George McPhee is on top of the world right now. Technically speaking maybe it’s just the part of the world that pertains to hockey. Actually, nope, let’s just extend that to all of sports because what the Las Vegas Golden Knights have done under the management of McPhee has never been done before and likely will never happen again. He has taken a team of misfits and turned them into potential Stanley Cup Champions. Just four wins is all that it will take for the Golden Knights to take a drink from the Holy Grail of hockey.
As many have noted, this will be no easy task. Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, and the rest of their crew are not going to simply roll over and die. The Capitals are a very formidable foe. They have been a great hockey team for many years, winning at least 45 games in the past four seasons, including two Presidents’ Trophies in that span. Washington has finally jumped over the so called “playoff hump” and they too have a great chance to raise the Stanley Cup. This brings me back to, George McPhee is on top of the world right now.
When a coach or team manager is fired, I would imagine there are probably a lot of things going through their minds. One of these things would surely be, “When will I get my next chance?” Athletes of any sport want their sunset moment. They don’t want to be removed from the game they love due to a career-ending injury or failing to earn a roster spot because age has taken its toll. General Managers are the same way, in that many of them get fired year after year, but they refuse to let that moment define them. They keep their heads up and work for the next opportunity.
After being relieved of his duties with the Washington Capitals in 2014, George McPhee found a new home with the Golden Knights and he has obviously made the most of it. If this team can win the Stanley Cup to culminate their first year of competition in the NHL, McPhee will be able look proudly upon the accomplishment, knowing he redeemed himself. As he celebrates with his coaches and players, he will experience that sunset moment.
But what if they lose? What if McPhee watches the program he took 17 years to build claim their first Stanley Cup, without him being a part of it? Well, he may not be on the Capitals’ payroll, but McPhee is still a big part of it.
The year is 2004 and a young, talented, Russian winger was first off the board in the NHL Draft. Alex Ovechkin was the first piece of the Capitals’ puzzle, arguable the most important. Two years later, Washington’s staff makes another great first-round selection, picking up Nicklas Backstrom. McPhee continues his hot streak, by drafting John Carlsson, Dmitri Orlov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the following years. The General Manager really showed off his recruiting talent when the Capitals chose Braden Holtby, who was a mid-draft pick at 93rd overall in 2008. There were plenty of other goalies on the board, but Washington picked Holtby, and well, you could say that was a pretty good choice.
George McPhee was fired years later due to lack of playoff success, paired with a couple harebrained schemes that turned out to be complete busts. The act of flipping first-round pick Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat was likely the final straw for his time in Washington, but his legacy has lived on. Roughly 50% of the current roster either played under or were drafted by his staff. Sure Washington has transitioned a bit since 2014, by adding talents such as T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik, but the core of the team hasn’t changed a significant amount and McPhee is responsible for that group of players.
When the Golden Knights and Capitals take the ice for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, you can bet anything that George McPhee will be behind his team. Why wouldn’t he be? Las Vegas can etch their name in the history books with a storybook season that will likely never be matched by another expansion team. But if they do lose, as McPhee watches Washington pass around the Stanley Cup, he can be satisfied knowing he had his hand in building a championship team. One way or the other, he has proven he is one talented General Manager.