First Piece to the Puzzle :: Finding a GM — Part One

Here sits the man who we’re going to blame for… well, everything!

The Seattle ownership group has its hands full. They have to decide on the name of the team, the logo, the colors, every single detail related to the still-non-existent farm team, and a metric shit-ton of other stuff surrounding the franchise. But the first personnel move the Seattle organ-eye-zation is likely to make is hiring a General Manager.

With the long delay until there is actually ice on which to skate at Seattle Center Arena, there is as much speculation surrounding when the GM will be hired as there is who will be hired. So let’s sort the first part out right now.

The GM will be hired whenever he’s available. It’s really that simple, and that sentiment has been echoed by the ownership group. If he’s available tomorrow, he’ll get hired tomorrow. If he’s not available until April of 2021, then they’ll hire him then. Which means, we won’t know the “when” until we know the “who”.

So: who should it be?

The easier question to begin this conversation is, who should it not be. So in part one of this adventure, we’ll be looking at that list.

The following have all been publicly reported, and in some cases the ownership group has confirmed, to be potential candidates for the position of General Manager — roughly in alphabetical order by last name, sort of:

Sean Burke: His 18 years as an NHL goaltender were followed up by several years with the front office in Phoenix in various capacities, and then some time with the Montreal Canadiens as a scout. He notably was named GM to Canada’s men’s ice hockey team for the 2018 Winter Olympics, where they won the bronze medal. Seems like a good candidate, but I don’t think he is ready to make the jump just yet. If he were, either Philly or Edmonton would have signed him. They didn’t. There’s probably a reason why not.

Peter Chiarelli: His record in Edmonton tells you everything you need to know about his ability to manage a team. He drafts Connor McDavid first overall, adding to a mouth-watering lineup of other first-round picks that include Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; then adds coveted free agent Milan Lucic from Boston; and his teams still miss the playoffs four out of five years. Pass.

Mike Gillis & Dave Nonis: These two presided over the Vancouver Canucks during an 11-year stretch of having arguably one of the best top-to-bottom lineups in the league, qualified coaching, and a fan base that supported the team with full-throated enthusiasm year after disappointing year; yet they couldn’t get the job done. Let’s not encourage them.

Keith Gretzky: The only noteworthy thing about Gretzky is the name recognition — but he’s the wrong Gretzky. He spent 3 months as Edmonton’s interim GM before they decided to pass him over in favor of Ken Holland (who wouldn’t). That is the sum total of The Great One’s Brother’s NHL executive experience. I honestly can’t believe he’s seriously being considered as a candidate. But it looks like we’ll dodge a bullet here — Holland has re-installed Gretzky as one of his Assistant GM’s, so for now it appears Gretzky is off the contenders list.

Ron Hextall: Think about this. Hextall played 14 seasons as an NHL goaltender, winning the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies, making it to the post-season 9 times, setting Flyers team records for wins and playoff wins by a goaltender, and amassing 33 points — including a goal — as a netminder. Then as Flyers GM he presided over the most startling and borderline-hilarious rotating squadron of under-performing goaltenders in the team’s history. This was arguably the main reason for Philly’s post-season failure in each of his five seasons — failed to make the playoffs three times, first-round exit twice. You want to bank our team’s future on that runaway train of cognitive dissonance? Nooooooooo thank you…

Mark Hunter: Who? I’m actually serious — who? He has been widely reported as a potential candidate for Seattle’s GM position, but his resume doesn’t stretch beyond being a player and a coach in any substantive way. He ran the London Knights OHL team for an impressive 12 years (now, he owned them at the time, so he couldn’t be fired…) and spent a short stint as part of the Maple Leafs’ front office. I would love to see the team groom him with an Assistant GM position, or let him get through a few years as GM of the AHL club. But thrusting him into the spotlight as an NHL General Manager would be nothing short of reckless. Apparently both Edmonton and Philadelphia thought so too, as he was passed over for both GM jobs earlier this spring.

Dean Lombardi: There are a lot of good reasons to go after Lombardi, and his success with the Sharks and Kings is tantalizing. However, he tends to follow his success one season with a complete flop the next. I think Seattle should pursue somebody with more consistency. If this is who the team decides to go with, I wouldn’t be too disappointed; of the ones listed so far he has the best overall track record. But I’d rather see us slot him in as Director of Player Personnel. To my way of thinking, that’s really where his strength lies.

Bill Zito: The former player agent, current Assistant GM of the Blue Jackets, and neckless freak of nature is a sought-after candidate, rumored to be interviewing for jobs with a number of teams. We should pass. The phrase frequently used to describe him is “skilled negotiator.” It’s pronounced, “dick”. This guy has made his career out of being an arrogant bully, and that’s no way to build a franchise. Seattle will need its top young players on the ice, not getting jerked around in endless contract negotiations. It’s been confirmed that Zito was already in town to talk about Seattle’s GM job; I hope following that meeting Mr. Leiweke drew a line through Zito’s name on the white board. We can do better.

Stats wonks: Players aren’t numbers. They aren’t plus-minus, they aren’t Corsi differentials, they aren’t H.E.R.O. charts, or hit points, or dexterity, or energy, or power-ups. No number on a page can tell me how many times in a season Nick Fucking Leddy throws an idiot pass in front of his own net and allows the tying goal with 3 minutes to go in regulation. You’re never going to succeed running a hockey team if all you rely on is numbers. Get your Magic: The Gathering cards together, and keep walking. Which brings us to…

Moneyball disciples: Anyone who says, “We’re going to create Nikita Kucherov in the aggregate” needs a shin guard shoved up his ass. That may work in baseball — where 95% of the game is waiting for something to happen — but not hockey. The value of a hockey player is not an algebraic formula. It’s talent, character, chemistry, timing, and the ability to make and execute decisions on the fly every second you’re on the ice. Winning in hockey is done by assembling a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. With Moneyball, by definition, the sum of the parts is all you’ll ever get. That’s why the Oakland A’s didn’t win the World Series in 2002, and haven’t in any year since. It’s a good story. It was a nice movie. It’s an idiotic way to run a hockey club.

Anyone who gets fired for missing the playoffs in 2020 or 2021. Why eat out of the dumpster when we can order a decent meal from a restaurant around the corner? If a GM can’t make the playoffs with an established team, the odds they will make the playoffs with a brand-spanking-new expansion team are near-zero. The dessert fork is directly in front of you, remember to tip your server. And for God’s sake, tuck in your shirt.

We’ll pick this up again soon, with a more optimistic look at some other candidates that might be better choices for the General Manager position.

Author: Tim Currell

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