Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The NHL's new breed of GM

It's been scantly more than a month since the Los Angeles Kings inked new general manager Dean Lombardi — the consensus star among the candidates out there — and in that time, three other NHL clubs have since added GMs.

May 24: Colorado Avalanche hire Francois Giguere
May 25: Pittsburgh Penguins hire Ray Shero
May 26: Boston Bruins hire Peter Chiarelli

The dates sort of have an interesting symmetry to them, although that's the case in far more ways than one. Given how Shero's hiring played out, with the former Nashville Predators assistant having his choice between the Penguins and Bruins (and choosing to stay far away from the management in Beantown), it's not a stretch to say the hirings were all intertwined.

What's interesting, too, is how all three men were in the assistant GM role with other organizations — Giguere with the Dallas Stars, Shero with the Predators and Chiarelli with the Ottawa Senators. As was pointed out during last Saturday's Satellite Hotstove, the assistant's job has traditionally gone to a "number-cruncher" rather than a hockey man — a description that fits all three like a (hockey) glove.

None of the three played in the NHL (or even minor pro), all are in their early 40s and are well-educated. (Giguere, for instance, is a certified accountant — something many woebegone franchises wish they had at the helm this season.)

Where Chiarelli and Shero did play was the NCAA, where both logged four years in the early 80s, and did so in the same division — the ECAC. A native of St. Paul, Minn., Shero was a high-scoring left winger for St. Lawrence University; Chiarelli came from Nepean, Ont., and studied economics at Harvard, where he captained the team during his final season.

Another similarity? Lombardi, Chiarelli and Shero all have law degrees, a distinction that is increasingly becoming a requisite qualification for the GM position.

What it all means is that the days of the Bobby Clarke types running a team's hockey operations are going the way of the dodo. After all, three of the most recently turfed GMs — Dave Taylor, Mike O'Connell and Craig Patrick — were all ex-NHLers who were replaced by guys without a lick of on-ice experience in the league.

While this is a changeover that's far from complete, the four newest additions to the GM fraternity mean that for the first time in a long time, the Brian Burkes outnumber the Clarkes.

At this point, only 12 of the NHL's current 29 GMs — the Islanders post is vacant — played more than a handful of games in the NHL: Buffalo's Darcy Regier (26 career games played), Calgary's Darryl Sutter (406), Carolina's Jim Rutherford (459), Chicago's Dale Tallon (642), Edmonton's Kevin Lowe (1,254), Montreal's Bob Gainey (1,160), Minnesota's Doug Risebrough (740), the Rangers' Glen Sather (658), Philadelphia's Bobby Clarke (1,144), San Jose's Doug Wilson (1,024), St. Louis' Larry Pleau (94), and Washington's George McPhee (115).

(In addition, Atlanta's Don Waddell played one while Detroit's Ken Holland had four.)

It all makes you wonder: Is hockey's next great mind more likely to be sitting in a rink or buried in law school texts?

And how surreal is it that one ramification of Gary Bettman's 'New NHL' is that those guiding teams are beginning to have more in common with the league's commissioner than the players on the ice?

The lawyer from New York may have won in more ways than one.

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7 Comments:

At 9:18 AM, May 31, 2006, Anonymous Lyle Richardson said...

When did Pierre Lacroix play in the NHL? He was a former player agent who once represented Patrick Roy, but I don't recall seeing anything where he played in the NHL.

 
At 9:20 AM, May 31, 2006, Blogger gsdgsd13 said...

There was another Pierre Lacroix that played for the Nords in the '80s, but it wasn't our guy.

 
At 11:21 AM, May 31, 2006, Anonymous Lyle Richardson said...

This may also signal a return to the days when hockey executives rarely if ever played at the NHL level.

Prior to Glen Sather building the Edmonton Oilers into a near-dynasty, most of the best GMs weren't former players. From Conn Smythe to Frank Selke to Sam Pollock to Bill Torrey to Cliff Fletcher, none of those men ever played NHL hockey.

That being said, James makes a very good point, that nowawadays a GM has to have a lot more on his resume that having been a former NHL player.

 
At 12:36 PM, May 31, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

When did Pierre Lacroix play in the NHL?

Yea, I'd thought that was strange. My mistake — I've changed it.

 
At 12:47 PM, May 31, 2006, Blogger Jes Gőlbez said...

One of my rantings over the years is how NHL teams use ex-players to run their hockey clubs and not qualified personnel. Playing hockey does not make one qualified to run a multi-million dollar business. The agents and NHLPA were handing the league its own ass because teams were run by jocks with little or no business background.

One doesn't necessarily need to be a lawyer to run a club (it's often the staff you hire in support), but having a business background is extremely important.

The one hitch that sports has is the pool of talent. A GM of a regular company has a larger pool of talent to choose from and is not competing head-to-head against other companies in an arena. GMs do need to have some player evaluation skills, so knowing the game and being around the game is still some kind of asset. One doesn't need to have played in the NHL to be a successful GM, but hiring an exec with no hockey background would be just as foolish (like hiring Gary Bettman to run the NHL itself was foolish).

Even the 'new breed' of 'moneyball' baseball GMs has extensive knowledge of baseball, experience playing the game at some level, and a passion for the game.

 
At 2:18 PM, May 31, 2006, Anonymous namflashback said...

i think there are LOTS of assistant GM's who fit the lawyer cloth. In Edmonton, Scott Howson is the Assistant GM, and has the legal and negotiation background.

Probably more important than who is in the GM role is that there is the combination of business, hockey, and legal sense.

Most clubs have a prez to run the off-ice activity, the GM to run the on-ice activities.

The problem must arise for those staff who think they know everything since they played a few games and don't turn to experts who can help guide them through things like the CBA.

 
At 2:23 AM, June 01, 2006, Blogger Marc Foster said...

There's a difference between a GM being a number-cruncher accountant and a stat-geek who's building a scouting skunkworks... The science of "Hockeymetrics" is still well behind where baseball is. Heck, I think it's about where Sabermetrics was in about 1978. I think these guys are focused more on the buck than on any sort of analytically derived bang for the buck.

 

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