Inside the NHL
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Tod Leiweke and Jerry Bruckheimer spent the final morning of the NHL draft enjoying breakfast with their incoming Seattle franchise’s newest hockey operations hire.
While the duo didn’t land a general manager after a furious 24 hours of exploratory private meetings here, new NHL Seattle hockey analytics specialist Alexandra Mandrycky certainly will help with a search now moving on to the next phase. Described by some NHL insiders as a “rock star’’ in her field, Mandrycky spent the past few seasons with the Minnesota Wild where she had a major hand in player evaluation and personnel decisions.
And for Leiweke, the NHL Seattle president and CEO, and Bruckheimer, the principal team owner, who both came to the draft with the explicit purpose of refining their list of GM candidates, Mandrycky, 28, will play a key role in determining whether one of those men gets hired this summer.
“Analytics isn’t just a department for us, it’s a way of life,’’ Leiweke said as he sat with Mandrycky and Bruckheimer on Saturday morning at a restaurant in the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel, where some of their GM conversations from Friday had taken place. “The world is changing. It’s an informed approach. And Alex (Mandrycky) will play a part in our GM decision. We’re feeling good about fresh eyes on this.’’
Mandrycky’s official start date is July 1, with the title of Director of Hockey Administration and a say in all major personnel decisions. For now, the GM vetting is her top priority.
“The fact is she had a fantastic reputation as one of the best in our industry,’’ Bruckheimer said, pausing between spoonfuls of oatmeal. “So, we’re very fortunate that she had some connections to Seattle and we were able to get her to come work with us.’’
Mandrycky’s husband, Christian, whom she met while earning an engineering degree at Georgia Tech, is finishing a doctoral degree in bioengineering at the University of Washington — which caused them to move to Seattle from her native Atlanta in 2013. The pair had maintained separate apartments in Seattle and Minnesota since Mandrycky’s hiring by the Wild in January 2016.
“I’d spend something like three weeks in Minnesota, then come back to Seattle for a week and a half,’’ Mandrycky said. “So, a lot of commuting between both.”
She’s eager to delve into the GM candidates.
“You can look at their past track record,’’ she said. “So, we’ll be looking at their draft history, their trade history and their contracts. Specifically, different managers with different organizations have different philosophies on how they evaluate players.
“And ultimately, we want our organization to be successful in evaluating players. We want to be able to have conversations with the candidates and find out what they feel like they did well. What they feel like they maybe regret.’’
Mandrycky has few regrets about her time with the Wild, which broke her into professional sports. She’d become interested in hockey through her husband, a Buffalo native and avid Sabres fan — one of their first nights out in Seattle was an Everett Silvertips junior game — and then delved into the statistical aspects of the sport as a way of keeping her analytical and programming skills sharp after graduation.
She discovered hockey data sets online and began tinkering with them. Eventually, she and Andrew Thomas worked together on the War-on-Ice.com analytical website before the Wild hired both — Thomas as lead hockey researcher and Mandrycky as hockey operations analyst.
The Wild opted not to renew Thomas in April and then Mandrycky turned down the team’s contract offer in May. Thomas has yet to announce a new position elsewhere, but it won’t be with Seattle — where Mandrycky relocates permanently this week after helping train her Wild replacement.
Leiweke and Bruckheimer say they accomplished all they needed to here on the GM front — so much that they left post-breakfast and a day early without attending the second stage of the draft Saturday morning. After arriving Friday morning, they’d held a series of meetings with hockey officials and potential candidates — all before an afternoon news session with reporters, which they were a half-hour late to because of traffic after one such meeting.
Later, they hit the floor of Rogers Arena for the opening round of the NHL draft on Friday night. But more so than observing the player selections, they spent three hours moving between various team tables and having side discussions, both together and individually, about their GM post.
“Tod knows a lot of people and I know a lot of people,’’ Bruckheimer said. “So, we talked to people about who they liked and it was great. We got a lot of great information.’’
For Bruckheimer, the ideal candidate “has got a vision, is well-respected within the industry and has some gravitas.’’
On the vision part, he wants: “Somebody who’s got a vision on how to build the team. That’s what you want to know. How do you build a team? How do you make it competitive?’’
Leiweke now has “a list” of candidates, some of whom they already met with here. They gauged candidates’ interest level and queried them on team-building philosophies to form “a composite sketch’’ of whether they’d fit with the “different type of organization’’ NHL Seattle hopes to become.
“I wouldn’t call it an interview, that’s maybe not entirely fair,’’ Leiweke said. “But we talked to people. We’re not going to drop names as we go along. But we are going to be transparent. I mean, we talked to people in this restaurant.’’
Now “full on’’ in their search, they’ll try to further narrow the field — with Mandrycky’s help — ahead of formal interviews and a call on whether to hire somebody. And while Leiweke continues to preach patience, he won’t need all summer to decide whether the future GM is already on the list.
“We’re not a group that lets grass grow under our feet,’’ Leiweke said. “I think the more time you have to get ready for the expansion draft, the better.’’