LAS VEGAS -- Last June, Bill Foley owned an NHL team without any NHL players. The Vegas Golden Knights were pieced together through the expansion draft and the trades that arrived with it. After scanning the roster, Foley's expectations were modest.
"We don't have high expectations for this year. We're going to be competitive. If we're going to lose a game, we'd like to lose by a goal or two, not lose by five or six. We don't want to be a walkover team," he told ESPN in 2017. "We want to be competitive, we want to be entertaining on the ice, we want to score some goals."
The Knights scored some goals, averaging 3.27 goals per game for fifth in the NHL. They gave up 2.74 goals per game, so the team was competitive. As for entertainment ... well, that's where Foley's team far transcended his expectations, thanks to a record-setting season for the first-year team that included a division championship and a postseason run that left them just three wins away from the Stanley Cup.
We caught up with Foley at the NHL Awards to discuss the next steps for his franchise, and to reminisce a bit about their incredible ride.
ESPN: You said last year that you had a long-term plan for success. Has the timeline changed?
Foley: Moved up.
ESPN: Moved up?
Foley: Absolutely. It was the playoffs in three years, the Stanley Cup in five. Now we're [in] the playoffs in one year, the Final in one, so yeah, it's moved up. I'm not going to tell you what the new timeline is, but I intend to bring a number of Stanley Cups to Las Vegas.
ESPN: This first season of the Golden Knights had so many incredible moments. Was there one that stands out for you as the most memorable?
Foley: The one that really stands out for me, in terms of when I realized we weren't just lucky or just doing OK, was the dad's trip [on Dec. 8]. We went to Nashville and beat them, and then the next night we went to Dallas and beat them. I said, 'You know, this team is going to do something this year.' I was really convinced of it. Then we went on our December run. I had to put up with all the 'Well, OK, they got this far, but they're not really good. Wait until they get to the All-Star break. Wait until they get to the trade deadline. If they make the playoffs, they won't go anywhere.' I absolutely love proving people wrong.
ESPN: When I was here in December working on the 'Vegas Flu' story, I was trying to figure out why your team was as good as it was. When you look back, what's your diagnosis?
Foley: It was a very unselfish team that played well together. Low ego, and low maintenance. And our coaching staff is low ego, low maintenance. They allow people to make mistakes, and still come back and play the next night. They don't bench people for making a bad pass. And [GM] George [McPhee] is experienced. He just knows how to keep on constructing things.
ESPN: But George is probably the first guy who will tell you that winning breeds ego, that it can be a symptom of success. So how do you maintain that humble nature in light of that?
Foley: We're a down-to-earth team. I'm around the players a lot. We make sure they know that we're all just common people. They love being here. They love being in Las Vegas. It's a great town to play hockey in. I'm not too worried about us becoming elitist or ego-driven in any way.
ESPN: Would that 'keep it humble' approach preclude you from making a significant acquisition via free agency or a trade? Someone that could be a foundational player, but who would be a big fish in this pond? Take Jonathan Marchessault for example: He's your leading scorer, he's the top center, he re-signed here ... what if, all of a sudden, there's big ticket free-agent veteran whose salary demands No. 1 center ice time?
Foley: As long as we bring in the right people, with the right temperament, that are true team players. That's what hockey is all about. That's what the U.S. Army is all about, when I was there. It's all about being a team player. Low ego. Stay in your lane. And that's what we're doing here.
ESPN: Are you expecting to make a big splash this summer, whether in free agency or with a big trade?
Foley: We've got a lot of cap space. A lot. On the order of $40 million, when you take in everything that might happen and might not happen. We can do some things. But they're all going to be things that are done within the concept of the team. Not doing something that's going to foul up the way these guys are together.
ESPN: So even though you have a loaded gift card of cap space, you're not going on a shopping spree at the free-agency mall?
Foley: [Laughs] No, no, we're not doing that. We have to worry about what we're going to do in two years, three years and down the road. We have a lot of young players in the pipeline, and a lot of great draft picks coming up.
ESPN: Speaking of the future: When is Las Vegas getting an All-Star Game?
Foley: They were talking about that at [the Board of Governors meeting]. It's really a matter of ... we have the collective bargaining agreement renegotiation coming up in 2019. I would say it would be after that, maybe 2022 or 2023. We need some time to get organized. It's a big job to put on an All-Star Game. We're pretty much buried right now with our own team.
ESPN: What about an outdoor game? Obviously, you have to wait for the Raiders' stadium to get done to host one, but what about being the road team for one?
Foley: No discussions yet, but I'm sure we will be.
ESPN: How do you keep the fans rabid for next season and beyond? You have an interesting challenge in that you were so successful in Year 1.
Foley: We try to be part of Las Vegas in every way we can. Sometimes it's the players going out and getting involved in the community and charities. We do fan fests. We are engaged with the fans in a big way.
ESPN: Those fans bought a lot of Golden Knights gear, which brings me to my next question: What's going on with that trademark dispute with the Army?
Foley: Oh, we're fine. We're fine. As I understand it, the matter is now going to the Secretary of the Army.
ESPN: Do you have any advice for Seattle, assuming they're next for an NHL expansion team?
Foley: The commissioner has asked that I keep my advice about other teams to myself. [Laughs]
ESPN: OK, finally: The Knight that comes out before the games and fends off attacking opponents with his sword pretty much became a sensation during the playoffs, with NBC showing the entire pregame. To me, that's the perfect balance between in-arena entertainment and the essence of Vegas glitz. What do you think of it?
Foley: Well, I created it, so I really like it. It was my idea.
ESPN: Was it your idea to have him chop a jet in half when Vegas played Winnipeg in the Western Conference Final?
Foley: Uh, that was not my idea.