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May 27, 2018
Las Vegas, Nevada: Practice Day
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to 2018 Stanley Cup Finals Media Day. We have Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee and head coach Gerard Gallant.
Q. George, it's been obvious what Marc-Andre Fleury has done on the ice for this team, but could you talk about his personality and his reputation of being a great teammate, what that has done for the team this season.
GEORGE McPHEE: Well, I think it's been enormous for the team. He is one of the finest people you'll meet in this game. He's brought tremendous leadership to our group, brought experience, needless to say, not only as a real good starter but as a guy who's had success in the playoffs.
But the way he carries himself is really, really impressive. It's not contrived. It's who he is. It's just been a nice thing to have with this group that we have because it's a real good group of players.
Q. George, we've tried to find in the four major sports an example of a GM who would have this much to do with both teams in a final and haven't been able to do that. Does that offer you a sense of pride that you had so much -- obviously, this team, but also on the other side you had so much to do with that team in terms of now sitting back and watching it?
GEORGE McPHEE: Well, sure. It's funny how life goes. Two years ago I was walking around Ann Arbor kicking stones and couldn't get a job, you know. I'm certainly proud of the Washington team and the players. We made good selections. And they turned out to be real good players. I can certainly take pride in that.
And when you're working with them, they're sometimes like your own kids. You're on call for them all the time. You're trying to help them. You're trying to steer them in the right direction, and then you get fired, and you're suddenly persona non grata because nobody wants to be too close to you in the organization. I understand that things change quickly. And that's the business.
But certainly, really happy for them and really proud of this team we have in Vegas.
Q. George, you and Brian MacLellan go all the way back to, I think, Bantam in southern Ontario. How strange is it that you are facing a guy that you've known for 40-plus years as duelling general managers?
GEORGE McPHEE: All of this, we end up playing Washington, and then Mac and I, it's just another chapter in this crazy book that is our season. We've texted a little bit. We talked yesterday. Last time I saw him before that was at the GMs meeting. We had dinner. It's sort of gone this way, and hard to believe, but we'll enjoy it. It beats some of the jobs we had when we were kids, and we'll see where this goes.
Q. George, what -- how would you describe Mac when he was a junior player and you guys were coming up through college as a teammate and a player? And what did you see in him that made you call him initially to say, hey, do you want to scout?
GEORGE McPHEE: As a player, he was a really talented guy. He had a genetic gift. He was a big, talented guy.
As an evaluator, it's interesting, I remember we talked about players when we were kids and when we were a little bit older, and he always seemed to have a good read on players.
I thought we needed to upgrade things in Washington after a few years there, and he was living and working in Minnesota, and I called and asked him if he would be interested in doing something like this just to start on a part-time basis. And he did, and he got good at it, and he was a real good evaluator, and he was just a steady guy that we needed and an honest guy.
Q. Turk, you're going to face a very dangerous player that George drafted in Nicklas Backstrom. What's the key to containing him? And, George, what did you see in this kid when you drafted him way back when and see the player he's developed into?
GEORGE McPHEE: Are you talking about Backstrom?
Q. Talking about Nick Backstrom, yes.
COACH GALLANT: First of all, we all know he's a good hockey player. He's one of the better passers in the league and a real key player. We have more to worry about than just Backstrom. They're playing real well, and they've got a lot of talented hockey players. He'll be one of the guys we'll worry about, but we'll make sure we're playing against their whole team. They're a very good team, and that's why they're playing well now. They play as a team.
GEORGE McPHEE: His hockey sense is elite, and his compete is elite. He's a real quality guy and a real quiet leader.
Q. George, you made a lot of trades around the expansion draft with a number of teams. Washington was not one of them, the team that you probably knew best in terms of their roster and their prospects. Brian MacLellan told me over the weekend that he did late in the process try to seek out a solution as to how he could maybe keep Nate Schmidt, but it didn't go anywhere basically. There wasn't a fit for both teams. How did that play out, in terms of you and Brian knowing each other so well, having to have that conversation around that time when you're having them with every GM in the league?
GEORGE McPHEE: It was pretty straightforward. It was -- they were of the mind that -- some teams were, that they were going to lose one guy, and that was it. Whatever it was, rather than some teams tried to do other things to protect their roster, and some guys just said take who you're going to take.
In this instance, called I think a day or two before the expansion draft, was feeling me out, didn't really talk about many names.
We made our selection, and then he called and asked if there's any way we could do a deal for him to get Schmidt back, and I said, I don't think there's -- I don't see anything, but we'll try to come up with something to give you a chance to say no. So we made a proposal that I didn't think would work, and it didn't work because our guys like Schmidt. So we overreached on the ask, and that's the way it went.
Q. Question for Gerard. I know you had expectations before the season and everything, but can you pinpoint one moment in this season early on or later in the season when you said, okay, we have this for real.
