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October 22, 2017 | 10:32am ET
McPhee Holds His Cards to His Chest
By Hannah Spraker

ANAHEIM, CA -- We’ve all joked for months and months about this team, we made our predictions, we threw out witty puns on Twitter, but I don’t think anyone expected the Vegas Golden Knights to be off to such a great start (while Montreal is 1-6-1).

It’s the season of surprises, and Vegas is no exception. Is lady luck on their side? What’s the deal?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, George McPhee is a great General Manager; he’s a “win now” kinda guy, with a long-term game plan and a keen eye for talent. While it is still extremely early in the season, and any predictions made now do not hold much water, one thing is for sure: we can expect exciting hockey from this club.

Having to build a team from scratch typically does not bode well for expansion teams -- at least early on -- but McPhee has planned to use this to his advantage. The deals he swung in the Expansion Draft resulted in a plethora of defensemen, a Stanley Cup winning goaltender and some powerhouse forwards... *cough* James Neal *cough*.

Before you go searching for VGK playoff tickets, take a step or two back. I don’t think what we saw in their home opener will not be the norm. To stay competitive they are going to have to win games 2-1, 3-2, etc.

One thing I have noticed about this team is how they have adapted almost a blended style of play. They play with the physicality and grit of the west coast slower teams, but the speed of the younger east coast teams, which makes them fun to watch.

While I would not classify this as a playoff team by any means, this team has enough experience on their roster to be competitive, and they’ve shown they’ve got the heart for it.

The leadership on this team in an inaugural season is impressive -- and I think if it were up to the players, Deryk Engelland would have the “C” on his sweater. Not only is he a class act guy who doesn’t play dirty, he is a heart and soul player who just loves the game -- and watching him address the crowd at the Golden Knights home opener following the horrific events of October 1st was inspiring and heartwarming as he is a Las Vegas native himself.

Neal is going to be one to watch this season, for sure. So far he’s on pace for a high number of goals and on a contract year, go figure. I could see him easily getting traded away at the deadline for a big return, as I think most expect him to, but I can also see them holding out and signing him in free agency depending on how the next couple months play out. After all, a McPhee move is typically unexpected and out of the box.

The best start by an expansion team -- all while Shea Theodore has been in the minors. McPhee has shut down rumors that his absence has to do with his performance, but rather it is a numbers issue and Shea is waivers exempt, hence why he was sent down. Used as a bargaining chip from Anaheim in the expansion, Theodore is a guy who is going to have a significant role on the blue line with this team, which is why the fact that he’s not up is puzzling.

Theodore is killing it in the AHL; he does not need to be there. He’s ready to play with the big boys, and has been for a while. In his playoff run with Anaheim last season, he had eight points in 14 games, and even though he is only 22, this guy is already a dynamic two-way player who would be a valuable asset on any team. For Vegas, they need him on their blueline as soon as possible, he is the player that their roster will need as we get deeper into the season.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the money and the assets. That’s the nature of the beast when all other players are not waiver exempt, and McPhee is not okay with losing a player for nothing, just to bring someone back up. He’s going to make his moves, in his time, and he has stated he has the intention of bringing him back up, the question is the timeline. When does he plan on making a move?

Credit where credit is due, McPhee is responsible for making this the most competitive team they can be out the gate, and in a good spot moving forward. The wheels are turning and I’m sure he’s got something in the works, but if the current roster continues to see success, I can see him riding this out for the highest possible payout.

It is no secret that there are a handful of teams that need help on the blue line, and you can bet McPhee’s phone will be ringing around the trade deadline. A plethora of defensemen on the roster, I could see any of Brayden McNabb, Griffin Reinhart, Brad Hunt or Jon Merrill being shipped out for picks or prospects.

Between Neal and the defense Vegas has to offer; I could see Buffalo, Tampa, Montreal, and even Washington hitting McPhee up trying to swing a deal -- all keeping with McPhee’s plan; win now, plan for later.

Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall for these phone calls and negotiations? Remember that this is a GM who loves himself some draft picks, and he will go to the mattresses if he has to give his club the upper hand.

"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," McPhee told back in June.

So far, so good, George. Big picture, I think that this club is going to be very competitive in a few years. Just a reminder of what McPhee has gotten in an NHL Draft:

Alexander Ovechkin - 2004
Nicklas Backstrom - 2006
Semyon Varlamov - 2006
Karl Alzner - 2007
Marcus Johansson - 2009
Evgeny Kusnetsov - 2010
Filip Forsberg - 2012
Tom Wilson - 2012

Between what he currently has, where the trade value is for certain players, and his great eye for the draft, we are going to see some great things come from Sin City in the future. As of now, sit back and enjoy the show. Will they keep this up for long? Unlikely, but I don’t think this team is going to be as bad as everyone thought. Their foundation is firm, it is just a matter of time and moving pieces before McPhee shows his hand, but as of now, his cards are held close to his chest.

Oh, and if you put money down on Vegas starting the season undefeated, 3-0 to start and then go 6-1-0, go buy a lottery ticket.

Hannah Spraker is the Anaheim Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.




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