Saturday, June 2, 2007

THN: Article on Red Wings Front Office

Ken Campbell wrote an interesting piece about the Red Wings front office and management in this week's issue of The Hockey News:

It won’t be this summer and it might not happen for another year or two, but the day is definitely coming when the Detroit Red Wings will have to start playing nice and begin to share their embarrassment of riches with the rest of the NHL.

Because this is starting to get ridiculous. While there are a good number of teams—such as oh, let’s see, Phoenix and Columbus—that have floundered for years because of bad management, the Red Wings have all the good hockey people to themselves and that has to stop.

I mean, come on, Ken Holland, recently ranked as the No. 1 GM in the NHL by The Hockey News, will celebrate his 25th anniversary with the Wings next season. Assistant GM Jim Nill, who continually takes third-round picks and makes them front-line players, has been with the Wings for 13 years. Senior vice-president Jimmy Devellano, Holland’s mentor, has been in Detroit 25 years and Scotty Bowman, who will continue consulting with the Wings until he dies at the age of 107, has been there 14 years.

That’s 25 Stanley Cup rings for those of you keeping score at home.

So all the Wings needed last summer was for Steve Yzerman to walk into Holland’s office to tell him he was retiring and that he wouldn’t mind having a copy of the keys to the executive bathroom. Then the guy goes out and wins a World Championship with Team Canada on his first try. Yes, putting together an all-star roster with the deepest talent pool in the world is nothing like running an NHL team, but you have to think Yzerman has a little something going here. Canada went 9-0 in the tournament and who knew about Jay McClement?

The Red Wings have three Stanley Cups in the past decade and 16 straight playoff appearances largely because the members of the front office work so well together and are essentially without ego, but realistically how long can three men—Holland, Nill and Yzerman—who are capable GM’s continue to work for the same team?

The answer lies with Yzerman, who spent this season learning and absorbing everything he could. What Yzerman has to decide after making almost $70 million during his career is whether he wants to put in the heavy lifting it takes to become a GM in the NHL.

As involved as Yzerman was with the Wings this season, he also used this year to spend time traveling and vacationing with his family, and you simply can’t do that as a hockey executive when your itinerary says you have to be in Binghamton for a Friday night American League game before flying to Medicine Hat for a Sunday afternoon Western League game.

If Yzerman indeed wants to become the Wings version of Joe Dumars, he’ll have to spend a couple of years slogging it out like everyone else.

It was the same question Doug Gilmour faced this season when he became a professional development advisor with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It took him only a couple of scouting trips to realize he’s not cut out for management and his future probably lies in coaching. And it will be the same decision former stars such as Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwnedyk and Mark Messier will face as they dream of becoming hockey executives.

What these guys have to realize is that, as a GM, you can’t go off to the cottage for a couple of months in the summer. Sure, you might be able to squeeze in a week or two, just as long as you bring along your cell-phone, laptop, and fax machine and a re prepared to leave on a moment’s notice. Oh yeah, and you also will have to do work every single day.

And what to do with Nill? Both the Coyotes and Blue Jackets asked the Wings for permission to speak to Nill about their GM vacancies, but it was denied by the Wings in both cases.

Nill still has three years remaining on his contract with the Wings and with an annual salary of above $600,000, he makes more than some GM’s in the league. He is treated very well by the organization, including receiving a nice, shiny ring every couple of years.

Nill has never approached the Wings asking to be released and chances are, he knows what a good thing he has going and probably never will. But one of these days, a team will push very, very hard to get Nill and the Wings will have a difficult decision to make.

Yzerman, of course, could leave the Wings, but it’s highly unlikely. In fact, probably the only way Yzerman would go somewhere else would be if he were offered a situation similar to Wayne Gretzky’s in Phoenix, where he would have the power to make decisions, be the face of the franchise and part owner.

Or will Holland be the one who ultimately leaves Detroit? If Yzerman decides he wants to devote his life to being a GM, and he wants to do it in Detroit, look for Holland to step aside and take on a new challenge. If Holland were ever to leave the Wings, he would have his pick of jobs and going to the Maple Leafs in a role similar to the on Bryan Colanagelo has with the NBA’s Raptors would be an enticing proposition.

Of course, this is all fodder for another day, but that day is coming. Count on it

In my opinion, Yzerman is still several years away from becoming a full-time GM--if that's what he even wants to do in the first place--of an NHL team. I think what he did with Canada was excellent, but I think they'll continue grooming him via that route.

I could even see Yzerman becoming the GM of the Grand Rapids Griffins sometime down the road. He would be able to run an AHL team where he could familiarize himself with future Red Wing players. It's the best of both words. If Yzerman were to ever take of the Griffins GM position, he would be able to experience running a team and would be able to report to the Wings first-hand, intimate knowledge about Red Wing prospects. Whatever happens with Yzerman and the Red Wings will be very interesting.

Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Jimmy Devellano are without a doubt, the best trio working for an NHL team. Period. Their incorporation of scouting and development in Europe (when many NHL teams weren't looking at Europe at all), the talent they've been able to unearth all over the globe and the fact they've been able to rebuild a professional hockey team while remaining competitive is a real testament to their ability and their tremendous value to the organization.


Pete said...

A very good article. And a very good idea you've got there with the GR job... a way to utilize Yzerman and still keep Holland, bar none the best GM in the league. Nill will one day take a shot at GMing, as Don Waddell did with the Atlanta Thrasers a few years ago, and he should, but Holland will just groom another successor. Absolutely the key to the Wings' success. Oh yeah, that and Hakan Andersson.

WingsFanMiah said...

Agreed, Hakan Andersson is one of the best kept secrets in the league and around here around town. The guy is a genuine miner.

