The Vegas Golden Knights keep winning, the most recently a 2-1 win over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions from Pittsburgh on Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena in Sin City. Four former Penguins players are now on the Vegas roster, so the victory was extra sweet for those guys. The Golden Knights are now 20-9-2 this season, in second place—but moving closer to first—among Pacific Division teams.
The team has three more home games at T-Mobile coming up over the next week: Sunday against the Florida Panthers, Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and next Saturday against the Washington Capitals. The Lightning and the Capitals are among the best teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Vegas has 12 wins on home ice this year, the best mark in the Western Conference.
How has this much success been possible for a National Hockey League expansion team? Vegas is on pace to shatter a lot of expansion-team records, and there are many reasons why this has been happening. Many reasons point to General Manager George McPhee and his experience in the sport. McPhee's career in hockey is near legendary, and everything he's accomplishing with the Golden Knights is just icing on the cake.
McPhee played college hockey at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where his coach was Jerry York—the all-time winningest coach in NCAA hockey history. Just for the record, York played college hockey in the 1960s at Boston College under Len Ceglarski, a member of the 1952 U.S. Olympic Team that won silver in Oslo, Norway. This is some serious hockey lineage that McPhee brings to the table in Vegas.
As a college player, McPhee also won the prestigious Hobey Baker Award in 1982, annually given to the best college player in the country. Other winners of the award include Neal Broten, 1980 Olympic gold medalist on Team U.S.A.; Ryan Miller, long-time NHL goalie who is still active with the Anaheim Ducks this year; and Johnny Gaudreau, who is scoring points by the dozen for the Calgary Flames.
Despite his college success, McPhee went undrafted by the NHL because of his size (5-foot-9 forwards weren't considered NHL-worthy in the early 1980s), although he did manage to play for six seasons with the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils. One interesting note: McPhee made his NHL debut in the 1983 Stanley Cup playoffs for the Rangers, setting a record that still exists by scoring three goals in the postseason before making his regular-season debut.
(We could infer that McPhee's success on the ice opened the door in the NHL for smaller players to succeed, players like Paul Kariya and Theo Fleury—shorter forwards who thrived in the late 1980s and 1990s NHL landscape. Kariya himself was a Hobey Baker Award winner  who was drafted fourth overall by the Ducks despite being 5-foot-10, and he's now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Fleury won the Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989 and the Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2002, while scoring over 1,000 points in the NHL despite his mere 5-foot-6 stature.)
In his career as an NHL front-office employee, McPhee also has achieved impressive success. He started with the Vancouver Canucks in 1992 as Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations as the team went to the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals before losing in Game 7 to the Rangers. McPhee had a very successful run with the Capitals as General Manager from 1997 to 2014, as Washington won seven division championships and reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998 before losing to the Detroit Red Wings. McPhee also made the decision to draft Alex Ovechkin with the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft during a roster rebuild.
Before joining the Vegas organization, McPhee served as Vice President for the Rangers for the 2015-16 season. New York finished fourth in the Eastern Conference with 49 wins before losing in the first round to eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.
One of the more notable incidents in McPhee's long NHL career in management indicates his willingness to stick up for his own players: In a 1999 preseason incident, McPhee took on an opposing player in the hallways outside the locker room after what he perceived to be a cheap shot on one of the Washington players. McPhee was suspended a month by the NHL commissioner for his actions, but he didn't exactly back down from his logic: "An executive should not be involved in a physical confrontation. I'm sorry for the incident, but I will never regret standing up for the organization or for what I think is right for the league."
Considering this impressive background in a lifetime of hockey, it's a little easier to see just why the Vegas Golden Knights are succeeding. McPhee has a pedigree like few others in hockey, both as a player and as a talent evaluator, and it's showing itself on the ice every time the Golden Knights lace up their skates.
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