It would appear to have been a high-stakes gamble for the National Hockey League (NHL) to establish a professional ice hockey team in the desert of Nevada (can they even make artificial ice in those climes?), yet Las Vegas got the nod when the investors behind the Vegas Golden Knights won the league bid to establish the NHL’s 31st team. The gambit seemed altogether less risky because the Golden Knights are led by alumnus George McPhee, who, as its general manager, had the task of assembling the team last summer, allowed to poach from “unprotected” players on the rosters of the other 30 teams, draft young players coming up through the amateur ranks, and sign free-agent players. As the NHL’s 101st season got under way in October, the Vegas Golden Knights were a decent bet to be competitive during their first season—a rarity for an expansion team. But, as teams adjourned for the NHL All-Star Weekend, which took place on January 28 in Tampa Bay, Florida, no one anticipated that the Golden Knights would be neck and neck with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the best record in the league.

Perhaps, it’s no surprise. McPhee NLAW’92 was the general manager of the Washington Capitals from 1997 to 2014, surrounding superstar Alex Ovechkin, whom he drafted, with a supporting cast that made the team a perennial contender for the NHL’s championship: the coveted Stanley Cup. An NHL player for seven seasons with the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils before enrolling in law school at Rutgers—an education, he says, that really prepared him for the rigors of business management—McPhee knows what it takes for a player to succeed in the National Hockey League, which has exploded in popularity and has thus allowed the game to prosper in the most unlikely of regions in the United States, be it Phoenix, Nashville, Tampa Bay, or, now, Las Vegas.

“We’re happy that we have a lot of defensemen, we have really good goaltending, we have a lot of centers, and we have scoring on the wings,” McPhee told ESPN.

Speaking to Nicholas J. Cotsonkia, a columnist for, in another interview, he said: “You hope to paint a masterpiece.” •

— David W. Major