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Cloud9 Sports: Opinionated musing on the sporting world.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Oprah tells NHL: Hire good people, be successful like me.

Oprah is a ludicrously successful person, but she didn't say that about hockey. /shock/ I think she might know it exists though. Regardless, this is how your NHL team can find success just like O.

This is an interesting time of the year for the NHL in which something incalculably vital to organizational success is going on under the guise of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This determinant of success is in reference to the host of managerial and coaching contracts being discussed and subsequently signed over the last few weeks.

The invaluable role that coaches and managers play in team success can too easily be overlooked. These types of decisions which influence your on-ice product so tangibly are becoming of increasing importance in an NHL rich with parity. Your teams' path is laid for the future through the executive restructuring ongoing throughout the Spring months currently upon us. How important are the decisions your team is making right now? Very.

In any walk of like, often people of superior talent and intelligence rise to the top – this is why the smartest guys on Wall St. are hedge fund managers, why infomercials feature the same people repeatedly, and of course, why Crosby, Zetterberg, Malkin and Datsuk are so much better than their peers (but, thats another topic altogether). This excruciating analogy speak to the collective desperation in which teams – from all sports leagues -- explore the Saharan pool of available world-class management.

Naturally, the off-season is a happy place where teams dream of a bright future often overlooking the 50% chance they have of finishing in bottom half of the standings. The rampant delusions around this time of year lends itself to the symbiotic shuffling of management and coaching. So you pull the plug on the old hack(s) and bring in the new miracle worker. Funny thing about that though....

There aren't many miracle makers in the business of orchestrating winning sports franchises. All the guys old enough to recall a legacy worth remembering are dating themselves back to the Battle of Queenston Heights (alright, maybe just back to hippies). My point remains: the value of good management is priceless.

Take a quick look over the dog-and-pony show that is the Maple Leafs GM search and you'll have to look no further. The media has obsessed endlessly because it so important to them! Just picture Trader Cliff on the blood pressure monitor 24/7 as he endlessly searches for an adequate solution. Other teams has since resolved their vacancies however, with Dallas, Colorado and Vancouver all putting the pieces in place recently in preparation for the draft.

The Stars locked up the incumbent Brett Hull and Les Jackson by ceremoniously removing their Interm tag, Colorado decided to go back to Tony Granato (who was the bench general from 2002-04), and Vancouver told coach Alain Vigneault that he can wait another year to be a lame duck. (I guess Van City GM Mike Gillis is the old ball breaker hes made out to be.)

Lest we forget the lengths that people and organizations go to in an effort to retain good talent. Several have gone so far as to deny the right to negotiate with an individual under contract (even if, contrary to the customary practice, that job was a promotion).

This is a ruthless business where cash-cow markets can take advantage of their dough simply because there are no salary limitations within the managerial ranks. It encourages the thought: Why are managers and coaches making Darren McCarty-type money, when sane rationality dictates they should be living like Crosby? Eventually, it will come to this, or market principles tell us it should. There will be a great deal of resistance from some owners, but over the course of time their dollar will get stretched by fielding poor teams manifest through poor decision-making executives. In time, it will force these owners to make it rain on someone capable of winning.

How can one deem a GM capable of delivering victories? I'm a strong believer in established team identity as a predictive measure of success (in all sports). Managing means developing this identity and exemplifying it on the ice with the players of the ilk required. It's like seasoning the perfect bone-in Rib Eye streak, or playing jenga – its all about balance and timing. Its about managing the right ingredients to fit the mold you deem most likely to produce championships. But, its not easy...

This is evident around this time of year when we see and hear all of the organizational restructuring (as the GM-types might say it) around the league. It reminds you how exposed and vulnerable they are in a position that always demands success – not merely from the fraternity of their peers, but the ravaging fanatics who pay their salary with ever ticket. Being a GM or a coach is all about risk-reward: thankfully for them, those who succeed are being increasingly compensated for their work. This is a trend, unlike the men themselves, with a termination date far out of sight.