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By Scott Taylor

Photos by James Carey Lauder and Jeff Miller

On the ice the 2018 Stanley Cup final will be a war of wills between Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin and Vegas Golden Knights’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

It’s what the TV announcers will discuss ad nauseum and the hockey columnists will debate for the next six months.

However, to be frank, the 2018 NHL championship is really about one man. It’s the George McPhee Series.

Not only did McPhee, with assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon, build the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, but he and current GM Brian McClellan built the Washington Capitals, as well.

McPhee was the GM of the Caps from 1997-98 until the end of the 2013-14 season. Not only will he win general manager of the year this season for becoming the first GM in the modern-day history of any major sport to get an expansion team into the league final (and we aren’t counting the NHL’s expansion manipulation of 1968), he was also the guy most responsible for building the team that is favored, by some, to win the final.

PLAYER

ACQUIRED

Alex Ovechkin

’04 Draft, First Round (First)

Nicklas Backstrom

’06 Draft, First Round (Fourth)

Jay Beagle

’07 Undrafted Free Agent

John Carlson

’08 Draft, First Round (27th)

Braden Holtby

’08 Draft, Fourth Round (93rd)

Dmitry Orlov

’09 Draft, Second Round (55th)

Evgeny Kuznetsov

’09 Draft, First Round (26th)

Philipp Grubauer

’10 Draft, Fourth Round (112th)

Travis Boyd

’10 Draft, Sixth Round (177th)

Tom Wilson

’12 Draft, First Round (16th)

Chandler Stephenson

’12 Draft, Third Round (77th)

Christian Djoos

’12 Draft, Seventh Round (195th)

Andre Burakovsky

’13 Draft, First Round (23rd)

Madison Bowey

’13 Draft, Second Round (53rd)

The only other GM currently working in the NHL who has hit on recent draft picks as well as McPhee is probably Kevin Cheveldayoff of the Winnipeg Jets whose club lost to McPhee’s Golden Knights in the Western Conference final.

So here we are, in the Stanley Cup championship round with a team that belongs to George McPhee playing against a team that was built by George McPhee.

Marc Andre Fleury

But while the McPhee story is clearly the most intriguing angle of the 2018 Stanley Cup final, there are two others that carry as much weight – an expansion franchise in the final and Alexander Ovechkin.

It could be argued that Ovechkin is the best player in the game NOT to have won the Cup. Starting on Monday, the Capitals 31-year-old captain will have a chance to raise Lord Stanley’s prize for the first time.
“Finally we get what we want, be in the Stanley Cup final,” the 32-year-old 13-year veteran said. “There’s still a lot of hockey to play. I feel very happy, but we’re not finished yet. We’ve been waiting for this moment a long time.”
This season scored 49 goals to lead the NHL and finished with 87 points, 11th in the NHL. He is the best pure scorer in the game today and he’s playing as if he’s 18-years-old. He’s second in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 22 points, two points behind linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has 11 goals and 24 points. Ovechkin has the tools to carry his team and be the difference in this series.
While it’s taken the Capitals 44 years, more than 3,000 games and 27 failed playoff attempts to finally reach the championship round, the Golden Knights didn’t even exist a year ago. Now, they are the first expansion team ever to reach the final (not counting the manipulated 1968 expansion) and they breezed through the Western Conference, scoring 43 goals and allowing 27 while going 12-3 to eliminate the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets.

The Knights have done a lot of this in April and May

“It's a big credit to the people who created this entire organization a year before we even got picked up,” said Vegas forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. “They did all the work to make Vegas feel like home. We felt welcome. They were clear about how we had to play if we wanted to be successful. I feel like every guy has understood that and played a role in that. When you have 20 guys or more that understand their role and play only for the team, it's a successful team even if we don't have the biggest superstar in the League, besides our goalie.”
And their goalie is indeed a superstar. Marc-Andre Fleury won three Cups in Pittsburgh and is on the verge of winning another in Vegas. He has been the best goaltender in the post-season and he’s clearly the front-runner to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

He has a .947 save percentage with a 1.68 GAA in 15 games. His even-strength save percentage is .956, the best in history among goalies with at least 15 games in a single postseason. It was Wayne Gretzky who said, “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take,” but against Fleury, in these playoffs, you miss 94.7% of the shots you do take. Fact is, he was single-handedly responsible for taking out the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the Western Conference final.

Meanwhile, Vegas went 2-0 against the Capitals in the regular season, winning 3-0 at home on Dec. 23 and 4-3 in Washington on Feb. 4.
I like Capitals a lot. Man-for-man, I think they’re the better team. But until somebody solves the mystery of Marc-Andre Fleury, I like the Golden Knights in seven.

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