George McPhee is spending a fleeting moment as The Godfather of the NHL during the Vegas Golden Knights' expansion window.
He holds the cards for a significant chunk of the league's talent, fielding calls from fellow general managers willing to trade something to keep McPhee from plucking certain players from their rosters, or to take someone from another team to flip in a deal.
All trade roads run through Vegas. And every move has its price ahead of Wednesday night's official announcement of the Vegas roster.
"Whatever you want to give us has to be better than what we can claim from that club," McPhee said in Las Vegas on Sunday. "Then we're going to go to that club and say: 'We have interest in this player, there's another club that has interest in this player. How do we want to do this? How can we protect your roster? You can negotiate your way out of this if you wish.'"
He emphasized that each team will be contacted and given the opportunity to have a say in protecting its roster. But he said Monday was the final day for GMs to make pitches and hold negotiations because Vegas was planning to pick its team Tuesday.
"It's going to take us a while to pick the team (Tuesday), because one change in this matrix affects everything — with your cap now, with your cap going forward, with the cap that you have done for this expansion draft, with the cap that you need for the regular season," McPhee said. "Is the player under contract? Not under contract? Does he fit the positional requirements? So that's why you can't get too cute and try to complicate it too much."
Beyond building what could be the most competitive expansion team in NHL history, McPhee has the golden opportunity to play some desperate teams against each other and build a collection of draft picks and other assets. Vegas must pick one player from each of the existing 30 teams, but there's only so much room on the roster next season even with some minor league prospects thrown in.
"The expansion draft, I think the way it's set up now is quite interesting," said Capitals assistant GM Ross Mahoney, who worked under McPhee for 17 years. "I'm really interested to see how much movement that there's going to be."
Vegas could easily get its franchise goaltender in Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury, a top-line scoring winger with 10 20-goal seasons in Nashville's James Neal and a top-pairing defenseman in Ottawa's Marc Methot while also picking up some potentially high draft picks for staying away from young talent from Anaheim, Columbus and the New York Islanders.
Shortly after protected lists were released Sunday morning, GMs began calling McPhee to try to poach available players from other teams. Opportunistic GMs can feed the Golden Knights' future to get a player who otherwise wouldn't be on the trade market.
"Everybody's going to have conversations," Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames said. "The staring contest ends. ... Now you start to have discussions and see if there's things in there that can help."
The expansion draft rules made it so that Vegas would wind up with strong enough goaltending to be competitive even in its inaugural season. There's also a surplus of young goaltending talent, including Detroit's Petr Mrazek, Washington's Philipp Grubauer, the New York Rangers' Antti Raanta and Colorado's Calvin Pickard.
Need a goalie? McPhee might be able to help.
That's what Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka was thinking after trading veteran goalie Mike Smith to Calgary on Saturday. Sure, he could sign a free agent July 1, or he could take advantage of this rare circumstance.
"There's a lot of unprotected goalies out there," Chayka said. "Vegas doesn't need 10. They only need a couple, and there's opportunities for trades from that perspective. ... Goalie's one position where there's a lot of good goaltenders out there right now and not a whole lot of spots."
Just two years ago, the Senators got a first-round pick from Buffalo for goaltender Robin Lehner, Boston a first-round pick from San Jose for Martin Jones and New York second- and third-round picks from Edmonton for Cam Talbot.
McPhee plans to finalize the Golden Knights' roster Tuesday night, check with the NHL to make sure everything's good to go, sleep on it and submit it Wednesday morning before the deadline.
"We can put a good team on the ice and accumulate draft picks and be in a surplus situation here in the next couple of years so that we can start with a real good team and then build it with these draft picks to a team that can win a Cup," said McPhee, who figures three or four new players will be in Vegas for the reveal show Wednesday night.
By the time the initial Vegas roster is unveiled, he might be smiling even bigger than he was Sunday when he saw the options in front of him.
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