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Golden Knights hold all the cards heading into expansion draft

| Monday, June 19, 2017, 7:15 p.m.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury blocks a shot on goal against the Senators in the second period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday, May 13, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.

George McPhee is spending a fleeting moment as The Godfather of the NHL during the Vegas Golden Knights' expansion window.

He holds the cards for a significant chunk of the league's talent, fielding calls from fellow general managers willing to trade something to keep McPhee from plucking certain players from their rosters, or to take someone from another team to flip in a deal.

All trade roads run through Vegas. And every move has its price ahead of Wednesday night's official announcement of the Vegas roster.

“Whatever you want to give us has to be better than what we can claim from that club,” McPhee said in Las Vegas on Sunday. “Then we're going to go to that club and say: ‘We have interest in this player, there's another club that has interest in this player. How do we want to do this? How can we protect your roster? You can negotiate your way out of this if you wish.'”

He emphasized each team will be contacted and given the opportunity to have a say in protecting its roster. But he said Monday was the final day for GMs to make pitches and hold negotiations because Vegas was planning to pick its team Tuesday.

“It's going to take us a while to pick the team (Tuesday), because one change in this matrix affects everything: with your cap now, with your cap going forward, with the cap that you have done for this expansion draft, with the cap that you need for the regular season,” McPhee said. “Is the player under contract? Not under contract? Does he fit the positional requirements? So that's why you can't get too cute and try to complicate it too much.”

Beyond building what could be the most competitive expansion team in NHL history, McPhee has the golden opportunity to play some desperate teams against each other and build a collection of draft picks and other assets. Vegas must pick one player from each of the existing 30 teams, but there's only so much room on the roster next season even with some minor league prospects thrown in.

Vegas easily could get its franchise goaltender in the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury, a top-line scoring winger with 10 20-goal seasons in Nashville's James Neal and a top-pairing defenseman in Ottawa's Marc Methot while also picking up some potentially high draft picks for staying away from young talent from Anaheim, Columbus and the New York Islanders.

Shortly after protected lists were released Sunday morning, GMs began calling McPhee to try to poach available players from other teams. Opportunistic GMs can feed the Golden Knights' future to get a player who otherwise wouldn't be on the trade market.

“Everybody's going to have conversations,” Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames said. “The staring contest ends. ... Now you start to have discussions and see if there's things in there that can help.”

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