George McPhee feels like a general manager again.

Building a franchise from the ground up is a thrilling undertaking, and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights GM has loved every second of hiring staff and deciding on charter companies, designing a practice facility and looking at uniform mock-ups.

But the real fun of being a GM is watching hockey games and chatting up fellow managers, and the Golden Knights are a whisker from officially becoming the NHL’s 31st franchise.

“It’s really been a lot of fun, as you can imagine,” said McPhee, taking a break from his search for the first coach in Golden Knights history to scout the Wild-Dallas Stars game Thursday. “Just being named the first GM of a franchise is really a treat, to have built it to the point we have. But now, to actually be talking hockey with other GMs has been a great deal of fun.”

Vegas is all in. The final installment of Bill Foley’s $500 million expansion fee is ready to be pushed to the middle of the table. But all the paperwork that comes with such a sale has proved to be slow and painstaking. The team doesn’t become transactional until after the closing, and the date of the closing is still uncertain.

McPhee’s hope is for it to occur by the March 1 trade deadline so he can jump into the fray, plus start pursuing college, junior and European free agents.

Of course, what most fans care about is how this will affect their favorite team during the June 20 expansion draft. By 4 p.m. June 17, 30 teams must submit their protected and exposed lists — either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or eight skaters and one goaltender.

The Wild is expected to choose the former. Vegas must select one player per club, including 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. It must select at least 20 players under contract next season with their contracts reaching at least 60 percent of this season’s $73 million salary cap ceiling.

McPhee’s phone already is buzzing with GMs trying to make deals in principle. He is permitted to eventually make expansion-draft trades with teams. In other words, McPhee says, “Maybe we take a pick or prospect to promise not to take this player from a team or to take a player from that team.”

Asked if he has begun such talks with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, McPhee gave a wry smile.

“Chuck has been professional and realistic,” McPhee said. “He’s accepted, like a lot of people have, you’re going to lose a player. That’s what happens with expansion. Every team’s going to get $17 million [1/30 of $500 million], and for that $17 million, it’s going to give us a player.”

No-move clauses must be protected, meaning on the Wild, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter.

That means up front, the Wild can protect four among Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Eric Staal, Chris Stewart and Jason Zucker. The Wild eventually could ask, say, Pominville to waive his no-move for exposure to Vegas, which would allow one other forward to be protected.

On the back end, the Wild can protect two among Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Christian Folin, Gustav Olofsson, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.

So, as McPhee said, the Wild will lose a good player, although perhaps Fletcher can strike a deal to essentially dictate which player Vegas selects.

“I’ve built high-flying teams in the past, offensive, entertaining teams and would like to do the same thing,” said McPhee, the Washington Capitals GM for 17 years. “What we do with the expansion draft hasn’t been settled yet because until we see the entire universe of what teams want to do, who they want to protect and expose, we don’t know which way we’re going to go.”

Most of that activity will come in June.

If Vegas closes by March 1, it can make trades involving draft picks and unsigned players, not warm bodies on current NHL rosters because there’s no place for that warm body to go yet.

So McPhee will be doing a ton of deal-making and collecting draft picks the way casinos collect chips on a craps table.

What fun.


Michael Russo can be heard on 100.3-FM and seen on FSN. Blog: Twitter: @russostrib E-mail: