When Scotty Bowman took over in Pittsburgh, the first hire he made was Pierre McGuire. To this day Bowman thinks his old protégé should be running an NHL team.
By Dan Marrazza
Pierre McGuire holds a lot of titles.
To some, he’s the popular NBC analyst. To others, he’s the unpopular NBC analyst. Depending on who you ask, he could also be known as a regular guest to the Mitch Melnick show on TSN 690 radio in Montreal. Or a voice on TEAM 1040 in Vancouver. Or WFAN in New York. Or any of an assortment of other stations, shows and segments he appears on weekly throughout North America.
To legendary coach Scotty Bowman, his longtime mentor, McGuire is something else. Or at least he could be.
In a recent conversation with The Hockey News about his memories employing McGuire, at first as a scout and then his assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 1990s, Bowman discussed how he views his protégé in a different light.
“He loves hockey and I thought he should have been hired (as a general manager or by a front office) a long time ago,” Bowman said of McGuire. “I’ve always hoped he would get back with a team.
“He’s a dedicated worker. He doesn’t waste any time. He’s always doing something. He does his homework and he’s on the radio stations, too. I’ve done that job (TV) for a couple years and while it is interesting, it’s not as exciting as being with a team. You get used to it, which I’m sure he’s done. You do a lot of travelling, so it’s similar, but you don’t cheer for a team or anything. Totally different feeling.
“I’ve always hoped he’d get another opportunity. He knows a lot of people in the game. He could be close to, or running, a team.”
Given his longstanding relationship with McGuire that began when Bowman was between jobs with the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins and McGuire was a 20-something assistant coach at St. Lawrence University in the mid-1980s, this could be taken as Bowman pumping the tires of a friend.
But that’s to ignore the full picture, as well as Bowman’s reputation for straightforwardness throughout his 60-plus years in hockey.
Coincidentally, when Bowman started his career playing junior hockey for the Montreal Junior Canadiens and Montreal Junior Royals in the early 1950s, he personally knew McGuire’s mother, Sally, who regularly attended games.
This led to a chance meeting with Sally’s son, Pierre, when Bowman was visiting his daughter, Alicia, at St. Lawrence University while commuting from his Buffalo home to Montreal, where he made appearances on Hockey Night in Canada throughout the ‘80s.
“After practice one day, I get off the ice and in my office, there’s a gentleman sitting there in a baseball cap and I recognized his profile right away,” McGuire said. “It was Scotty Bowman. We started talking, talking and talking. He asked me to give him my number and I gave him my number. Then we started calling and staying in touch.
“I watched him do his press conference with Bob Johnson (when Bowman was hired as Pittsburgh’s Director of Player Personnel in 1990),” McGuire added. “I was sitting in my apartment in Canton, New York. Probably within 25-30 minutes, the phone rang and it was Scotty asking what I was doing… He goes: ‘Go to Ottawa. There’ll be a plane ticket for you, fly to Toronto and be prepared to go to Vancouver for the draft.’”
Bowman suggesting that McGuire could succeed in an NHL front office, in 2016, could be dismissed if they were only friends. But as McGuire’s anecdote proves, when Bowman was given a chance to run a hockey team, the first person he hired was McGuire.
It’s also worth noting that Bowman not only hired McGuire, they actually lived together in a three bedroom apartment in the shadow of the old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. It was there that the two men – McGuire then in his 30s, Bowman his 60s – spent almost every waking moment together, sharing meals and watching hockey until all hours of the night, with Bowman relying on his expert knowledge of satellite angles and local sports bars to locate every game in the league, in an era before the Internet and NHL Center Ice.
With McGuire at Bowman’s side, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 1991-92. After all these years, based on hundreds of conversations and thousands of hours picking each other’s brains, if Bowman still says McGuire should be in a front office, doesn’t it at least make it worth considering? After all, there might not be a man in the sport that Bowman knows better.
Is it possible, despite McGuire having been on the media side for two decades and having his share of detractors, that he might possibly be more qualified than some current general managers?
Even McGuire’s harshest critics can’t deny his encyclopediatic knowledge of the game or work ethic, which has resulted in him winning Emmy and Gemini Awards, largely due to the inside knowledge he acquires from one of the best connected contact lists in the sport.
When told of Bowman’s comments, McGuire expressed his gratitude for his mentor’s thoughts, while not commenting if that’s a path he’s still interested in taking.
Although Bowman’s comments still make you wonder: if your favorite team was in the market for a new GM, would you want them to consider McGuire?
It’s, at the very least, an interesting thought, backed up by a heck of a reference.