Inside the NHL
You can forgive Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer for being a tad hazy on the details some six-plus decades since his earliest memory of attending a National Hockey League game.
But the NHL Seattle principal owner could have had a worse fandom introduction than seeing his hometown Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Canadiens for the 1954 Stanley Cup on Tony Leswick’s overtime winner in Game 7. Bruckheimer was in Vancouver, B.C., for the recent NHL draft and recounted for a continent-wide media contingent how he’d sat in the Olympia Stadium arena nosebleed seats that day with his dad in “1954 or 1957’’ at “one of those double- or triple-overtime games where the Red Wings won — I think they beat the Canadiens – and they won the Cup. And it just got in my blood.’’
For accuracy purposes, the Red Wings could only have beaten the Canadiens that way in 1954 on Leswick’s fluke goal off Montreal defenseman Doug Harvey’s arm, though, alas, it came just 4:29 into the first overtime period. Now, it’s also possible Bruckheimer attended Game 7 of the 1950 final when the Red Wings beat the New York Rangers at the Olympia on Pete Babando’s goal that did indeed come midway through double overtime.
But we’ll go with the Leswick game for now because Bruckheimer sort of got the year and opponent right while Babando’s contest only has overtime length going for it. But being at either of the only two Game 7 Cup Final overtime matchups in NHL history wasn’t a bad way for Bruckheimer, 75, to establish some hockey street “cred’’ at a Vancouver coming-out party of sorts for one of Seattle ownership’s two “Top Guns.’’
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
But of the Seattle team’s two principal owners, managing partner David Bonderman is better-known as the guy cutting the biggest checks, while Bruckheimer — currently doing post-production work on Top Gun: Maverick starring Tom Cruise — is seemingly more out-front with the hockey ideas.
Given Bruckheimer’s years of attention to technical detail on movies, he’ll be counted on to contribute to the team’s in-game presentation and fan experience as well as helping build a front office. NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke said during the Vancouver news conference that he’d driven over in a car with Bruckheimer while the producer discussed his Top Gun sequel with associates over the phone.
“I literally got the chills as he was talking about the various production aspects because he’s going to bring that same expertise – renowned, because Jerry’s arguably the best in the world,’’ Leiweke said. “So, to have that available to the team, whether it be game presentation or how we put on our broadcasts, is a really thrilling idea.’’
And though this is Bruckheimer’s first professional sports foray, he sees similarities with his Hollywood background.
“Absolutely, it’s show business,’’ he said. “Anyway you want to look at it we’re entertainers.’’
During breakfast I had with both men in Vancouver the morning after their news conference, Bruckheimer went into deeper detail of his approach to helping pick the team’s general manager. Bruckheimer has formed numerous NHL contacts over the years through previous attempts to buy franchises, putting on celebrity hockey games and playing recreationally in the Los Angeles area.
So, while Bruckheimer and Leiweke worked the floor during the opening round of the draft, hopping between team tables for quick chats, they weren’t always together. They split up at times to cover more ground with their information gathering on potential candidates before later comparing notes.
“Tod knows a lot of people and I know a lot of people,’’ Bruckheimer told me. “And so, we talked to people about who they liked and got a lot of great information about everything hockey related.’’
When Bruckheimer speaks, it’s with a soft, measured tone that employs words sparingly and gets people to listen. It’s therefore hardly surprising he mentioned “gravitas’’ as a GM trait he’s looking for.
Another is “experience’’ and he wants the ideal candidate to demonstrate how he’ll build the team top to bottom both player and management-wise.
“I think the general manager is the guy that sits on top and he has to hire the right people to be able to do that,’’ Bruckheimer said. “He has to be aware of what’s out there and then have that information fed up to him. So, he has to have really good people underneath him.’’
Which makes sense. We’ve heard how a few of Seattle’s GM candidates have an intricate knowledge of the junior and collegiate prospect system. That’s all great, but there’s more to the GM job than just knowing the good amateur players or pinpointing hidden young talent ahead of the expansion draft.
A GM will be pulled in so many directions he can’t possibly keep up on prospects the way he might have in lesser roles. Hence, the GM’s ability to delegate to quality assistants who’ll keep him apprised on all areas of the game could supersede any personal amateur hockey expertise advantage.
Which is where Bruckheimer’s desire for “experience’’ comes in.
“We’re starting with a blank canvas,’’ he said. “You have nothing, so you’re way behind everybody else who has information on all the pro players and the amateur players. Every team’s way ahead of you.’’
And catching up will require getting the GM call right. Bruckheimer joked that it’s still better than making a movie, where once it’s finished you can’t change things if nobody likes it.
“It’s taken me 33 years to do the ‘Top Gun’ sequel,’’ he deadpanned.
Once breakfast was done, Bruckheimer hopped a jet to Utah, where some “Top Gun” flight scenes are still being shot. The film has a June 2020 release date and then his hockey team launches 16 months later.
By then, if the right GM has been hired and the game-day production matches some of Bruckheimer’s movies, his hockey credibility will have grown exponentially — regardless of which Cup Final Game 7 he actually attended as a kid.