LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was named a finalist for the NHL’s GM of the year and we don’t need Las Vegas bookmakers to tell us he’s a prohibitive favorite to win the award.
The man has built the best expansion team in professional sports history. The Golden Knights are two wins short of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Final heading into Friday’s Game 4 at T-Mobile Arena (8 p.m, ET, NBC Sports Network).
The always-gracious McPhee will want to thank those who helped him get here, so we’ve tried to be helpful by filling out “Thank You” cards for him:
Dear Marc-Andre Fleury: Many thanks for your decision to waive your no-trade clause with the Pittsburgh Penguins to allow us to select you in the expansion draft. We wouldn’t be where we are without your goaltending and your presence in the dressing room. Your goaltending has been out of this world and your willingness to promote our team and the game in Las Vegas has helped us grow strong roots in the community. People said you were a classy gentleman and the perfect teammate, but you can’t fully appreciate those traits until you see them up close and personal as we have.
Dear Vegas owner Bill Foley: Thanks for everything, especially the “Golden Knights” nickname and for saying we could make the playoffs in three years and win the Stanley Cup in six. We’re not afraid of high expectations in Vegas.
Dear NHL commissioner Gary Bettman: Thanks for signing off on a more generous player dispersal system for the expansion draft. This should be a model for future expansion in all sports. When you see how this has helped establish our team in Las Vegas, you wonder why we were so hard on past expansion teams. When McDonald Corporation awards a new franchise, the company doesn’t insist that it launch with inferior items on the menu. Why did sports leagues do that for so many years?
Dear Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon: Should probably send you a box of chocolates along with this ‘Thank you’ for the sweet deal you gave us on Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. Landing Marchessault to take Smith’s contract off your hands gave us two-thirds of our top line. Forever grateful.
Dear NFL: Thanks for moving slowly on coming to Las Vegas because we’ve been the first plant our flag and win over this incredibly passionate fan base. It’s laughable now that some people believed pro sports wouldn’t work here. Our fan base is electrifying. If you want to know how to ignite them, we can help.
Dear Florida Panthers: Thanks to whoever made the final decision to fire Gerard “Turk” Gallant as coach. (Dale Tallon didn’t have final say at the time). All that matters is Turk – no one calls him Gerard – was available to be our coach. He’s perfect to lead our band of Golden Misfits. He relates to players and he understands the game at a DNA level.
Dear Expendables: Thanks to all of my players who came in with the attitude that their former teams were wrong to make them available to us. William Karlsson went from six goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets to 43 for us. Erik Haula went from 15 goals for the Minnesota Wild to 29. Nate Schmidt went from third-pairing defenseman in Washington to a top defenseman for us.
Dear former Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher: Sorry you had so many skilled players on your roster that you couldn’t protect them all. You were in a difficult position that forced you to give us two quality players (Haula and Alex Tuch) to protect players such as Mathew Dumba and Marco Scandella, etc. P.S. we think Tuch is going to be a force for us
Dear NHL owners: Thanks for insisting on a hard salary cap in 2005 because that forced teams to give us players they didn’t necessarily want to part with. The Karlsson acquisition from the Blue Jackets was tied into us taking David Clarkson’s cap hit for a first- and second-round pick. Cap considerations and no-trade clauses helped improve our roster last summer.
Dear Washington Capitals: Thanks for firing me in 2014. While I didn’t appreciate it then, I now see it as a lucky break. It led to me being available to take this dream job. I’ve had a chance to build a team from the ground up in a city that wants to celebrate a sport I love. What could be better?