There’s still more than half of their inaugural season left to play, but what the Golden Knights are doing now might have a greater impact in the long term.
The challenge for every new sports franchise, or, for that matter, any new business, is to lay down a culture of success. It was one of Golden Knights general manager George McPhee’s mandates when Bill Foley hired him in July 2016.
That extended to Kerry Bubolz a few months later when he was named the expansion’s team president of business operations.
While the Knights’ are one of the feel-good stories in all of sports, they’re accomplishing something more critical than amassing wins and sitting in first place in the Pacific Division heading into Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are setting a standard for the organization on and off the ice.
“We have the foundation but it’s always a work in progress,” McPhee said Saturday after practice at City National Arena. “It always requires a lot of attention and maintenance every day. We’re always trying to position the organization the right way daily.”
Between their on-ice success, their practice facility at City National Arena, their energized fan base, their home-ice edge at T-Mobile Arena and the way the players have responded to coach Gerard Gallant and his staff, the Knights are sending a strong message to potential free agents and possible draft picks.
The message? You’re going to like playing here and living here. And you can be part of the winning culture that has been established.
Granted, no situation is Nirvana. Things didn’t work out well for Russian free agent center Vadim Shiapchyov, who had a miserable experience with the Knights and is back in his native land. But players talk to each other and when the Knights’ players get quizzed on Las Vegas, they have positive responses.
“Guys see what’s going on here and they’re curious,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “The way everyone is treated here so well. The great support we’ve gotten from the fans and the city. We have a great place to play and a great place to practice. I’m sure it’s on a lot of guys’ radar.”
The other part of the formula is the roster. There is strong leadership in the locker room and the chemistry is good; everyone gets along. Remember, the Knights opted not to choose a captain and there are no superstars on the roster.
Off the ice, the team has hit its projected numbers for corporate sponsorships and has started a waiting list for 2018-19 season tickets. Bubolz recently said that all 14,000-plus fans who were looking to have some sort of season ticket package were accommodated and the local business community has responded as the team had hoped.
“To some, ‘culture’ is cliche,” McPhee said. “We don’t think it’s cliche. We think it’s very important to an organization. You look at the top business organizations and their cultures and it does matter.
“You want to hire the right people and get the right players. But having the right culture is first and foremost for us.”