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Golden Knights shifting to win-now mode after Max Pacioretty trade

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George McPhee had this thought process since the expansion draft. Vegas is ahead of schedule and he’s taking advantage of it.

Detroit Red Wings v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The vibe during Vegas Golden Knights training camp will be a drastic flip from what it was this time last year when it opens Friday. Vegas is going win-now in Year 2.

That was the message sent by George McPhee late Sunday night when the Golden Knights acquired Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens. Rather than falling behind a step after losing James Neal and David Perron this summer, McPhee and the Golden Knights have revamped in such a way that offsets those losses.

The trade for Pacioretty and the signing of Paul Stastny revitalizes Vegas’ second line while, arguably, improving it tenfold.

“Teams change from year to year,” McPhee said. “We’ve added a couple of players in Stastny and Pacioretty that are good two-way players and good character people. I hope that we’re a better team than we were last year. Time will tell.”

“He fits our club. He fits the personality of our club.”

Vegas was determined to get Pacioretty since June, a few days after the NHL Draft, McPhee said. Talks were ongoing for the better part of three months — sometimes a lot of chatter, and other times dormant — and talks intensified as of Sunday. Pacioretty was not going to commit to a trade unless the receiving team would follow through with a contract extension. Vegas signed the star goal scorer to a four-year extension worth an AAV of $7 million on Monday.

Montreal was first reluctant to give Vegas the time to work something out with Pacioretty. McPhee was given a six-to-seven-hour window Sunday with Pacioretty and his agent Allan Walsh on an extension, starting at noon. The terms were agreed to at 6:59 p.m. Thus began the creation of the package — Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick for a player with the third most even-strength goals scored since 2011-12.

“He fits our club. He fits the personality of our club,” McPhee said, adding Pacioretty has familiarity with coach Gerard Gallant. The Jack Adams winner was an assistant at Montreal in 2012. “We thought it was an opportunity that would be good for this hockey club if we could make it work.”

That’s general-manager speak for anyone making such trades, but that’s been McPhee’s mindset since February’s trade deadline. Bringing in Ryan Reaves, who went from benchwarmer to vital player in a Stanley Cup Final, is an example. He was rewarded a two-year deal this summer for his play.

But there are those deals that would make any ‘huh’ gif appropriate — like shifting the entire course of Vegas’ bottom six by trading Brendan Leipsic, and hoping Tatar could provide could be half of what he was in Detroit. Giving up a first, second and third-round pick to do it will go down as a hefty blunder in McPhee’s Vegas tenure, no matter the spin.

“The [Tatar deal] was market driven,” McPhee said. “That’s the price we paid to help our hockey club. We can’t let decisions we make three months ago affect the decisions we make today.”

“We’re comfortable with what we’re doing, or else we wouldn’t be doing it.”

But McPhee felt, and still has some inkling, that acquiring all of the draft picks he gathered in the days leading up to the expansion draft led to this purpose. As of July 4, 2017, the Golden Knights had 21 draft picks from 2019 to 2020. Now? It’s 18. Only one pick given up was originally Vegas’ own — the 2019 seventh-round pick traded to Pittsburgh for the Golden Knights to select goalie Jordan Kooy in the seventh round of this year’s draft.

The other two picks given up: 2019 second-round pick from Columbus in the Pacioretty trade (Blue Jackets gave it to Vegas to take William Karlsson), and the 2019 second-round pick from the Islanders that was given to Vegas, so it could move up to No. 15 and draft Erik Brannstrom (the pick was flipped to Detroit for Tatar).

“What we tried to accomplish in the expansion draft was to put a good team on the ice and to get a lot of surplus picks that we will use to either draft our way to a championship, or to acquire players to help us win now, and we’re doing that,” McPhee said. “We still have a lot of picks. I think this organization is in a good place. We’re here to try and win and do it every year. We’re comfortable with what we’re doing, or else we wouldn’t be doing it.”

“We are a better team today than we were yesterday.”

The Golden Knights are not losing assets. The cupboard isn’t dry. Vegas has three third-round picks in 2019 and three second-round picks in 2020. Even if the Golden Knights wanted to make one more trade, they have the means to do it. That’s why players like Erik Karlsson are still a possibility for Vegas. The Golden Knights are in a position that teams wish they could be in.

This isn’t the vision McPhee had for Year 2, but it was the grand plan down the road. Of course, last season changed those plans.

This year turns into Vegas trying to reload for a chance at the Stanley Cup. The Golden Knights have to go through a much more difficult Pacific Division — Arizona will be better, Edmonton has to improve (right?), San Jose is still stacked, Anaheim and L.A. are still going to be there at the end.

Until proven otherwise, the Golden Knights are the favorites in the West. They’ve also proven they won’t go away quietly, now with Pacioretty in the fold.

“We are a better team today than we were yesterday,” McPhee said.