It was three years ago, nearly to the day, that the man who would come to own an NHL expansion franchise, Bill Foley, drove his boat near his friend’s dock in Whitefish Lake, Montana.
Foley told former NHL center Murray Craven he was going to put a hockey team in Las Vegas.
“I said, ‘You are out of your mind,’” Craven said.
Half a year later, Craven was Foley’s hockey adviser as they steered the course toward a team. Then on Wednesday, George McPhee sat beside Foley onstage at T-Mobile Arena after being announced as the team’s first general manager.
It was Craven’s biggest job: deliver to Foley a list of names suitable for the general manager’s position.
“Murray was instrumental in putting a lot of people in front of me that we got to talk to,” Foley said. “Terrific job doing that.”
Craven had 2½ years to come up with a list of names. He spent the time advising Foley, a renowned businessman, on hockey-specific matters. When Foley asked for a list of general manager candidates, Craven knew McPhee would be on it.
“I talked to George a long time ago about things and kept in contact with him,” Craven said. “He was always going to be a top candidate.”
The relationship between Craven and McPhee goes back to 1993. McPhee was an assistant general manager with the Vancouver Canucks and helped orchestrate a trade that acquired Craven from the Hartford Whalers.
McPhee picked up Craven from the airport and drove with him for half an hour to the team facility, and they hit it off right away. It didn’t hurt that the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1994.
“When I heard he was involved in this, I was hoping I could run into him,” McPhee said. “We actually got to having coffee together, and he mentioned then at the right time, if the franchise was awarded, he would like me to meet Bill Foley.”
Friendship doesn’t get someone a job as a general manager. Craven could only do so much. But it does help someone get on the short list, and that’s where Craven and McPhee’s friendship came in.
“Familiarity, this business is about that,” said Craven, who played for six NHL franchises during an 18-season career from 1982 to 2000. “It’s about people that you know, people that you trust. It’s not just a job search, you throw out there and whoever answers the call. It’s more a case of you do your due diligence on people and come up with that list.”
Once McPhee was in the room with Foley, the franchise owner had his man.
“(Craven) probably helped convince several people to keep talking and so on,” Foley said. “George and I kind of took it from there.”
Craven’s official role with the franchise will be determined in the next few days. On Wednesday, he was content to sit in the back of the room — wearing a polo shirt and jeans and looking more like a member of the media asking McPhee questions — as his boss named Craven’s friend the franchise’s general manager.
He never thought on that Montana lake three years ago it would be his job to deliver a candidate for the position of general manager of an NHL team in Las Vegas. Mission accomplished.
“Three years later, I’m standing here in a beautiful arena talking about an NHL team,” Craven said with a smile.
Justin Emerson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @J15Emerson.
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