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In mirror image, Las Vegas NHL owner Bill Foley hires no-nonsense GM

Graham McPhee is a 17-year-old who was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the fifth round of last month’s NHL Draft, meaning he one day could find himself playing in the Pacific Division.

Beginning with the 2017-18 season, the Las Vegas expansion franchise (nickname and logo and colors to be determined) also will be housed in the Pacific.

The team’s general manager is George McPhee, who had some advice upon being introduced Wednesday should the teams eventually meet with Graham wearing an Oilers sweater.

“Keep your head up, son,” George said.

It’s a miracle: Bill Foley found someone to run his team just as intense about winning as he is.


 

If you’re going to design a house, an object that embodies all your hopes and dreams for the future, it’s best to hire an experienced architect who thinks outside the box to find practical solutions when zoning issues arise or the entry draft talent pool isn’t as deep as you had hoped, a trained eye who understands how to build something from nothing.

Someone who, when lines need to be drawn, isn’t picking up a batch of sketch pens for the first time.

Foley smartly approached his most important hockey hire with the same mindset, identifying the 58-year-old McPhee and his impressive resume as the person best suited to generate the blueprint for how the city’s first major league professional franchise will look and play.

McPhee was one of seven who interviewed for the position and one of three finalists, a guy who spent a few days with Foley and others in Montana dissecting what it would take to realize the owner’s goal of bringing Las Vegas a Stanley Cup within eight years.

I’m guessing it wasn’t all golf and fishing.

I’m also certain neither of the other finalists had these sorts of credentials: McPhee spent 17 years as general manager of the Washington Capitals, longer than any other GM in franchise history. He has been a director of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks, a senior adviser with the New York Islanders and was the co-general manager for Canada’s gold medal team at the 2016 World Championship.

The Capitals won seven division titles, had eight seasons of 40 or more wins, produced a franchise-record 121-point season in 2009-10 and made the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, all under McPhee’s watch.

“I was looking for a guy who was going to be dedicated, focused, with a take-no-prisoner attitude and committed to winning,” Foley said. “I found that person. I just felt for an expansion team, starting from ground zero, we should really get that experience and someone I felt really, really good about. That’s what we did.

“George has done it all and been through it all. Age-wise and communication-wise, George and I were closer than other guys we talked to. He’s the hockey guy, but I have some ideas on how we can accelerate the process, and he’ll listen.

“I think we’re going to have a great relationship. I felt confident we could both be honest and forthright with each other and always be transparent. That’s important. We all want to win, and he’s going to win for us, but I also want people I like and get along with.”

McPhee certainly isn’t Will Ferrell in “Elf.” Smiling doesn’t appear to be his favorite thing. He is an attorney, and I get the feeling you could become quite uncomfortable sitting across from him while being deposed.

But he was pleasant and forthcoming in a businesslike manner Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena, which is promising in the way you figure he realizes how much work lies ahead and wants to begin immediately.

His vast contacts no doubt should produce a pro and amateur scouting staff of top folks, and should McPhee’s drafting skills with early choices pay off as they did at times in Washington with such names as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson and Marcus Johansson, Las Vegas will have as good a chance as any other expansion team to contend quickly.

But McPhee also missed on some mid- to late-round picks with the Capitals, and over time serious holes developed at forward and defense. Team chemistry suffered over coaching changes that led to the style of play (really fast) being altered (not so fast).

McPhee was fired in 2014, leaving a legacy of having built one of the most exciting and skilled teams in NHL history over a period of years and yet, for numerous reasons, somewhat discarding that formula in his final seasons.

Now, his slate is clean with an opportunity to draw the blueprints from scratch. He arrives with a used and successful batch of sketch pens.

“Historically, you take over a team and you have to dig it out from under some bad contracts and making changes on the staff,” McPhee said. “Here, you get to pick everyone in your organization, and I am looking forward to that. We’ll select hard-working, quality people. In some ways, this is what every GM would want to experience.

“I want to win now, too. We built some terrific teams in Washington and got that team down to the 5-yard line. I wish that I could have been there to see it through, but that’s life. I really wanted this job. I’m as confident as I have ever been that we can win the Stanley Cup.”

He wasn’t smiling.

Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney.

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