One year after his team's messy split with KHL star Vadim Shipachyov, Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee is telling a new side to the story.
The Golden Knights and Shipachyov agreed to terminate the forward's two-year, $9 million contract last fall after Shipachyov became unhappy with his assignment to the AHL's Chicago Wolves. McPhee said last season that Shipachyov was sent to the AHL because he didn't require waivers and the team was still finalizing their roster.
However, speaking to TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun, McPhee said it was Shipachyov's on-ice work that led to his return to Russia and added it set a strong precedent for the team.
“That there’s no entitlement,” McPhee said in an article published to The Athletic. “We had a coach from another team who mentioned that he thought that that was one of the best moves we made initially. That we committed to that player, he came here, wasn’t committed to us, wasn’t ready to play, and ownership supported a hard decision to send a $9-million contract to the minors.
"But the message was clear to everyone that it doesn’t matter what your status is, if you’re to check the ego at the door and compete hard, and be a team guy, then there’s a great opportunity here. If not, we don’t have time for it.’’
McPhee's comments to LeBrun were far different than his statements a year ago, when Shipachyov joined highly touted prospects Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch in the minors while the team carried nine one-way contract defencemen on their opening-day roster.
“That’s a numbers decision,” McPhee said last October of Shipachyov's demotion to the AHL. “As you know, we had three guys who we could assign, and we did, to give us the room that we needed to carry what we are carrying. I do not have a specific date when that will change, but we are working on things.
“...[Shipachyov and his agent] didn’t understand initially. But they do now. This is a roster move that’s not about performance. The three guys we sent down have all earned the right to be here. And we’ll get them here at the right time or as soon as we can.”
The Golden Knights allowed Shipachyov to remain in Vegas and not report to the Chicago Wolves to open the season. He debuted in the team's lineup on Oct. 15 and appeared in three straight games, posting one goal and a plus-2 rating while averaging less than 11 minutes of ice time. When Jonathan Marchessault became healthy again though, Shipachyov was sent back to the Wolves and this time told he must go to Chicago.
With Shipachyov unhappy, the team granted his agent permission to try to work out a trade. He was suspended a short time later for leaving the AHL team and returning to Russia.
The eventual solution reached by NHL and NHLPA was to have Shipachyov voluntarily retire and repay his $2 million signing bonus from the team, minus the prorated amount for his time served with the team.
McPhee revealed after the split was made final that Vegas had a deal in place to trade Shipachyov, but the forward elected to return to Russia instead. He Golden Knights posted nine goals and 25 points in 22 games upon joining SKA St. Petersburg last season.
"They say one thing to your face and when it comes to hockey, something else," Shipachyov said after returning to the KHL, adding that his NHL experience had been "two months of misunderstandings, smiles and conversations which had nothing to do with reality."
The saga appeared to have little impact on the Golden Knights roster, as the team got off to a 9-5-1 start while the drama was unfolding and ultimately won the Pacific Division.