be willing to take on Kruger's salary but might also try to find a way to get van Riemsdyk in return.

Breakout or bust?

It's not very often a team leaves its leading goal scorer unprotected, but the capped-out Florida Panthers opted to leave Jonathan Marchessault unprotected after his career-high 30-goal season. Marchessault was also a minus-21 and has some defensive deficiencies, but with a price tag of $750,000 it would be hard for McPhee to pass up the 26-year-old right winger.

Proven commodities

Of all the players on the unprotected list, two key playoff performers -- Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and Nashville Predators forward James Neal -- appear to be the most certain to begin next season as the Knights' No. 1 goalie and top-line sniper. Fleury, who has two years and $11.5 million remaining on his contract, agreed to waive his no-trade clause to escape the shadow of Matt Murray. And while Neal would give the Knights immediate scoring punch, his expiring contract makes him a valuable asset before next year's trade deadline.

Debate in D.C.

The Washington Capitals have two players on their unprotected list -- defenseman Nate Schmidt and goaltender Philipp Grubauer -- who might interest McPhee, who spent 17 years as Washington's GM before he was fired in 2014. Schmidt is projected as a top-four defenseman, while Grubauer came up through the Washington farm system under current Vegas goalie coach David Prior.