Inside the NHL
When it comes to the time frame for Seattle’s incoming NHL expansion team to hire a general manager, keep an eye on what’s happening in Edmonton.
Yes, the NHL Seattle group has pondered hiring a GM this summer rather than next year. But first, there will have to be some star candidates out there to justify ownership dishing out an additional year of GM salary this early.
Among those candidates: One biggie is Vegas Golden Knights assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon, now considered one of the hottest executive prizes around for his work helping boss George McPhee navigate the 2017 expansion draft that worked so well for that fledgling franchise.
Word on the street — and in newspapers and blogs, sports talk radio and that all-knowing invention called Twitter — is that the Edmonton Oilers would like to hire McCrimmon the day before yesterday. They’d like to pounce now, fill their interim GM slot held by Keith Gretzky more permanently and have everything in place ahead of the NHL draft in June.
Thing is, McCrimmon is one of those star candidates who would jump right up near the top of Seattle’s list if he’s available this summer. Now, clearly he won’t be available if Edmonton hires him within the next couple of weeks.
So, we’ll have to see. The Seattle group has a good relationship with McPhee and the Knights and word around the league has been that McCrimmon won’t be doing any interviews until after his team is eliminated from the NHL playoffs or wins the Stanley Cup.
And if that’s the case and he’s still around come June, look for Seattle’s ownership to approve filling the GM post a year ahead of schedule. Some may ask, why not just have ownership approve the hiring now so Seattle can snatch McCrimmon away from Edmonton if the Knights do indeed allow him to interview early? What’s a few more months of GM payroll?
Well, that sounds logical, but the reality is that Seattle isn’t about to just hand McCrimmon a job as the only candidate. There’s another very interesting situation unfolding in Detroit involving Steve Yzerman, the GM who — under NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke — built the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning franchise now running away with the NHL’s overall points lead.
Current Red Wings GM Ken Holland brought three Stanley Cup titles and two decades of consecutive playoff appearances to so-called “Hockeytown’’ and still has a year left on his contract. So, the question now is what will happen once the regular season ends. Detroit isn’t heading to the playoffs, so the Red Wings could let everybody know in a couple of weeks whether Holland will be allowed to continue on his deal.
Firing a man who brought so much to professional hockey in Detroit isn’t as simple as some make it sound, even if the Red Wings are rebuilding and hampered somewhat on the salary cap front by past Holland moves. Loyalty still matters to a degree in pro sports, and others will be watching the Red Wings closely to see how they conduct their business with a highly respected executive.
If Holland is allowed to finish his deal, then what of Yzerman? He makes his home in suburban Detroit and has expressed a desire to remain there with his immediate family.
It’s possible the Red Wings could take him on as a front office adviser — much like he’s now employed by the Lightning after stepping down as GM last September — so that he can inherit Holland’s mantle once the contract runs out.
But it’s also possible Yzerman might not want to wait that long. And if that’s the case, then a man who would leapfrog McCrimmon as the top GM candidate for a majority of the league’s teams would suddenly be available. And how bad would it then look for Seattle to have locked up McCrimmon early without even giving itself the chance to consider a proven star candidate like Yzerman?
By waiting until June, the Seattle group could potentially have multiple star candidates to pursue. Heck, even if Holland is the one who winds up on the open market a year early, there are still enough teams out there that would view him as a star candidate given his successes.
Multiple star candidates would almost certainly push Seattle’s ownership into approving a GM hiring this summer. If not, then it could be preferable to wait another year and see which names are out there.
Because if Holland stays put in Detroit and Yzerman is determined to wait it out in Motown, you know at least one of those two will likely hit the market come June 2020. And that they’ll probably be joined by one or two other hot commodities nobody can see coming right now.
If Holland and Yzerman stay put for now and Edmonton hires McCrimmon in coming weeks? Forget about Seattle going after their GM a year early.
To open the purse-strings now, ownership has to know it will be worth it. And in a couple of weeks, as situations in Edmonton and Detroit play out, the guys controlling the money should have a much clearer picture.