San Jose Sharks
Give Grier a Chance: First Thoughts on New Sharks GM
It’s a new era for the San Jose Sharks.
Mike Grier was announced today as the Sharks’ new general manager, the culmination of an exhaustive two-month search that commenced in early April when long-time GM Doug Wilson stepped down because of health reasons.
“There are precious few candidates that have the strength of character to lead, not just in good times, but in difficult ones. Mike has consistently demonstrated that strength of character,” San Jose Sharks president and GM search committee member Jonathan Becher said this morning. “Mike Grier is a leader.”
Fellow search committee member, now Sharks assistant general manager Joe Will offered: “During this interview process, Mike impressed us immediately with his current, thorough knowledge of NHL talent and teams, along with the vision that takes into account all aspects of the game: Coaching, scouting, player development, wellness, mental skills, data science, physio training, and contract management. Further, Mike gave us confidence that a capable staff will be put together to help guide his new vision into reality.”
Becher echoed Will: “But more than anything else, the breadth of experience, not being as one-dimensional, having it from a player, from a scout, from a coach, from hockey management, having seen the game from literally every point of view. He’s essentially the most balanced of [the candidates].”
Grier will be just the fifth full-time GM in franchise history, following Wilson (2003-22), Dean Lombardi (1996-2003), Chuck Grillo (1992-96), and Jack Ferreira (1990-92). He’s also the first black GM in NHL history and comes from a distinguished sports management family: His father Bobby Grier is a long-time NFL executive and brother Chris Grier is Miami Dolphins GM.
Mike Grier also enjoyed a long playing career, suiting up for 1,060 games for the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, and San Jose Sharks. The 1993 St. Louis Blues’ ninth-round pick skated for the Sharks from 2006 to 2009.
After retiring in 2011, Grier scouted for the Chicago Blackhawks from 2014-18, was a New Jersey Devils assistant coach from 2018-20, and most recently, was a Hockey Operations Coordinator for the New York Rangers this past season.
Here are my takeaways from today’s press conference.
On Bob Boughner and the Sharks’ Next Coach
“Just like Jonathan was with this [GM search] – hopefully, [the coaching search will not be] quite as long (laughs) but we’ll have a thorough search. I don’t really have a timetable on it, just because of the time of the calendar it is. Like I just said we got to get into the draft and free agency. Those things are taking priority.
“I can’t really speak to [Boughner]. If you’re not here, around the coach on a daily basis and are part of the management team and things like that…I don’t want to lie to you and try and make something up. I don’t really know too much about [Bob Boughner] on that subject [of his Sharks’ coaching tenure].” (Grier)
Takeaway: It’s hard to believe that Grier would have no opinion about Boughner’s performance as San Jose Sharks’ head coach. But it also doesn’t make sense for him to spill the tea in public.
Elliotte Friedman alluded to as much in his most recent 32 Thoughts: “On Friday, acting GM Joe Will argued the extremely late coaching changes couldn’t have happened any sooner; making sure the new manager didn’t want to keep them. At that point, the organization should do the firings so it isn’t the new manager’s first move.”
The Sharks have caught a lot of PR flak for canning Boughner and company so deep into the off-season. But they also saved Grier from the fallout.
I’m sure if Grier wanted Boughner back, he would’ve been back. Perhaps Joe Will made a case for keeping Boughner to Grier, explaining why it took so long to pull the plug on Boughner. But certainly, it’s always made sense that a new GM would want his or her own head coach.
Could it be David Quinn?
The ex-New York Rangers and Boston University bench boss has been heavily rumored. Grier and Quinn weren’t teammates at BU but certainly know each other.
But Grier seems committed to a coaching search, though joking that he hoped it wouldn’t take as long as the GM search. He said the Jul. 7 Draft and Jul. 13 free agency were his first priorities, suggesting there isn’t a pre-ordained choice for the next Sharks head coach.
“We’re not looking to tear this down, like Arizona or some teams have done in the past. Yes, there are some challenges with the salary cap, but I think the majority of the league is dealing with the flat cap, and they have their issues. So for us, we’re not looking to rebuild, but Jonathan said at dinner once there, there’s a lot of ‘R’ words you can use.
“But for us, there might be a few bumps in the road ahead, and maybe we got to step back a little bit to go forward. But we’re going to try and get better and try and make the roster better every day.
“The goal is to win here. I’m a competitive person, same as Jonathan, Joe, and Hasso. The goal is to win. So we’re going to try and put the most competitive team we can out in the ice, and do what we think is right by the organization.” (Grier)
Takeaway: Grier echoed an infamous Doug Wilson quote.
After the San Jose Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 playoffs, Wilson said the Sharks were going to rebuild and “you have to take one step backward to be in a position to go two steps forward.”
Many Sharks fans melted down at the use of that “R” word, but Wilson did not undergo anything close to a traditional rebuild, keeping veterans Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and others. This group led the Sharks to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final and pushed open the franchise’s Cup window until 2018-19 and the arrival of Erik Karlsson.
Perhaps learning his lesson, Wilson has avoided the word “rebuild” in recent years, choosing “replenish” or “reset” instead. But they also seem to be the more accurate terms – a true rebuild wouldn’t include re-signing 28-year-old Tomas Hertl for eight more years.
Now Grier could U-turn from the direction set by owner Hasso Platter and Wilson, but I doubt it. The Sharks are still trying to replenish their infrastructure with prospects and young NHL’ers – but they’re not going into a full rebuild anytime soon either. They may not be a win-at-all-costs organization, but they are sincerely trying to make the playoffs right now.
A couple upcoming decisions will add further clarity to Grier’s direction: Will he buy out Marc-Edouard Vlasic? Will he make a splash in free agency?
These are connected moves.
