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Take 5: Former boss says Vegas Golden Knights have a winner in GM McPhee

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Bill Foley, right, the owner of Las Vegas’ NHL expansion team, poses with George McPhee, the club’s general manager, at a news conference at the T-Mobile Arena Wednesday, July 13, 2016. McPhee is a former general manager of the NHL’s Washington Capitals.

In his first season as the Washington Capitals general manager, George McPhee helped build a team that went from not making the playoffs to reaching the 1998 Stanley Cup finals.
Now, nearly 20 years later, McPhee faces perhaps an even more daunting challenge as general manager of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. The franchises debuts in October in the NHL.
But if anybody’s up to the challenge, it’s McPhee, said his former boss, Capitals President Dick Patrick.
Patrick, who hired McPhee and worked with him for 17 years in Washington, offered insight into McPhee’s management style in a recent interview. Here are some highlights:

How much credit does McPhee deserve for the Capitals’ turnaround from bottom-dweller to Stanley Cup finals in his first season, or was most of that based on the previous regime?

Anytime you do well, there’s plenty of credit to go around. But George came in and really showed a lot of maturity in not wanting just to blow up the team we had in place, which sometimes new GMs like to do. We hadn’t been successful, but George analyzed the team and realized it had a lot of good parts to it. So we continued into the 1997-1998 season with pretty much the same team as the season before, and he added some key pieces during the year and going into the playoffs, guys like Brian Bellows and Esa Tikkanen. That group was great.

What role did McPhee have in your organization drafting Alex Ovechkin in 2004?

The Ovechkin pick was part of a process George and I started in 2003. During that season we were facing labor unrest and we didn’t know if we’d be playing the next year. We didn’t feel the team we had in place was going to win a Stanley Cup, either.

We made a very difficult decision as an organization to trade our best assets, the best players on our team, to get draft picks and prospects. To get more for the future and to see if we could rebuild the whole team. That’s a pretty daunting task because you know you’re taking yourself out of competition if you’re trading your best players and getting assets that aren’t even on your team yet. They’re just draft picks or junior-league players still. It’s not popular with your fans, to see a young team struggle.

George traded away our most marketable assets in 2003 and 2004, got lots in return and that spring we won the pick in the lottery and were able to move up from No. 3 to No. 1 in the draft and to get Ovechkin. And the lockout did end up happening. It was a matter of good planning and good fortune at the same time.

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