Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Q: on the Islanders' "unique management structure"
Mike Carey asks: Chris, now that you have some separation, tell us what you REALLY think of the Isles management structure. Meaning, this whole "decision by committee" concept (Wang, Snow, Nolan...whoever else now has an equal voice). Do you think it's working or can work?
My take on the management structure – the “hockey committee” – is that frankly, and respectfully, it is really no big whoop.
I thought this way when it was first announced two summers ago when Neil Smith, Ted, Pat LaFontaine, Bryan Trottier and Co. were hired. And I feel the same way now. The committee is simply an avenue for all of the franchise’s leaders to communicate with one another. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be anyway?
When Garth replaced Neil, we discussed what his response should be when asked about this supposedly innovative structure. It didn’t take long to formulate his position.
Using our rivals as an example, if the Rangers are thinking about signing a Chris Drury or Scott Gomez, how do you think it’s done?
Of course, the GM has his say – the ultimate say from the hockey staff perspective.
The head coach provides input – after all, if he is not the kind of player the coach likes, the coach is not going to play him and you've wasted a lot of dough.
You rely on other lead voices – pro scouts, perhaps the head amateur scout who might know a lot about the player’s development.
And then finally, the owner – because he’s the one writing the rather sizeable check. If you think $50 million deals are being offered in the NHL without owners demanding deep detail before they give the green light, well…it just ain’t happenin’.
You better believe that’s how the Rangers do it. There are some rare examples – Lou Lamoriello’s autonomy is legendary, although the current Devils owner, Jeffrey Vanderbeek is much more involved than the late John McMullen was – but you can be sure that’s how it’s done by at least 25 of the NHL’s 30 franchises.
So, in my opinion, the Islanders’ management structure is perfectly fine. I suspect that one day it will be heralded to a ridiculous degree. Like the career-term deal to Rick DiPietro, it’s interesting how other NHL teams have followed suit by talking about their “new management structure" - having co-GMs (Dallas), adding senior voices (St. Louis), possibly hiring the head coach before the GM (Toronto).
Perhaps if the Islanders did anything wrong when putting together the “hockey committee,” it was in the announcing of the news itself. I'm a big believer in sometimes just implementing an idea and letting the tale be told over time instead of calling immediate attention to it. I remember Neil Smith getting creamed by “Mike & The Mad Dog” about the structure on the day he was hired, and it seemed to me we made it way too easy for people who didn’t know what they were talking about to poke holes in it, to make fun of it.
It's a fact of life, folks. When you’re coming off a season when you don’t qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s often best to keep things low-key. When you’re winning, you can do whatever you want and you’ll look like a genius. Think about the perception of the Boston Celtics under Danny Ainge a year ago. Think about the perception of the New York Giants about eight weeks before they won the Super Bowl.
The Dallas Stars fired the very bright Doug Armstrong during last season, replacing him with co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson. Without making a roster move, the Stars proceeded to go weeks without losing. Man, even before they traded for Brad Richards and made the conference final, that co-GM thing was brilliant!
Two years later, the hockey committee is a strong idea but really no big whoop. When the Islanders surprised the critics by making the playoffs with a miracle run in the last week of '06-07, the new management structure never came up, did it?
Substitute “hockey committee” or “unique management structure” with what it really is:
Just a bunch of your leaders communicating on a regular basis.
Ultimately, the “hockey committees” or “unique management structures” that are popping up in NHL cities near you will succeed or fail based on competence and successful communication.
That, and – oh yeah – on whether your team wins hockey games.