Kelly McCrimmon helps run NHL expansion team, keeps eye on Brandon Wheat Kings

BRANDON, Manitoba — Bill Foley owns a hockey team.

So does Kelly McCrimmon.

Foley has a nice suite in which to watch his team.

So does McCrimmon.

Foley wants to win.

So does McCrimmon.

But that’s where the similarities end. McCrimmon, who owns the Brandon Wheat Kings of the junior Western Hockey League, works for Foley as the executive vice president and assistant general manager of Las Vegas’ NHL expansion franchise. McCrimmon, paid substantially less for his team than the $500 million Foley paid for his. How much, he wouldn’t say. But it was in the millions, not the hundreds of millions.

“Let’s put it this way,” McCrimmon said in his small yet comfortable office at the team’s home rink, Westman Place. “Our tax returns wouldn’t be very similar.”

The NHL apparently has no problem with an assistant GM owning a junior hockey team. Neither does Foley, who sees it as an asset given McCrimmon’s opportunity to watch hundreds of 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds without having to leave the home rink. Yet, he’s still willing to get in his car, make a four-hour drive to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to watch a game, then drive right back to Brandon and be in his office at 9 a.m. the next day.

He had arrived back in time to watch his team take on the Red Deer Rebels on Remembrance Day, Canada’s version of Veterans Day. Westman Place was packed, the aroma of freshly popped popcorn permeating through the rink.

The Wheat Kings, feeding off the energy of the sellout crowd, jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead and would go on to a 5-2 win. Watching from his owner’s suite with family and friends as well as a coule of scouts, McCrimmon kept a pad at the ready, jotting down notes for later conversations with the staff. He seemed to be enjoying his role as owner.

But McCrimmon’s main focus is on Las Vegas and the NHL. As general manager George McPhee’s right-hand man, he has been busy working with the team’s amateur and pro scouts, building a database on players the team will consider taking next June, either in the expansion draft or the amateur draft while handling a multitude of other tasks, including lining up the team’s eventual minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience so far,” McCrimmon said of working alongside McPhee. “I think he and I have a lot in common. We both believe in hiring good people and let them do their jobs.”


McPhee said McCrimmon has been everything he could have hoped for and more.

“I knew after our first phone conversation with him there was a special guy at the other end of the phone,” McPhee said. “He’s a high-integrity, honest individual and a tireless worker. He has an understanding of the game most people don’t.

“He’s a real deep thinker. He’s a combination of Pat Quinn and Bob Clarke.”

Bruce Leubke, who spent 24 years doing radio play-by-play for the Wheat Kings and is a friend of McCrimmon’s, said he’s not surprised to see McCrimmon doing good things in Las Vegas.

“He’s got a farm background; hard work runs in his family,” Leubke said. “He’s also a very smart person. He knows what he wants and how to get there.

“When he took over the Wheat Kings in 1991, they were patching things with older players. He saw that wasn’t working, that you had to tear it down and build it back up. But he made some trades, drafted well and they’ve had a great run.”

The Wheat Kings won the Western Hockey League title last year and went to the Memorial Cup, which is Canada’s national junior championship. Brandon was eliminated but the team was in good shape and the timing was right for McCrimmon to join an NHL franchise.

“I think we all get to that point where we ask ourselves, ‘Is this what I want to do the rest of my life?’” Leubke said. “The Vegas opportunity was too good for him to pass up.”

McCrimmon had created an atmosphere of family with the Wheat Kings. He anticipates something similar in Las Vegas.

“We want our player experience to be the best in the NHL,” McCrimmon said. “I think it’s critical we make a great first impression with our players.”

Whether it’s the locker room at T-Mobile Arena, the practice facility currently under construction at Downtown Summerlin or having staff available to cater to the needs of the players and their families, Foley has said everything will be the best.

McCrimmon said with that kind of support and commitment from ownership it will make his and McPhee’s job much easier when trying to convince free agents to play in Las Vegas.

“It starts at the top with Bill Foley,” McCrimmon said. “He wants to win and he’s given George free reign to put together an organization that will win. He has a great demeanor around our staff. Bill is very successful person, and while he is still learning hockey, he can read people and know if they’re good.”

McCrimmon said the hockey operations staff that has been put together by McPhee has been impressive.

“When we had our first meeting back in September and I saw the faces in the room I said to myself, ‘This makes it real,’” McCrimmon said. “We’ve had several meetings since and I love our group. They’re knowledgeable, hard-working people with no egos. And I think that speaks to George’s leadership.”

Much like McCrimmon did in Brandon.

“With George, it’s about hiring good people, providing resources and support and allowing them to do their job,” McCrimmon said. “Here in Brandon, we’ve had some employees who’ve been with us, 10, 20, 25 years. You try to hire the right people and show loyalty to them and they do the same.”

