General manager George McPhee built the expansion Golden Knights from scratch and had a major role in assembling the team that beat them in the Stanley Cup Final — the Washington Capitals.
He was author and architect of a storyline that involved two franchises seeking their first championship, one fresh out of the gate and the other after a 44-year wait.
“Well, the Vegas Golden Knights have been a great story this year,” McPhee said the day after the team’s Cup bid ended. “It certainly didn’t end the way that we had hoped or wanted, but sometimes a great book or movie or story doesn’t have a great ending.
“It doesn’t take away from the plot or a great narrative. Some interesting protagonists along the way or antagonists and the character of all the authors. It’s still a great story, and we wish it ended a little bit better.”
The Knights won an expansion-record 51 games, amassed 109 points, captured the Pacific Division title and defeated Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg en route to winning the Western Conference championship. They won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final before the Capitals regrouped and took the next four to win their first championship.
McPhee had deftly tweaked things throughout the Knights’ improbable ride, picking up a couple of players off waivers, making a few trades and weathering a seemingly never-ending string of injuries.
He trusted his coach, Gerard Gallant, to make the right decisions on who to play. He let his staff do their jobs, never micro-managing them. McPhee also had the trust of owner Bill Foley to allow him to do his job.
“Gerard did a great job coaching our team,” McPhee said. “It’s a very tight-knit group. It’s a hardworking team. They really played well for Gerard. He coached them well. That’s what we want to keep.
“What I love about our room is there’s no hierarchy. There’s no entitlement. It’s just a bunch of guys that show up and work their tails off and get along and represent this organization and this city very well.”
McPhee said his only expectation for the inaugural edition of the Knights was to have a team that competed every night, represented the organization and the city the right way and played for each other. He got all of that and more.
Whether it was the emotional events of the home opener on Oct. 10 that was done tastefully and respectfully to honor the victims of the Oct. 1 Strip shootings, or revisiting that night at the end of the season on March 31 with a ceremony to raise the “Vegas Strong” banner to remember the 58 victims and all the moments in between, culminating in an amazing run to the Stanley Cup Final, McPhee was always able to be proud of what he had built.
“Individually, we all would’ve wanted to win a Cup,” he said. “Collectively we would have wanted to win the Cup as a team and it would’ve been great to deliver a championship to this city.
“We all know what the real story is this year. It would’ve been great if we could’ve made things even better.”