LAS VEGAS — When Kelly McCrimmon took a phone call from George McPhee in July 2016, little did either one know how much their relationship would impact the National Hockey League and arguably one of the fastest growing professional sports cities in North America.
Thursday the bond grew stronger.
Sitting alongside owner Bill Foley before a packed room, McPhee announced the Vegas Golden Knights had promoted McCrimmon to general manager.
“It’s just amazing how the three years have gone,” McCrimmon said. “It’s so rare in this business to be hired by someone that you have not had a previous relationship with somewhere along the way.”
McPhee and Foley made the move amid speculation other NHL teams were interested in McCrimmon, who had served as McPhee’s top assistant since August 2016, a year before the franchise made its on-ice debut.
The Edmonton Oilers currently have a GM vacancy, and McCrimmon also was considered a leading candidate to take over Seattle’s expansion team. The NHL Seattle group is now expected to wait until next year to make a hire and see what other candidates emerge by that time.
The Seattle group had particular interest in both Steve Yzerman, now Detroit’s GM, and Ken Holland, who was named to a senior vice president position with the Red Wings. Holland seemed the more likely of the two to hit the open market had he chosen to continue in a GM capacity. When they were off the table, Seattle turned its focus to McCrimmon.
“I had my last job for 27 years, I’ve had this one for three; I love it,” McCrimmon said. “I wasn’t actively looking. I believe there may have been opportunities that might have come based on the work that all of us did.”
McPhee refused to identify any of the teams who requested permission to speak with McCrimmon, but did acknowledge he was contacted. He also said he never felt McCrimmon operated with “one foot in, one foot out,” and that he’s always been committed to the Golden Knights.
“It was apparent to me that Kelly would have opportunities, and he deserved them, he deserved the opportunities,” Foley said. “When George mentioned this, I said ‘you know, really, we’re early in our history, we’re two years into our actual playing history and if we’re going to create a dynasty, let’s not take a step backwards. Let’s try to keep everybody together.’
“And we’re fortunate that we’re not a budget team. We’re not one of these teams that is always on the edge in terms of financial performance. … As a result, we can make some things happen.”
While McPhee will remain the team’s president of hockey operations and in charge of hockey operations, McCrimmon takes over as the day-to-day contact for trades and other moves. Under McPhee and McCrimmon’s direction, Vegas made NHL history by reaching the Stanley Cup Final in its first season and made the playoffs in its second.
While thanking and acknowledging his family, McCrimmon fought back emotions when speaking about his brother, Brad, who was killed in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash on Sept. 7, 2011, en route to their first game of the season. Brad McCrimmon, who coached the Yaroslavl of the KHL, died along with nearly the entire team.
“It’s certainly a day where I think about my brother Brad, who, if I were to describe, would be the proudest and the least surprised. He was my biggest fan in my whole life always as I was his,” McCrimmon said. “Occasions like this where it kind of grabs you.”
McCrimmon, who came from the Western Hockey League where he built the Brandon Wheat Kings into a powerhouse at the junior level, also was inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame on Thursday.
Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker and AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.