In Toronto these days, despite a recent shootout win over the Bruins, NHL talk is as much about Leafs’ GM Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson as it is about the players.
Of course, when a team starts an NHL season with just nine wins in 25 games (which also includes just five in their last twenty-one), there’s bound to be lots of finger-pointing. And, as the rest of our glorious country knows, Toronto is the Canadian home of finger-pointing. But no fingers should be pointed Burke’s way. Not yet, anyway. That’s because every single NHL GM deserves five full years on the job before that happens.It’s a pretty simple concept, really. Any NHL GM needs five full years to mould a successful team. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. That doesn’t mean GMs get a five-year contract, but are fired after three. It means they are on the job for a minimum of five years. Of course, the complaint from owners and fans would be “But what if the guy is clearly not doing a good job before five years are up?”
What I’m saying is that there is no way to tell. Let’s look at the teams who have won the Stanley Cup over the last decade.
2000 NJ ~ GM Lou Lamoriello was in his 13th season with Devils
2001 COL ~ Pierre Lacroix, 7
2002 DET ~ Ken Holland, 5
2003 NJ ~ Lamoriello, 16
2004 TB ~ Jay Feaster, 2
2006 CAR ~ Jim Rutherford, 12
2007 ANA ~ Brian Burke, 2
2008 DET ~ Holland, 11
2009 PIT ~ Ray Shero, 3 (Craig Patrick was on job 16 seasons before Shero)
2010 CHI ~ Stan Bowman, 1 (Dale Tallon 4 seasons before Bowman)
Average time on the job for the GMs of the last ten Stanley Cup winners – 6.5 years.
Teams ask general managers for five-year plans, and then fire them before their five years are up. Look at John S. Ferguson in Toronto. He was hired in the summer of 2003. He was fired in January 2008. That’s less than five years (and the lockout falls in there, too). The point is that Ferguson never got a chance to see his vision through to the end. He may have had the wrong vision – but that’s not the point.
You show me a successful NHL general manager, and I’ll show you one who’s been on the job for five. One of the current exceptions would be Rangers’ GM Glen Sather. Slats has been in Manhattan for a decade, with very little to show for it. Maybe once you’re in the Hockey Hall of Fame it’s just a coast to the finish.
GMs need time to learn the character of their team. They need to determine what’s needed and what they have to work with. Brian Burke continues to do that in Toronto. The problem comes when no-nothing owners, or oblivious Presidents and CEOs of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, hire the wrong guys. They hire their buddies. They hire guys who were great players, but are buffoons as GMs. Or they hire someone with a “name.”
Clearly, being an NHL general manager is not an exact science. But it would serve teams well to give their GMs five seasons to find the right chemistry and create a winner.