Vlasic has four years left on his contract at $7 million AAV, and for an actually rebuilding organization, buying him out makes zero sense. But if you’re trying to win and tell a Hertl that you’re committed to winning, buying out Vlasic is one of the few reasonable ways that this cap-strapped team can create cap space. I’m not saying if they keep Vlasic, they’re re-building, but it’s more of a question of how committed are the San Jose Sharks to winning next year?
A middle-of-the-road approach, and not buying out Vlasic and letting his contract run out the clock is the wisest move if you want to stay middle of the road and in the middle of the standings or worse. But buying him out gives you a chance to spend some money on UFAs.
By my estimates – assuming the Sharks’ termination of Evander Kane’s contract is upheld and after re-signing RFAs like Mario Ferraro and company – San Jose might have about a million or so in cap space.
But buy out Vlasic and trade Radim Simek – and you create about $5.5 million dollars more of cap space.
That’s about $6.5 million dollars to play with on Jul. 13, which isn’t getting you Johnny Gaudreau but can buy you immediate help.
Buying out Vlasic, of course, isn’t just about one year of savings – he’s going to be on your cap for eight seasons – but the Sharks don’t have a lot of reasonable options to create room.
What’s Sharks’ Cap Situation After Signing Barabanov, Megna? (+)
On Buying Out Vlasic, the Kane Grievance, and Where Sharks Must Be Better
“I don’t have anything on specific players or buyouts or things like that. That’s something we’ll talk about as a management group, and make the decisions we need to make here. There’s some challenges there, but I’m not going to discuss what we’re thinking with the players at this point.
“I think the biggest challenge is probably trying to gain a little bit of cap flexibility and getting into the process where we are now. Where we’re up against the clock with the draft and free agency and things like that. So I just think that’s the challenge of just trying to get everything in order as quickly as possible, but still doing it the right way and being thorough.
“I think the team overall needs to get harder to play against. So if we can add a little bit more size on the backend and some size up front, I think it can make us a little bit more difficult to play against.
“We’ll expand the analytics department, for sure. I think player development because it’s going to become a big part of the organization. We’ll definitely have some changes to the scouting department as well. It’s pretty much every part of the organization, we’ve talked about and looked into and are going to try and make better.” (Grier)
Takeaway: It’s not surprising that Grier wouldn’t give specifics about potential moves, we’re used to that from Doug Wilson.
But those post-press conference nuggets about the importance of gaining cap flexibility, getting bigger, and bolstering the analytics department are interesting.
A Lack of Management Experience
“In talking with [New York Rangers GM] Chris Drury, I knew everything that he counted on from Mike and it was all the duties of an assistant GM. So his title was an advisor, but he was doing the duties of an assistant GM, and again, the experience at all the different levels within there.
“He’s been around the NHL for 25 years, and from scouting, he’s been in the trenches. He’s been in the trenches of coaching. Pretty much any staff member here, any player he can look at and say, I’ve been there, I’ve done that.” (Will)
Takeaway: It’s true that Grier’s post-playing resume doesn’t necessarily stack up against most GM candidates.
26 of the 32 current NHL GMs were NHL assistant general managers before their first NHL GM job, Grier, Lou Lamoriello, Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Kevyn Adams, and Kent Hughes being the exceptions.
Between Lamoriello and Sakic and Yzerman, those are some pretty strong exceptions, though granted, all three were in VP-or-above NHL executive roles before taking the GM reins. But something about Grier impressed Will, Becher, and owner Hasso Plattner, the Sharks GM search committee. Becher says they went through “something like 200 hours” of GM candidate interviews and multiple Sharks GM candidates have told me it was a very thorough process.
You have every right to doubt the braintrust that had led the Sharks to three straight years out of the post-season – but give Grier a chance. Maybe we’ll see what Plattner and company saw, someone special?
He’s not the first non-traditional GM hire to flourish in the role – and he won’t be the last. Don’t forget Doug Wilson himself had just six years as Sharks’ director of player personnel and a brief stint as interim assistant coach before getting tapped for the big chair in May 2003. Say what you want about how Wilson’s GM tenure ended, but by and large, he was very successful in that role.
So have your questions, sure – but don’t write off Grier yet.
Must Be a Shark to Apply?
“I’ve seen you and other people speculate that being a past Sharks player was one of our criteria. It was not.
“It is great that Mike knows San Jose, has a kid who was born here, and has connections to the city. That’s a nice add, that was never a requirement. In fact, some of our finalists did not have that connection with San Jose whatsoever.” (Becher)
Takeaway: Despite the reports, I don’t believe that playing for the San Jose Sharks was a requirement for the job. A bonus, yes, and perhaps a huge bonus.
But frankly, it’s stupid to eliminate like 90 percent of possible candidates with such a non-essential requirement, which is why I never paid talk about that much mind.
Maybe you don’t believe Becher, but I do.
First Black NHL GM
“We hired the best general manager available, Mike just happens to be black.” (Becher)
“It’s something I’m extremely proud of. Since my playing days, the league itself has gotten more and more diverse. There’s more black players in the league and minorities in the league. There’s more women and minorities in front office, scouting, and coaching positions. So from my standpoint, that’s something that I’m happy to see and excited to see.
“And for me, my job is to be the best I can be for the San Jose Sharks organization. And if I do that, hopefully, it opens the door to give other opportunities to other minorities to get in front office positions and maybe lead a team down the road as well.” (Grier)
What else did you expect Becher to say? Regardless, it’s nice that he said it.
It’s a seminal day in San Jose Sharks and NHL history, but surely Grier wants to be more than just a history-maker as a GM, he wants to be a winner as a GM.
Let’s keep an open mind and see what Grier’s got up his sleeve this off-season.
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