When the Las Vegas Golden Knights joined the NHL this year, many thought it would be a long road to success for the league’s newest team. But the Knights have proved everyone wrong, setting record after record and becoming the most successful expansion team in NHL history. Here are just a few of the team’s accomplishments:
- On February 1, the team earned their 34th win of the season, breaking the record for most wins by an expansion team in its inaugural season.
- On February 21, the Golden Knights collected their 84th point, breaking the record for most points by an expansion franchise.
- On March 10, the team earned their 20th road win, breaking the record for most road wins by an expansion team.
This small team that could has shown us that even when you are starting out and the odds are against you, it is possible to be successful. It is about finding the right pieces to the puzzle, which all starts with management and recruiting.
Here are four lessons recruiters and managers can learn from the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Think outside of the box
When George McPhee was tasked with putting together an expansion team, he was allowed to pick one unprotected player from each team, meaning that superstars were off limits. He was, therefore, forced to think outside the box when making his choices, picking up lesser-known, unheralded players that have since stepped up big (like William Karlsson and Brayden McNabb). By finding players that were flying under the radar, McPhee could build four productive lines, instead of just one or two.
“We wanted to avoid the big-name players with the big contracts and tried to go for those unknown surprises. Not taking on big contracts, but taking on people we can develop in a nice team environment would give us a lot of salary cap flexibility if we needed to do other things,” McPhee said.
There is an important recruiting lesson here. Sure, we all want to find a superstar, but sometimes finding promising talent with less experience is a good alternative, especially if a candidate is willing to put in the work, learn, and grow with your company.
Focus on the big picture and look for opportunities
McPhee didn’t just look for instant success. He instead took a long-term approach. By using the salary cap to his advantage, he was able to pick up young, NHL-ready players from teams looking to free up money. But he was also interested in picking up as many draft picks as he could, allowing the team to build for the future.
“There were teams that had cap stress and teams that had exposure to stress and some teams had both. If we were willing to take on certain contracts from other teams, which management was willing to do, we could get better players or better draft picks,” McPhee said.
One example would be the acquisition of Karlsson from Columbus. In exchange for choosing Karlsson over a player like Josh Anderson, the Golden Knights received a first round pick in the 2017 entry draft and a third-round pick in 2019. So, while Karlsson turned out to be the team’s number one centre and top scorer, the Golden Knights also secured picks for future drafts, ensuring that their team would continue to improve down the road.
As a manager, it is important to not just focus on the present but also the future. You want to build a team for the long term and create lasting success.
Have a game plan – before the recruiting even starts
You don’t buy a house or a car without doing the proper research. The same goes for hiring an employee or offering a player a contract. It is important to understand the end goals and what needs to be done to achieve them.
When McPhee started to think about how to build the Golden Knights, he decided to model the new Vegas franchise on the Washington Capitals team he helped put together.
“It’s all about being in tune to the way the game is being played. George has always been one of the smartest people in hockey. When he was in Washington, he always had teams that had skill on the high side. He has done that with Vegas. They’re very skilled throughout,” said Winnipeg Jet general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
McPhee could see the way the game was being played today, and created a game plan based on speed.
“I don’t like that sit back style of hockey. I like pressuring pucks all over the ice. I love the way Pittsburgh played this year and they won the Stanley Cup. We’ll be doing the same kinds of things,” he said.
To be able to build a successful team, it is important to look around you and be inspired by other companies in your industry. Learn what has worked and what hasn’t. By doing your research, you can develop a clear game plan.
Find a team that will buy into your plan
To have a successful team, it is important that everyone is on the right page. McPhee’s focus was to create a speedy and competitive team. He then hired head coach Gerard Gallant who had the same vision of a fast, aggressive, forechecking team. Next came finding players that would fit and buy into the system.
“We were looking for the most talented people we could get, but they had to be hard working because you can accomplish things with a team of workers. We wanted low-ego people who were ready to work,” McPhee said.
Their results speak for themselves. William Karlsson is sixth overall in the league for goals and first for plus minus, with Rilley Smith sitting third. This team is filled with young talent and already competitive in their inaugural season.
When piecing together your team, you can’t focus solely on individual talent; you need to consider how all these recruits will work together…because as the old saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Just ask the Las Vegas Golden Knights.