It’s a big reason why McCrimmon was able to accept the Las Vegas position. He knew the Wheat Kings would run smoothly. He brought in Grant Armstrong to be the general manager. He promoted David Anning to head coach. And he’s letting both do their jobs.

“He gives us a lot of freedom and leeway,” said Anning, whose team is 10-7-3 despite being without star center Nolan Patrick for all but five games as Patrick recovers from an upper-body injury. “He’s around to lend advice but he’s given us the trust and that gives us confidence. But the expectation here is to win so you have to do your job.”


Could McCrimmon sell the team and pocket a tidy profit? Absolutely. But he has too much of his life invested in the Wheat Kings to completely separate himself from the team.

Brandon, which has a population of just over 46,000, is a 2½-hour drive from Winnipeg, Manitoba’s largest city. It is the eastern-most team in the WHL. The Wheat Kings’ rink, which seats 5,100, was built in the early 1970s and is one of the oldest buildings in the league. The team benches are on opposite sides and you have to walk down a flight of stairs from the locker rooms to get to the ice. For opposing teams, it can be an initmidating place.

There are plenty of banners celebrating the team’s successes through the years, including last year’s WHL title. Game-day for the Wheat Kings is a community event. Entire families turn out from toddlers to great grandparents, all wearing black and gold gear.

McCrimmon is proud of the business side of things. The team’s turning a profit, how much, he wouldn’t say. But one of the prized possessions in his office is an award for being Brandon’s Businessperson of the Year in 2011. That meant almost as much as the four WHL and three CHL Executive of the Year awards he had won.

“Any sports organization establishes a culture and an identity,” McCrimmon said. “I’ve always related to what we are in Brandon is like the Green Bay Packers. We’re a small town, but we have a great fan base and this team is important to them.

“I was a player here. I coached here. I was the GM and I’m the owner. The Wheat Kings have been so much a part of my life and so important, I couldn’t see myself walking completely away.”

But while he maintains his ties to his junior team, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, McCrimmon’s energies are focused on his NHL team, which won’t play its first game until next October.

While business is humming in Brandon, things are moving quickly in Las Vegas. There’s a long to-do list for the NHL expansion franchise and McCrimmon doesn’t have time to waste.

“We’ve gotten a lot done so far but there’s much work still to do,” McCrimmon said. “But the one thing you can say about the group we’ve assembled is there’s an excitement of wanting to build something from the ground floor up and everyone’s committed to building a winning organization.”

Contact Steve Carp at or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.

