One day after George McPhee's name was circulated as likely to become the first general manager of the NHL's Las Vegas expansion team, it is now official. Owner Bill Foley made the hiring of the former Capitals GM official at a press conference on Wednesday meaning the next year leading up to expansion just got a lot more interesting for Washington.
McPhee will now be tasked with building a new team from the ground up and that could cary major implications for the Caps.
Let's remember that McPhee will be starting from scratch. There are no coaches and no scouts. Long before he begins assembling the roster in the summer of 2017, he has to put together a staff.
McPhee served as the general manager in Washington from 1997 to 2014. When he was fired, there was not a complete overhaul of the staff. Instead, the office was kept largely intact as owner Ted Leonsis tabbed McPhee's assistant, Brian MacLellan, to be the team's new general manager. There still remains several people on Washington's staff whom McPhee not only knows but hired. You can bet he will be interested in bringing some of those people with him to Vegas.
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This also adds an intersting dynamic when it comes to the expansion draft and possible trades. While scouts will have limited access to other team's players over the course of the season, McPhee will have extensive knowledge of the vast majority of the Caps' players and prospects. That is something MacLellan will have to consider next offseason as the expansion draft approaches.
The major criticism of McPhee during his time in Washington was that he put too much emphasis on "his players," players whom he had drafted or had traded for during the team's infamous rebuild. Rather than filling obvious weaknesses on the roster, he frequently deferred to players already in the system. Looking forward to next season's expansion draft, that means it is unlikely McPhee would select a player like Brooks Orpik who was signed by MacLellan after McPhee's dismissal. It also means the Caps may have a choice to make when it comes to a player like Dmitry Orlov.
With teams allowed to protect only three defensemen, the most likely scenario would be for the team to protect John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner (assuming the team re-signs him) and take their chances leaving Orlov exposed. Does that decision change now that McPhee's in Vegas? Orlov was drafted by the Caps in 2009 with McPhee at the helm and you would have to assume there would at least be some interest from McPhee in bring Orlov out west.
This could also change what forwards the Caps could choose to protect. McPhee made the ultimate decision to select Wilson in the first round of the 2012 draft. Some past projections of who the Caps may choose to protect have included Wilson, but McPhee's hiring will certainly force MacLellan to reevaluate how he approaches the expansion draft. A top four defenseman, as MacLellan has projected Orlov to be, is more valuable than a bottom six winger. Barring a breakout season in 2016-17, Wilson could prove to be an enticing player for McPhee if exposed considering he saw first-round potential in him.
The interesting dynamic with the Vegas team will also be trades. Vegas will be the first expansion team granted a trade window before the draft. Just how McPhee will choose to use that window is anybody's guess, but making trades is just as much about relationships as it is about finding value. General managers with good relationships make more deals with one another which is why you see the same teams frequently doing business together.
What does this mean for the Caps? It depends on how McPhee feels about his former employer. While he could certainly harbor some hard feelings towards Washington, chances are he also has a good relationship with MacLellan considering the two worked together for several years. If so, the Caps may have found a future trading partner out west.
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