A man of many hats, Murray Craven is the Las Vegas Golden Knights' master builder

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Gary Bettman: Having Las Vegas in NHL will advance league
Wednesday January 18th, 2017

On this day, the former NHL player picked out toilets.

In another life Murray Craven appeared in 1,071 regular-season games, spanning 18 years and six different teams. A productive left winger, he scored 20 goals six times, reaching the ’85 Stanley Cup Final with the Flyers. Now he looks at wall-hung units and decides, yes, they’ll be easier to clean because mops can fit underneath. “It’s not sexy,” he says, “but someone’s got to do that s---.”

If the pun was intentional, Craven betrays no acknowledgement. But the oversight is understandable; he’s got enough on his mind these days. During the workweek he oversees construction of the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ new practice facility, located in suburban Summerlin. This involves everything from 90-minute morning meetings to hard-hat site visits to choosing security systems to interviewing candidates for the rink’s general manager job, all of which Craven crammed into last Tuesday. Oh, and the toilets. “Automatic flushes,” he reports. “As environmentally friendly as a toilet can be.”

Five months ago, Vegas owner Bill Foley gave Craven, his longtime advisor during the expansion process, an official title: Senior Vice President. In other organizations this might hint at certain upper-management comfort, but the truth is that Craven has actually been working two jobs. Each Friday, he hops onto a plane and spends the weekend at NHL games, usually in Los Angeles or Anaheim. So, it’s more like, Senior Vice President/Pro Scout. “I’ve probably only played four or five rounds of golf in the last eight months,” Craven says. “That’s not me. I like to golf. It’s cut into my recreational time, let me tell you.”

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He laughs. “I’m loving it. Don’t get me wrong. I can make fun of it all day long, but I’m loving it. It’s challenging. It’s fulfilling. We haven’t even stated playing yet. I can’t imagine when we start playing and going to watch our team play, to see the fruition of it, that’s what the goal is now. It’s been a long time for me. I’ve been here for three years. Now it’s like holy cow, it’s just around the corner now.”

Indeed, all of the day-to-day grunt work happening in the desert—the scouting reports, the morning meetings, the toilets—points toward the same major checkpoints: The expansion and amateur drafts in late June, the projected opening of the practice facility in August, and the inaugural season-opener in October. And as the process chugs along, it’s certainly arguable that, shy of Foley and his ownership group shelling out $500 million in expansion fees, no one has been more instrumental to getting the operation off the ground than Craven.

And to think, less than four years ago, he was just a dad sitting on a dock.

B Bennett/Getty Images

By now the origin story has been told many times. Bill Foley pulled his boat up to Craven’s property on Whitefish Lake in Montana. (In addition to neighbors on the lake, they had also become golfing buddies.) They chitchatted for a bit, and as Foley prepared to leave, he told Craven something to the effect of, “I’m trying to put an NHL team in Las Vegas.” To which Craven replied with something like, “You’re out of your f---ing mind.”

Today, Craven says his initial skepticism was rooted in “that whole gambling issue that was never entertained in professional leagues.” But the harder he thought, the more he realized that, from the inside, Las Vegas was an ideal market. During his career, Craven suited up for Philadelphia, Chicago, San Jose, Hartford, Detroit and Vancouver. Sin City offered something entirely new. “I think every single NHL player is sitting back going, yeah, we want to be there,” he says. “I know I would’ve.”

At the time, Craven never saw himself returning to hockey at the highest level. Upon retirement he had spent one year working in player development for the Sharks, but nothing more. He enjoyed coaching his kids—two daughters, one son—at the local rink. He also entered the construction business, refurbishing offices, building houses for himself and friends. “Would’ve lived happily ever after in Montana,” he says.

Until Foley asked for help. To the billionaire businessman who made his fortune in financial services and wineries, Craven provided an insider’s perspective. Some of his NHL peers had graduated into front-office positions around the league: GMs Steve Yzerman, Doug Wilson, Ron Hextall, Joe Sakic, Ken Holland and Marc Bergevin, for instance. “My contemporaries are all board of governors now,” Craven says. “They’re those guys.”

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As a former player, Craven was also tasked with designing the locker rooms at T-Mobile Arena, ensuring they would meet NHL standards. He found the initial plans in dire need of upgrading. “We didn’t have a fitness room,” he says. “Everything that needs to go into it—hot and cold plunge pools, players’ lounge area, how the media is received after games, there’s all kinds of considerations, how equipment moves in and out. We have to have x-ray technicians in the facility.”

To build the practice facility, Craven hit the road for inspiration. He traveled around the continent, meeting with trainers and equipment managers and rink operators, cobbling together his favorite ideas. The dressing room, for instance, is modeled after the Chicago Blackhawks’ setup. An upper-level restaurant located in the middle of the building was borrowed from San Jose. Craven fell in love with the layout of the ICON Sports Center, a community rink in Grand Forks, N.D. “It doesn’t copy anybody, but it uses elements,” Craven says. “I don’t need to go reinvent the wheel.”

Which is not to say that Craven lacks innovation. He’s been working on establishing a partnership with UFC, which is currently building its new headquarters in Las Vegas. “I could see a UFC fighter coming and training with hockey guys, or vice versa, in the off-season,” he says. “I think players would think that’s pretty cool.” One Thursday last fall, Craven attended “Love,” the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show at the Mirage. He spent six hours backstage during the performance, trailing the show’s head of sports medicine, observing how Cirque trained and took care of its legion of acrobats.

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“They have 500 performers here in town, and they have a lot of injuries, stuff they do creates a lot of stress on the body,” Craven says. “They’ve got the biggest athletic team in town. Las Vegas isn’t that big of a city. We want to have good relationships with the UFC headquarters to the Cirque du Soleil performers. We’re going to show you – this is how we train, and vice versa. I hope there’s a mutual respect among everybody in Las Vegas. I don’t see us competing too much. Yes, we’re competing for the entertainment dollar with Cirque, but to think we’re going to unseat Cirque du Soleil in our town would certainly be a mistake, but we want a piece of it.”

But those are big-picture issues, best left to the business arm of the front office that Foley has assembled. Some time in the future, Craven envisions himself transitioning further into the hockey operations department under GM George McPhee. (In another old-time connection, McPhee was the assistant GM in Vancouver when Craven played there.) It’s why he rushes off every weekend, and plans to expand his territory to Arizona, San Jose and Calgary over the next month. “Some day this practice facility’s going to be finished, so I want to move onto the next phase of helping build this team,” he says. “Just because we put the initial team together, the work never stops.”

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