Former NHLer Dan Bylsma has found success behing an NHL bench after replacing Michel Therrien as the Pens coach halfway through the 2008-09 season. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
For all the talk of rescinded suspensions and non-calls in the final, it sure seems like the NHL Old Boys Network is losing some of its cache.
The appointment of Greg Sherman to the post of Colorado Avalanche GM is just the latest move to reinforce the notion re-treads are no longer the route of choice in the NHL.
We’ve witnessed this pattern behind benches where, increasingly, new coaches don’t need previous NHL head coaching experience to take control of a team. Last summer alone saw Atlanta’s John Anderson, Florida’s Peter DeBoer, the Isles’ Scott Gordon and San Jose’s Todd McLellan hired without an NHL head coaching past. Tampa’s Rick Tocchet, Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma and Ottawa’s Cory Clouston later joined them as in-season hires with no play-calling past as the top dog on an NHL bench.
As for Colorado’s bench void, news came down Thursday that Tony Granato's replacement would be Joe Sacco who has head coaching experience exclusive to leagues below the NHL.
Previously, the league was notorious for recycling coaches, but maybe that’s changing because so many of the men giving “welcome aboard” speeches are newbies themselves.
Since the league lost a season in 2004-05, 23 men have been hired to be the GM or co-GM of an NHL team (including Doug Armstrong’s pending promotion in St. Louis). Of that number only eight had prior experience occupying a big-league GM’s chair.
The fresh faces arrived from a variety of backgrounds, whether they were converted coaches, assistant GMs finally getting a crack at the top job or former player agents flopping to the other side of the negotiation table.
The fact Sherman is replacing one of those first-timers in Francois Giguere tells you results have obviously varied. Former Dallas co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson were recently re-assigned after the Stars missed the playoffs this year. But in both cases, neither team shied away from putting another inexperienced man on the payroll, Colorado doing so with Sherman and Dallas opting to give Joe Nieuwendyk his first crack at the job.
Maybe that’s because there’s more than one success story surrounding these green GMs. Pittsburgh hired Ray Shero in May of 2006 and things are certainly working out there. Peter Chiarelli was hired one day after Shero by the Bruins and Boston suddenly looks like it will be a powerhouse for years to come. Much of that is due to Chiarelli, who was slotted fourth in THN’s annual GM rankings back in March.
Like Chiarelli, Vancouver GM Mike Gillis had a player agent background when the Canucks chose him to lead the ship last summer. Not many were predicting so much as a playoff spot for the Canucks before the season began, but Gillis’ team was a few late-game meltdowns from making the Western Conference final.
Scott Howson, in his second year on the job in Columbus, led that franchise into the post-season for the first time in its history.
All this adds up to a lot more than beginner’s luck.
Many of the men being hired in the post-lockout era possess a varied work history from which to cull a variety of different lessons, which is important given the GM’s job is more complex than ever.
For that reason, a simple “been there, done that,” alone won’t cut it anymore.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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