VANCOUVER, B.C. – NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke told reporters from across North America gathered here Friday that he still hopes to hire a general manager this summer.
During a media scrum ahead of the opening round of the NHL draft, Leiweke, seated next to Seattle owner Jerry Bruckheimer, said he had meetings planned with “old friends’’ and other team officials from around the league to discuss the GM opening. There’s also a chance Leiweke and Bruckheimer will interview candidates this weekend before departing.
Seattle’s team won’t take the ice for another two-plus years, but Leiweke would prefer to hire a GM now rather than next summer given what’s expected to be a challenging expansion draft come June 2021.
“Because of … our owners, we’re prepared to do it,’’ Leiweke said. “We’re prepared to make that investment if we land on the right candidate who says the right things. So we’re prepared to do that. And part of what Jerry and I will be doing is having dinners and lunches and coffees with folks and getting their take on it.’’
Though there’s no set timeline for a hire this year, NHL Seattle would likely want the job filled by July to give the incoming GM nearly two full years to build a staff ahead of the expansion draft.
“The timeline is to get it right – that’s the ultimate goal,’’ Leiweke said. “I think in a perfect world, we’d have somebody engaged sooner versus later. But more important than any timeline is getting it right.’’
NHL Seattle saw potential GM candidate Ken Holland signed to a record deal by the Edmonton Oilers, while Kelly McCrimmon was promoted by the Vegas Golden Knights. Another candidate, Bill Zito, told the team a few weeks after being interviewed that he wanted to remain in Columbus and was promoted to an executive position by the Blue Jackets last week. Remaining potential candidates with experience include former Vancouver Canucks GMs Mike Gillis and Dave Nonis and ex-Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis. There is also former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter.
The Golden Knights under GM George McPhee and assistant McCrimmon were wildly successful in the last expansion draft, held in 2017. Bolstered by a plethora of side deals made ahead of the draft with teams trying to protect certain players, the Knights landed a boatload of talent and made the Stanley Cup Final their first season.
McCrimmon and Zito were intriguing to NHL Seattle because of their in-depth knowledge of prospects, which Leiweke’s group believes will be instrumental ahead of the expansion draft. Leiweke acknowledged that teams now are likely to be more cautious of making side deals like they did with Vegas two years ago, meaning it could be tougher for Seattle to snag the same type of talent.
“We like the expansion rules and I think the challenge for us is to hire the same kind of caliber of people and leadership that Las Vegas did,’’ Leiweke said. “And we like our chances because when we talk to prospective GMs about the beauty of the city, the 32,000 depositors and 25,000 people in line, how epic the building is gong to be and our training center. And then the ambition we have on our American Hockey League team, I think we’re going to get top, top talent in the GM spot. I think we’re going to get a chance to build out a world-class staff around that GM. And therefore, we’re going to be well-prepared as well.’’
Leiweke and Bruckheimer, one of two principal owners alongside managing partner David Bonderman, spent much of their media session talking up the “brand-new building’’ their $930 million renovation of KeyArena will construct under the venue’s historically preserved roof. Getting the arena done by a revised June 2021 target date will be crucial in snagging the 2021 entry and expansion drafts, which both have made no secret of wanting Seattle to host.
“We’re excited to show this building to the world because it’s really spectacular,’’ Bruckheimer said. “We’re sitting on something that you haven’t seen yet and we’re really proud of it and can’t wait for everybody to see it.’’
Famed Hollywood producer and director Bruckheimer, who first watched hockey as a boy in his native Detroit and became a rabid fan as an adult, said he relishes the opportunity to step into the professional sports world.
“To be a part of creating something, that’s what I do,’’ Bruckheimer said. “I create things. I tell stories and this is a fabulous story.’’
Bruckheimer said he planned to use the weekend here to soak in the draft and surrounding events and maybe pick up on a few ideas.
“We have no card in the game here,’’ he said. “So we’re really kind of able to watch and listen and learn and talk to a lot of fabulous people.’’