By Andy Eide
The last time that Kelly McCrimmon made a public appearance in the Seattle area was May of 2016 at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent. Surrounded by his Brandon Wheat King players, McCrimmon hoisted the Ed Chynoweth Cup over his head in jubilation to celebrate coaching the Wheat Kings to a WHL Championship Series win over the Seattle Thunderbirds. Three years later, it seems likely that McCrimmon’s next public appearance in the Puget Sound region will be as a general manager of an NHL franchise.
The question is, will it be as NHL Seattle’s General Manager, or another franchise?
After winning that WHL title, McCrimmon moved up to the NHL as the Assistant General Manager, working alongside George McPhee, with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. He was part of the Vegas management group that put together the best expansion year in any sport, as the Golden Knights advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season.
With the Golden Knights being eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of this year’s playoffs, McCrimmon appears to be a top candidate to get one of the available general manager positions.
Seattle should be in the mix and would be attractive but so would the Edmonton Oilers, who are also in pursuit of McCrimmon.
“I will say that I’d be shocked in Edmonton doesn’t offer him their position,” The Athletic’s Jesse Granger says. “It’s not every day you get a chance to GM a team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Yeah, they have a ton of bad contracts to deal with and you wouldn’t have that in Seattle. It might be worth taking on a few bad contracts to get a chance to build a team around McDavid. It would be tough to turn that down.”
McCrimmon is still under contract with Vegas and both the Golden Knights and NHL Seattle offered a ‘no comment’ to inquiries from NHL to Seattle about whether permission to speak with him had been requested.
A long-time hockey man, McCrimmon’s resume is impressive and its clear to see why he is being so highly coveted.
His hockey career will always be linked to the Canadian prairies with the Brandon Wheat Kings. As a player with Brandon he won the WHL Championship in 1979 and eventually joined the Wheat Kings as an assistant coach in 1988. A year later he was moved to the head coach position and remained behind the bench until 1992 when he became the General Manager.
The Wheat Kings, with McCrimmon running the front office, won the WHL Championship in 1996. He would step back behind the bench and act as both head coach and general manger to start the 2003 season which culminated with the 2016 victory against Seattle.
He is now an owner of the Wheat Kings and not only won a championship as a player, coach and general manager, but turned Brandon into a perennial contender in the WHL while developing numerous NHL and pro players. That includes current Vegas star Mark Stone who played for McCrimmon in Brandon from 2008 through 2012 — Stone was a key piece that Vegas picked up during this year’s trade deadline.
Thunderbirds Vice President of Hockey Operations Russ Farwell, who was the long-time general manager in Seattle, competed against McCrimmon for decades in the WHL.
“He sharp,” Farwell says of McCrimmon. “He’s a smart guy, well organized, he’s determined, and he works really hard. That’s what he is as a guy. I think what really would make him attractive is that experience of going through that expansion.”
Vegas hit a home run with the expansion draft prior to its inaugural season.
The Golden Knights found talent and shrewdly made trades that helped build the foundation of what is one of the top clubs in the NHL. General Manager George McPhee ran that draft, but McCrimmon was right there with him, learning.
“We’ll never know how much of an impact Kelly McCrimmon had on that and I’m sure he had plenty,” Granger adds in regards to the expansion draft. “No matter what, he went through that and saw how it worked. He was there for all the conversations and I can’t think of anyone who is more prepared to go through an expansion draft than Kelly McCrimmon.”
If he were to come to Seattle, the expansion draft would obviously be the first focus for McCrimmon. Beyond that however, the amateur draft becomes the main mechanism to build a team.
In Vegas, McCrimmon played a big role in that draft.
The Golden Knights drafted a strong pool of prospects, led by Portland Winterhawks star Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki. They were able to turn Suzuki into Max Pacioretty via a trade with Montreal and he helped give Vegas a strong second line.
“I think he’s a good evaluator, but I also think he’s smart,” Farwell says. “What they did in Vegas is they went and got real good people. They built a staff and a lot of those guys were guys that Kelly knew.”
McCrimmon has not worked in the NHL as a general manager and there would still be some sort of learning curve.
He does have decades of experience running a hockey franchise as a general manager in junior however. It’s a jump that isn’t easy and one that Farwell is familiar with. After his first stint as the Thunderbirds general manager, Farwell took the same job with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1990, spending four years as an NHL general manager.
Farwell says taking that step is different now than it was then and thinks that McCrimmon’s time spent as an assistant the past two seasons will pay dividends.
“That will be really good for him,” Farwell says. “It’s a more complicated and bigger job than when I went. We didn’t have a salary cap in those days. The layers and the levels and the number of people working there are probably three times from when I was there. The business has grown.
“I think the experience, being there to evaluate the contracts, being through a couple of trade deadlines with George and prepping for the draft, those deadlines and the way you have to think ahead with the salary cap, that’s all really good experience. That puts him in great stead. He’s ready to go.”
He may be ready to go but where will he go, and will Vegas let him go?
Vegas owner Bill Foley said in his postseason press conference that he wanted to try and keep McCrimmon.
“The golden knights really don’t want to lose Kelly McCrimmon, he’s been very important to them,” Granger says. “I think they’ll do everything they can, other than make him the GM, to keep him around.”
McCrimmon will have options, most likely in Seattle or in Edmonton and it doesn’t seem like the Golden Knights will stop him from taking one of those jobs, if offered.
With the season over in Vegas and at least two teams vying for his services, things could move quickly. NHL Seattle has talked generally about looking to hire a general manager over the next couple of months. Will they talk to McCrimmon? Will McCrimmon choose to go through an expansion draft and season again or is the chance to build around the best player in the NHL up in Edmonton going to be the deciding factor?
Whichever way it goes, the consensus is that McCrimmon is ready and is going to be a strong NHL general manager.
“He’s smart enough that he’s going to hire real good people and not try to do it by himself,” Farwell says. “He’s shrewd, he’s sharp and he works hard. He’ll find people to help him build.”