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‘We Didn’t want Clones’: NHL’s Newest Franchise in Las Vegas Taking Shape off the ice



TORONTO — “I lost my train of thought,” said the voice on the other end of the line, trailing off.

A few seconds of dead air pass before George McPhee — who can be excused for the odd momentary lapse in concentration after recently tying a bow on a 60-day, 30-person hiring frenzy — caught up to the train.

“I remember what I wanted to say,” he continued. “We wanted talented, experienced people with low ego that want to work. It’s not about the individual, it’s about the organization. And the work isn’t really work. It’s fun for these people.”

If work’s fun, McPhee has been having a blast since July 13, the day he was unveiled as general manager of the still-to-be-named Las Vegas NHL club. It’s October and the franchise’s off-ice lineup is intact; “95 per cent” of the team’s hockey operations roles have been filled, according to McPhee.

“The first six weeks were incredibly busy, going from 6:30 every morning until probably 9:30, 10 o’clock at night, seven days a week,” said the 58-year-old hockey lifer. “But that’s what it took, and we got it done.”

McPhee can exhale.

What was once a two-man show — McPhee and assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon — has morphed into a brimming front office. The near-final product includes nine directors, a senior advisor, 14 scouts, one analyst and two assistants. (A ruling on additional hockey analytics hires is imminent, McPhee said, while the coaching staff likely will be named some time next spring.)

“Really, it’s a start-up company. We’re starting from scratch,” said McCrimmon, a longtime junior hockey executive who has declined NHL offers in the past but couldn’t balk at the opportunity to ride shotgun next to McPhee on such a rare project. “The chance to be a part of this team, right from the early stages, was appealing.”

Appealing, indeed. This is the first time the NHL has chosen to expand during the salary cap era, and the functional challenges facing the Vegas group vary greatly from those faced by the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000.

Starting with next June’s amateur and expansion drafts, every player personnel decision made by Vegas, which will begin play out of the 17,500-seat T-Mobile Arena a few months later, will be at the mercy of the salary cap.

Inheriting nothing in the way of positions or employees — and with a green light from ownership throughout their short tenure at the helm— McPhee, McCrimmon and senior vice-president of hockey operations Murray Craven have been free to bend and twist the structure and culture of the front office whichever way they please.

“The model we’re using here is really much different than what we did in Washington,” said McPhee, the Capitals’ GM from 1997 to 2014. “There are certain things that I wanted here that I have now. It’s just a different model. I don’t really want to get into the details on how it’s different, but it is a much different model.”


  • June 22: Las Vegas officially granted an NHL expansion franchise
  • July 13: George McPhee hired as GM
  • Aug. 2: Kelly McCrimmon hired as assistant GM
  • Aug. 2: Ice installed at T-Mobile Arena for first time
  • Aug. 18: Murray Craven hired as senior vice-president
  • Oct. 3: Kerry Bubolz hired as president
  • Oct. 5: Ground broken on practice facility in suburb of Summerlin
  • Oct. 7/8: Kings-Stars/Kings-Avalanche pre-season games played at T-Mobile
  • Oct. 17: Tom Poraszka hired as hockey analyst, capping off 30-person front-office hiring spree
  • Nov. 22: Scheduled date for unveiling of team name, logo and uniform

The Vegas hires offer a mix of experience (“Bill Belichick might be the best executive in football right now and he’s on his third team,” McPhee noted); familiarity (many employees have a tie to the McPhee-run Capitals); and fresh blood (salary cap specialist Andrew Lugerner, for instance, has never worked for an NHL team in an official capacity).

“‘Low-ego, hard-working people’ is a pretty good description of a lot of the people who have come to work for us,” said McCrimmon, echoing his boss’s no-I-in-team mantra.

“We have quite the cross-section of people,” McPhee added. “We didn’t want clones, we wanted people from all walks of life and different experiences in hockey.”

A handful of the organization’s top dogs — McPhee, McCrimmon, Craven, director of hockey operations Misha Donskov and Lugerner, director of hockey legal affairs — have relocated to the Vegas area.

Some who spend the bulk of their time on the road, such as Vaughn Karpan (director of player personnel), Bob Lowes (assistant director of player personnel), Scott Luce (director of amateur scouting), and Wil Nichol (director of player development), will be key parts of the daily process, too.

Youngsters, such as 28-year-old hockey operations analyst Tom Poraszka, founder of and the most recent hiring, as well as 25-year-old Quebec-based scout Raphael Pouliot, will also have their voices heard.

Those on the inside use words like “inclusiveness” and “synergy” to describe the dynamic, and senior advisor David Conte believes McPhee possesses the right personality to organize the chaos.

Conte and McPhee met nearly 40 years ago when the GM played forward for Bowling Green State University, but this is the first time the pair has worked together in a front office environment. Colour Conte impressed.

“I say this about Lou (Lamoriello) all the time: he listens more than he talks,” says Conte, who spent 31 years working for Lamoriello’s New Jersey Devils. McPhee’s the same way.

“I think it’s a really good management tool. Lou always listened more than he spoke. They’re not pontificating or any of that kind of stuff. They’re listening to what you have to say and they’re asking relevant questions. I think that’s the essence of good leadership and I think both of them embody those qualities.”

Garth Snow can certainly speak to McPhee’s versatility as a hockey man. Last year, the New York Islanders GM leaned on McPhee, who held the title of special advisor on Long Island for the 2015-16 season, for just about everything hockey-related.

“It doesn’t matter who he ends up touching — whether it’s a conversation with a player, sitting in with the coaches for a video session, scouting games at the amateur level or the pro level with some or one of our scouts on the staff — you’re always picking his brain and trying to make yourself better,” Snow said. “I think he was really helpful to our organization in that regard.”

Added Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Connor Carrick, a former Capital whom McPhee drafted in 2012: “He was a great leader at the top. I know myself and a lot of guys respected him. I’m sure he’ll do well in Vegas.”

With two sets of meetings behind them — including an early-October pow wow in Vegas, which featured a mock expansion draft — the puck has officially been dropped on this gap season.

The hard work is only beginning for this green front office.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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