Anonymous said...

Not a good idea with the GR GM job. It would be a waste to use Yzerman like that. He has played with many of the current NHLers and those on the team. He knows about them right now more than he would about the prospects. It's better to keep Yzerman with the wings and maybe send Holland or Nill to GR. Besides if GR ends up becoming an affliate to another team then the wings would lose Yzerman. That would be a terrible idea.

Anonymous said...

BTW it will also be Yzerman's 25th anniversary with the team. Why should he have to leave and not Holland? Yzerman has been far more valuable to the organization than Holland.

Anonymous said...

Something that has been forgotten is that Jimmy Devellano is getting up there in age. He'll probably retire soon and that will open up another spot.

WingsFanMiah said...

Yes, but Holland has been instrumental in the Wings success so it's also, IMO, a bit unfair to kick him out just to bring in an unproven Yzerman. If GR isn't right for him, perhaps he'll continue working with Team Canada and then join another NHL team. But kicking Holland out or sending him to GR makes no sense to me. Sending arguably the best GM in the NHL to GR, regardless of who is replacing him, doesn't make much sense.

Again, Yzerman could be several years away from actually taking a GM position with an NHL team.

Anonymous said...

Actually Holland has not been instrumental in the success. The Wings won their first stanley cup before he even became GM of the Wings. Holland has gotten a lot of help from Bowman, Devellano, Yzerman, and the rest of the staff over the years. The only reason he's even had any success is because of Yzerman. Without Yzerman this team would be going on 52 years without a cup. They owe it to Yzerman to keep him here. It makes more sense to dump Holland than it does to dump Yzerman. Like it or not, Yzerman's been far more valuable to the organization than Holland. Yzerman has earned the right to stay as long as he wants. Don't forget last year Ken Holland was GM of Team Canada and they didn't even win a medal. He had Sydney Crosby and a better selection of players to choose from, yet they couldn't even win a medal. Yzerman's team went undefeated in the tournament. He didn't even have Crosby. After everything Yzerman has done for the Wings I don't think it's fair to kick him to the curb like a piece of trash.

WingsFanMiah said...

I'm not kicking him to the curb, but it sounded like you were down playing Hollands role and I disagree, he has been instrumental in our success...2 out of 3 cups he has been GM. He signed the players that has made this team sucessful. Yzerman was critical to the Wings on ice success, and I expect him to be critical to our future success off the ice, but you cannot downplay Hollands role. That's why I said, keep Yzerman in the fold by letting him take the GR job. Outside of Team Canada he has no experience, so it could be a risk handing him an NHL GM job. Then again, it could work. Holland has been a key to the reason this team has remained sucessful over a decade AND a change in the league (salary cap/post lockout). Not only has he built 2 out of 3 stanley cup teams, he's GM'd a team that has been one of the elite for over 10 years. That's mighty impressive and I think you can't kick him to the curb just like you can't kick Yzerman to the curb. If Holland WANTS to leave, fine. But forcing him out would be unfair, given how he has shaped this team.

Again, I think it would be 2-3 years before we see Yzerman wanting to be GM of an NHL team and maybe by then Holland will go somewhere else. But, as much as this city and you have love for Yzerman (and I do too, who doesn't right?) we cannot overlook the good job Ken Holland has done. Without him, even though we had Nill, Develano and Bowman, I don't think this team is nearly as successful and Yzerman even knew that. Yzerman has complimened Kenny over the years because he knows Kenny has given him teammates that have bettered his chances of winning more cups or at least being cup competitive.

I'm not trying to be combative with you. Now, if Holland starts to make some bad decisions over the next couple of years, we'll talk about this again I'm sure. But I think he's done a fine job working and building a team in the Cap era. He's proven that he can put together a team in two different eras in the league and be successful. Some GM's haven't proven they could win in one. Hollands real strength is his ability to work the numbers.

Maybe the Wings can make Yzerman assistan GM, like Kenny was in 97 for the first cup. Then you got both working in the front office and Yzerman learning from one of the best. Then, when Kenny steps aside or whatever, Yzerman bumps up to the GM, like Kenny did in 98. It might take a couple seasons, but I think the learning experience would be worth it.

I think we both want the same thing, Yzerman in the fold. I just believe we have to make sure we treat Holland fairly too.

Anonymous said...

I think your giving Holland too much credit. He really only built 1 of the cup teams. When he became GM in 98 the cup team was already in place. Holland has done a good job keeping the team competitive, but it hasn't been only him.

I think it would be a mistake for the Wings to send Yzerman to GR. He would no longer be in the fold because he would be too busy with the Griffins to be worrying about some other team. He'd also be very offended by it and would probably just go to some other NHL team. I don't think Yzerman is as inexperienced as everyone thinks. According to Devellano, he's been working with the wings management team for over 5 years. He's been giving them advice on players to sign for years. Yzerman was the one that suggested drafting Fedorov. He also suggested the Shanahan trade. It was also Yzerman's idea to bring in all those veterans (Hasek, Robitaille, and Hull) in 2001-2002. Let's not forget that it was Yzerman who was pushing for Lidstrom to be named captain. Yzerman also did his own contract negotiations with Holland in the last few years. He didn't use an agent.

I don't see why we have to lose either one. If it came down to it, I think it would be best to have Devellano retire and then give Yzerman, Devellano's spot.

Anonymous said...

BTW I don't think Yzerman should be GM of the Wings. I think he should stick to being a VP. I wouldn't want what happend with Bobby Clarke to happen with Yzerman.

WingsFanMiah said...

Yeah, ideally, I would like to see them both here too. BTW, I miss Sergei. Wish he would have been a career Wing.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens when Jimmy D retires.