COACH GALLANT: I think we went on the road trip to Dallas and Nashville, and at that time, I think we were in first place or just got into first place in our division. I knew this trip was going to be a big trip for our group, and we went to those two buildings and played great hockey, beat both of those teams.
And we didn't beat them by luck. We beat them because we outplayed both of those games. I think that was a time I really felt confident with my hockey team, and I think the players took a big step and said, you know what, if we're going to beat these teams in their building the way we beat them, we can beat anyone in this league.
That was the philosophy all year. Let's work hard and see where we're at, and most of those nights, we were real happy with the performance from our group.
Q. Coach, George just mentioned two years ago he was kicking stones, looking for a gig in hockey. A year and a half ago, you were out also. I was just curious, has it felt like it's been a long time, has the time gone quickly, and what do you remember about that moment to where you are today?
COACH GALLANT: That moment was -- you know, it happened quick, sort of I wasn't expecting it right at that time. Two weeks later, I was fine with it. I moved on. I talked to George probably a week after that, probably three weeks after I got let go, and I had a good feeling. I didn't know it was going to happen, but I had a real good feeling.
George through the process, he basically told me, this might take a while here, but we're going to be fair and stay in touch every week, and that's what we'd done. So I felt real comfortable with the possibility of coming to Vegas.
Shortly after the season was over, he called me and offered me the deal, and I was pretty excited.
Q. Gerard, it's been a long time since a team has won the Stanley Cup without a captain. Do you think it's helped in your first year to not have someone wear the weight of that? And in addition, could you talk about just your leadership corps as a group and what it's meant?
COACH GALLANT: Yeah, I think it's key. George and I talked actually late in the training camp and said, you know what, let's leave it without a captain this year. Let's go with the six guys out there, the leadership group, and I think that's the best decision we ever made. Sure, there's guys who could have been captain in our group, but it was their first year, and we really didn't think we'd be grabbing the trophy the other night in Winnipeg.
It was an easy solution. The guys talked about it, they said, we want Deryk Engelland to go get the trophy for us. We never thought about that back in October or September in training camp.
No, we got a great leadership group, and that was a real key. And George and those guys talked about it with the staff, when the expansion draft came, they said the number one thing was let's get good people. I think they did a good job with that, and obviously our leadership group is second to none.
Q. Question for both guys. This isn't to suggest that winning a Stanley Cup would turn back the clock or undo something that's been done, but I'm just wondering about the effect that the tragedy had on the organization and whether or not you feel that in some way, some small way, you guys have been able to help the healing or if you're inspired to maybe see this thing through to the finish to maybe help that healing process?
GEORGE McPHEE: Well, of course, that was an extremely emotional time when you're close to something like that. You worry about your players' safety first, and then all the other things that go on around it. And then it's hard to fathom, when you sit back and realize that you lost 58 people. During our opening night ceremony, that 58 seconds felt like forever.
So we've done our best as a team. We were put on a huge platform that was unexpected that very first night to have a ceremony and to get it right. We did our best to get it right, to be respectful and honor the people and help them grieve and heal and persevere.
Certainly, this community has been amazing in how it's come together. It's been amazing how our players have immediately volunteered to help and have continued to help and do a lot of stuff offline that people don't know about to continue to help. We've got a lot of humble guys. We've got coaches and other guys that continue to do things for people in this community to help and always will as long as we're here.
It's unfortunate that thing happened, and sometimes beautiful things follow something like that, and the way that this community came together and these people helped each other really was a beautiful thing to witness and experience.
COACH GALLANT: Again, I'm not -- we don't talk about it a whole lot, but I think we think about it a whole lot. When we come in the dressing room and we go out there and we see that banner up there in the stands, I think the guys think about it a whole lot, but we don't talk about it a whole lot.
Q. George, you've been with and around Alex Ovechkin earlier in his career and earlier in your career, and that was up close. Now from a distance, have you seen a change in him as a player, as a leader, as a person? And what is that change? How has he evolved?
GEORGE McPHEE: I haven't seen a change. I think he's the same player now than when he came in, and he works his tail off. He's a threat to score every night. He hits like a truck every night.
And I think he's been an amazing player for that franchise and for this league. I mean, he has absorbed everything since he came to town.
He's been in the spotlight. It's been a nice thing for other players, whether it's Kuznetsov or Backstrom or Carlson, many of these guys, to not play with the pressure that he has to play with. He absorbs everything, win or lose. I haven't seen a change. He scores a lot. He hits a lot. That's what he does best.
Q. Obviously, there are vast differences in your first -- for George. Sorry -- vast differences in your first year here and with the Capitals. Can you talk about some of the similarities you experienced with that '98 run with the Capitals compared to this run with the Stanley Cup?
GEORGE McPHEE: I don't know. It's hard to compare the two. This has been -- working with Turk and this group has been real businesslike. It's just what do we do to win the next game, and it seems so simple, but that's the way it's been all year.
