John Locher / AP
Thursday, March 2, 2017 | 2 a.m.
In the race to construct the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster for its inaugural season, Wednesday could be considered a significant step in putting Southern Nevada’s first major sports franchise slightly ahead in the process.
The Golden Knights officially became the National Hockey League’s 31st member after the last payment of their $500 million in expansion fees was processed by the league five weeks ahead of time.
Originally set to be completed on April 5, team owner Bill Foley sped up the process to give General Manager George McPhee more time to begin building the roster leading up to the June 21 expansion draft.
“I’d like to thank Bill for moving this day up,” McPhee said. “He moved heaven and earth to make it happen and it’s a big help for all of us.”
The deal became official at approximately 11:15 a.m., or 45 minutes before the NHL trade deadline.
“The detail was unbelievable,” said Foley, who estimated that he signed more than 300 pages to complete the deal. “It was the most complicated transaction that I’ve ever been involved with and we’ve bought companies for $5 billion and this was much more complicated.”
And while no deals were completed by the Golden Knights, McPhee was certainly busy entertaining offers.
“I talked to a lot of clubs,” McPhee said. “A lot of general managers calling to say congratulations and then we talked about expansion and trying to set the table for what will happen there.”
As an official member of the NHL, the Golden Knights can now enter into trades and waiver transactions or sign players to NHL contracts. There’s one catch: They can’t make deals with any active players until the end of the season.
The Golden Knights can make “bona fide” transactions in which they make agreements with teams to not select certain players in the expansion draft, but those only have to be announced to the league, not made public.
McPhee says those types of deals aren’t likely to happen.
“There are some teams that have real expansion stress and cap stress, and those were the teams that were calling,” McPhee said. “Until we see everything, it’s hard to do deals in advance. We don’t want to get hamstrung by doing deals with teams and then get (to the expansion draft) and think, ‘Well there’s more (talent) here than we thought and now we can’t do it.’”
The Golden Knights also have the ability to sign undrafted college free agents and undrafted players from Europe as soon as their seasons end.
“This helps George because now as the college season is expiring and they finish playing hockey we can start talking to the undrafted free agents and start making some choices,” Foley said. “We also have four scouts in Europe — Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Russia. There are a lot of undrafted players in Europe that aren’t on a roster that are young and have high potential."
The college hockey season wraps up with the national championship game on April 8.
In preparation for the expansion draft, McPhee and his team have already run through four mock drafts. According to McPhee, the practice runs take about three days to complete, working 10 to 11 hours per day.
“It’s important that we’ve done them because we’ve learned a lot about our roles,” McPhee said. “In terms of how we are going to delegate responsibilities during the real draft. We have got a really tight window and a lot is going to happen.”
During the expansion draft, team officials will receive a list from other organizations designating which players are protected. Teams have the choice to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or eight skaters (forwards and defensemen) and one goaltender. The Golden Knights will then have either 48 or 72 hours (the league hasn’t decided yet) to choose one player from each team.
It’s a daunting task but McPhee says the team is prepared.
“We’ve done a good enough job in our preparation that we’d be ready to go now if they wanted to,” McPhee said.
The very next day, on June 23, the NHL entry draft will take place in Chicago, and the Golden Knights are equally prepared for that.
“We have amateur scout meetings as well,” McPhee said. “We’re not neglecting that because that’s where we are going to have to hit our home runs.”
Some questioned the team’s competence after delays in the team name and logo announcement, followed by issues with the copyright. But Foley and the Golden Knights have quickly gotten up to speed and now appear to be ahead of the pack.