Golden Knights Videos
Golden Edge: Off Season Update
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond and sports columnist Ed Graney go over the Knights free angency and signing Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury on his three-year extension: To stay in Vegas a long time was big
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said he's glad he'll be a part of the team for a long time. Fleury spoke about signing a three-year contract extension at a news conference at the City National Arena in Las Vegas on Friday.
Las Vegas Morning Update - Thursday, July 5
Las Vegas Morning Update - Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Golden Edge: Free Agency Update
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond and Golden Knights beat writer David Schoen go over the latest free agency news from the Vegas Golden Knights.
Golden Edge: Knights Host Scrimmage
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond goes over the Knights second day of scrimmage at City National Arena.
Golden Edge: Prospects Prepare For Scrimmage
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond goes over the Knights getting ready to participate in a scrimmage for the next few days.
Golden Edge: Previous Prospects Fight For Spot
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond goes over day two of the Golden Knights development camp.
Golden Edge: One-On-One With Reid Duke
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond interviews Golden Knights prospect Reid Duke.
Las Vegas Morning Update - Wednesday, June 27
Golden Edge: Golden Knights Development Camp
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond goes over the Golden Knights development camp and how the prospects are looking to improve their game.
Las Vegas Morning Update - Tuesday, June 26, 2018
David Perron, James Neal set to leave Golden Knights
David Perron, James Neal set to leave Golden Knights Perron and Neal were key contributors on the second line for the Knights, helping the expansion team to the Pacific Division and Western Conference championships. Perron’s agent, Allan Walsh, told the Review-Journal on Sunday that the Knights have not made a new contract offer since the season ended. Neal turned down a five-year, $25 million offer from the Knights at the trade deadline, according to the Calgary Sun.
Golden Edge 2018 NHL Draft Recap
Bryan Salmond Recaps The Vegas Golden Knights 2018 Draft picks Rounds 2-7.
Golden Edge : NHL Draft Round 1
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond goes over the first round of the NHL Draft picks and the rumors surrounding the Knights recruiting Ilya Kovalchuk.
Golden Knights 2018 NHL Draft Preview
Golden Edge video host Bryan Salmond provides a preview heading into the 2018 NHL Draft and Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee discusses how the team has prepared for it.
Golden Knights Release Schedule For 2018-19 NHL Season
Golden Knights release schedule for 2018-19 NHL season. The Golden Knights will play five of their first six games on the road. The Knights are at Washington on Oct. 10 in a rematch of the Stanley Cup Final and face Pittsburgh the following night. The NHL previously announced the Knights open the season at home Oct. 4 against Philadelphia.
Las Vegas Morning Update - Thursday, June 21
Golden Edge: Knights Take Home Four Awards
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond recaps the NHL awards where the Golden Knights won in four of the categories.
George McPhee On Winning General Manager Of The Year
Golden Knights General Manager George Mcphee talks about winning General Manager of the Year and the Golden Knights.
Deryk Engelland On Winning Mark Messier Award
Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland talks about winning the Mark Messier award how much impact a team can have on a community.
Gerard Gallant On Winning Jack Adams Award
Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant talks about winning the Jack Adams award at the NHL Awards.
William Karlsson On Winning The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
William Karlsson goes over the Golden Knights season and him winning the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.
Bark-Andre Furry meets Capitals superfan Ovie the Bulldog
Two of NHL's furriest fans met at the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace on Tuesday, June 18, 2018, in Las Vegas. Vegas Golden Knights superfan Bark-Andre Furry and Washington Capitals superfan Ovie the Bulldog shared a plate of meatballs and spaghetti with help from Logan, "The Girl with the Hat." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Las Vegas Morning Update - Tuesday, June 19
Golden Knights release 2018 preseason schedule
The Golden Knights will be back on the ice at T-Mobile Arena Sept. 16. The team’s 2018 NHL preseason schedule was announced Monday. Scheduled is a matchup with the L.A. Kings — Sept. 20 at Staples Center and Sept. 28 at T-Mobile. Two games against the Colorado Avalanche — Sept. 18 in Denver and Sept. 24 at T-Mobile. Two games against the San Jose Sharks — Sept. 22 at San Jose and Sept. 30 in Las Vegas. The team also announced it will hold its training camp at City National Arena beginning Sept. 13.
Golden Edge Look Ahead: What The Knights Next Season Will Look Like
Golden Edge host Bryan Salmond, Review-Journals sports columnist Ed Graney and Adam Hill go over what to expect from the Golden Knights next season.
Las Vegas Morning Update - Thursday, June 14
Golden Edge: Golden Knights Stick Salute To Fans
The Vegas Golden Knights host a fan fest on Fremont Street to celebrate the teams achievements throughout the 2017-2018 season. Fans were treated to live entertainment, free Golden Knights merchandise and the players came out to see fans.
David Perron talks about becoming a free agent
Vegas Golden Knights winger David Perron talked to the news media a day after their season ended in the Stanley Cup Final. Perron said he wants to stay in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Knights' season ends, but accomplishments stand
Take a video tour through the Golden Knights' accomplishments in their inaugural season.
Golden Knights fans give advice to their team
Golden Knights fans give advice to the team as they head into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final down 3-1 against the Washington Capitals. (Rochelle Richards/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Knights fans swarm T-Mobile Arena for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final
Vegas Golden Knights fans party at Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena before Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals on May 30, 2018 in Las Vegas.
Crowd goes crazy moments before puck drop
The crowd at T-Mobile Arena goes crazy moments before the puck drops in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals, Monday, May 28, 2018 in Las Vegas. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights fans swarm T-Mobile Arena before Game 1
Golden Knights fans swarm T-Mobile Arena before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Washington Capitals, Monday, May 28, 2018 in Las Vegas. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ryan Reaves becomes Golden Knights' latest unlikely hero
Ryan Reaves has become the Golden Knights latest unlikely hero. Reaves scored the series-clinching goal in the Western Conference Finals. It was his first goal with the Golden Knights. It came after Reaves sat for Vegas' first nine playoff games. Now he's become a integral part of the team's forecheck. He gets his chance and he goes in there and he played great hockey. It’s not surprising.
Golden Knights’ Fleury tickles Wheeler’s ear during Game 3 scrum
Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury tickled Jets' Blake Wheeler during a scrum in Game 3. The scrum occured behind Vegas’ net with 2:34 left in the second period of the Golden Knights’ 4-2 victory over Winnipeg on Wednesday night Wheeler, whose helmet was off and had his back to the goalie, somehow seemed unfazed. The Golden Knights lead the Western Conference final series 2-1, and host Game 4 on Friday night.
Voices of Golden Knights players welcome visitors at McCarran airport
Four Golden Knights players will start delivering recorded messages this week as part of the “Voices of Vegas” program at McCarran International Airport.
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like