That run, it was a good team. It had a good season. In some ways, it was similar to this team. We had a lot of injuries this year, second or third in the league in man games lost, and that team did too. When we got healthy, it was a pretty good team. And when this team is healthy, it's a pretty good team. It gets good goaltending and they play a good team game, and I guess both runs were unexpected. So those would be the similarities for me.
Q. Looking back at that expansion process that you went through, what do you think were the keys to harvesting as many good assets as you did in that process? What did you guys figure out? What works so well?
GEORGE McPHEE: Well, it was the first expansion draft in a salary cap era, and that created possibilities that we may not have anticipated early on because people either had expansion stress, too many players, and not enough (indiscernible) to protect them, or account stress, they had money issues.
So in addition to the rules being more favorable, there were teams that were looking to get out of certain deals, and we could get better players or better draft picks if we could play ball with them.
My fear initially was that there would be a massive redistribution of players right before the expansion draft. The teams would get through the playoffs and everything else and deal with other teams and move people around. What we were looking at might not be there, but we were able to get in front of that a little bit and do some deals and sort of close down the market.
We did the very best to try to find those unknown surprises, get a younger team, a player that may develop into names you'll recognize now but didn't then, and there are only -- you know, 90 percent of the guys we claimed were guys we expected to be here for a while and develop with us, and only a handful of guys that we might have moved had we not made the playoffs.
You know, we wanted to be good. We didn't want to be a doormat. We didn't want to be an embarrassment. We wanted this to work. The league needed it to work. We needed it to work. This community needed it to work. This community's got this great identity as being an entertainment town, but it has another identity now, and it's a great -- it's a fantastic sports town. It is amazing support that this team has got -- on the ice, off the ice.
And all folks are saying these days is, thank you very much. You make us proud. Pretty darn good.
Q. George, you know these two teams better than anyone. Just what do you expect the hockey to look like out on the ice, and what do you think is the key?
GEORGE McPHEE: I wouldn't give that kind of ammunition away, but I don't know what to expect. I didn't know what to expect in rounds one, two, or three, and I don't know what to expect now. We're going to approach it as we always have and just get ready for tomorrow night and see if we can win a hockey game. That's the game that's in front of us, and see where it goes.
Q. I was wondering if both you guys could answer this. When you get ready for opening night, realistically, in your minds, what would have been a good season? What was realistic at that time in your minds?
COACH GALLANT: To be honest with you, we never talked about it. What we talked about before we started the season was make sure we compete every night, make sure we get better every day, and have fun and work hard and be competitive. We didn't say about 25 wins or 40 wins or -- what did we end up with, 50-some wins, 51 wins? We never talked about it. It was just about making our team better every day and be competitive.
That was my goal, and like I said, after nine games, we're 8-1, so we felt pretty good about it. But there was never a goal with a number, that's for sure.
GEORGE McPHEE: One of the things that -- one of the take-aways when Kelly McCrimmon and I met with Bob Clark at one point, and there were some great take-aways, and Doug Risebrough, and there were some great take-aways. Doug talked about you've got to be competitive, and he talked about unknown surprises and speed and that. But he talked about how important it was to be in every game. If it's a 2-1 game, fans are going to enjoy it, and your players are going to develop. If you're losing 6-2, nobody develops when you're in a game like that. It's hard.
So that was, again, one of the many reasons we wanted to be a good team, to be as good as we could be and see where it goes.
Q. One for each of you. George, what now in hindsight made Turk the right choice for bringing a group of all new guys together in a new city, and how have you seen him shape the identity of this group? Turk, for you, how is the experience different chasing the cup as a coach versus as a player?
GEORGE McPHEE: Well, with respect to what you're looking for in a coach, it's a long, long list, and Turk basically fit the description of what we were looking for. There are so many things that you need in a coach. I can start listing them off, but managers have checklists of all the qualities that we're looking for.
Really for me, it was someone that would be patient, someone that was a real good leader, and when he walked in the room, he was in charge, and people know it.
It was important to me that he played in the league. I think that helps. He knows what players go through, and he can relate to these guys, and they respect him because he's gone through it. The patience, the plan to work with guys. Again, we all have our binders, and you pull out that page, and there's lots of qualities you want the guy to fit, and he's certainly done that and more. He's done one helluva job this year.
COACH GALLANT: As a player chasing the Cup, the closest I got was the semifinals twice. It's a dream come true, obviously, from the time you're six years old watching Hockey Night in Canada back home, to win a Stanley Cup. I haven't won one yet, and this is the closest I've ever been.
Like I said, we're just -- it's one series at a time, and it really doesn't feel like a big deal right now. It just feels like we're coming to work, we're getting our team prepared, and that's what's happened the first three series.
I'm pretty excited to be in the Stanley Cup Finals, but right now it doesn't feel like a big deal.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports