Looking for Lord Stanley’s Cup in all the wrong places
by W. Glenn Rowe
Leadership |
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Every National Hockey League senior management team basically includes a general manager and a head coach. They have separate responsibilities. But GMs and coaches are employed to jointly build a franchise that brings home Lord Stanley’s Cup. Indeed, while owners and team presidents are generally happy if their organization operates in the black, there should be no question that winning the playoffs is the ultimate goal. The Cup, of course, goes to just one team at the end of the season, which is why managers of losing teams, especially ones that fail to make the playoffs, find themselves in danger of being fired every year. For example, on April 14, 2014, after 15 seasons as the only coach of the Nashville Predators, Barry Trotz was let go because his team did not make the playoffs. At the time, he was the longest serving coach in the NHL. Shortly after, Washington, Florida, Vancouver and Carolina all fired coaching staff. What about GMs? Washington recently decided to not renew the contract of George MacPhee, who had been the Capital’s GM for almost 17 years. Mike Gillis was fired by the Canucks on April 8. On April 28, Jim Rutherford stepped down as GM of the Carolina Hurricanes after 20 years in that position. He was replaced by former VP of hockey operations Ron Francis, a former player with two Cup rings to his credit. On May 16, Pittsburgh Penguins fired GM Ray Shero. He had been with the Penguins since 2006 and had built a team that won the Cup in 2009.

In the history of the NHL, nine Cup-winning GMs have been hired to duplicate a Stanley Cup victory at another organization, but only one has been successful: Tommy Gorman with Ottawa (1920, 1921 and 1923), Chicago (1934), Montreal Maroons (1935) and Montreal Canadiens (1944 and 1946).Nevertheless, because winning is the endgame, some losing teams have long tried to improve their chances of victory by replacing existing management with a so-called “proven winner,” meaning someone who has already won a Cup as a GM at another team, as a coach or as a player. In 2008, Richard Peddie, former head of Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, hired Brian Burke as GM of the Leafs because Burke had won the Stanley Cup as GM of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. At the time, Ken Campbell, a senior writer with The Hockey News, argued that hiring a “proven winner” was better than hiring a non-winner. This logic is also applied to coaches. When Peter Laviolette became the new coach of the Predators this year, GM David Poile noted he was glad to land “an experienced coach who won a Stanley Cup.” According to Poile, hiring Laviolette, who won a Cup playing with the Hurricanes, was “arguably the most important decision we’re making this offseason.” He obviously thinks hiring a Cup-winning coach will offer his team some form of competitive advantage.

Unfortunately, NHL statistics do not support this conclusion. In “Debunking the Proven Winner Myth in the National Hockey League” (Ivey Business Journal, May/June 2012), I examined the likelihood of winning with a Cup winner at the GM, coach and team captain levels. It was shown that the odds of winning by hiring a so-called proven winner from another team at each of these three levels of leadership were 11.1 per cent for GMs, 13 per cent for coaches and 33.3 per cent for captains. These odds were compared with the odds of winning at each leadership level if a proven winner stayed with the team with which he had already won a Stanley Cup. The odds of winning two or more Cups with the same team having already won one Cup were 54.1 per cent for GMs, 26.4 per cent for coaches and 43.8 per cent for captains.

Examining data from the 1915/1916 season to the 2012/2013 season (see Exhibit One for teams no longer in the NHL), this article highlights the growing evidence that indicates hiring a winning player, coach or general manager from another team to lead a team as coach or GM is far from a silver bullet solution for winning a Stanley Cup. In fact, it might even be a bad idea.

 

Exhibit One

 The Other Teams To Play in The NHL

 

Teams Including Their Various Name Changes

Years in the NHL

Ottawa Senators

The Senators were renamed the St. Louis Eagles and moved to St. Louis for the 1934/1935 season. As the Senators they won the Cup in 1920, 1921, 1923 and 1927. They were the NHL’s first dynasty.

1917/1918 to 1930/1931

1932/1933 to 1933/1934

1934/1935

Montreal Maroons

Won the Stanley Cup in 1926 and 1935.

1924/1925 to 1937/1938

NY Americans

Renamed the Brooklyn Americans for their last season in the NHL.

1925/1926 to 1940/1941

1941/1942

Quebec Bulldogs

Renamed the Hamilton Tigers and moved to Hamilton for the 1920/1921 season. When the team folded after the 1924/1925 season the players were acquired by the NY Americans.

1919/1920

1920/1921 to 1924/1925

Pittsburgh Pirates

Renamed the Philadelphia Quakers and moved to Philadelphia for the 1930/1931 season.

1925/26 to 1929/1930

1930/1931

Montreal Wanderers

The Wanderers played six games in the fall of 1917 before folding.

1917/1918

California Golden Seals

Originally named the California Seals, the name was changed to the Oakland Seals in the 1967/1968 season. In 1970 the name was changed to the California Golden Seals. The team was moved to Cleveland in 1976 and became the Cleveland Barons. The team folded in 1978.

1967/1968 to 1975/1976

1976/1977 to 1977/1978

 

PLAYERS TO GM

In his book Behind the Moves, Jason Farris reported that 170 GMs had led NHL teams during a portion of a regular season from 1926/1927 to 2010/2011. By expanding the time period from 1915/1916 to 2012/2013, I pick up another eight GMs for a total of 178. Ninety-three of these played in the NHL while 85 did not (see Table One). Interestingly, teams who hired former NHL players as GMs were much less likely to win Cups than were teams who hired individuals who did not play (see Table Two). The percentage of wins with a GM who did not play was 29.4 per cent versus 11.8 per cent with former NHL players at the helm. The odds of winning with non-players as GM were 2.5 times that of winning with former players. Furthermore, when looking at the GMs who played in the NHL, the percentage who won a Cup as GM after winning a Cup as a player is 14.3 per cent, compared to 9.8 per cent for GMs who played in the NHL but not on a Cup-winning team (see Table Three). This is not a statistically significant difference. What about GMs who served as team captains? According to the numbers (see Table Four), experience playing as a team captain makes little or no difference in a GM’s ability to build a Cup-winning team. This appears to be the case even for GMs who won a Stanley Cup as a team captain (see Table Five). In fact, only two Cup-winning team captains (Eddie Gerard and Bob Gainey) have led a team to a Cup win as a GM. According to the above, GMs who never played in the NHL are significantly more likely to win the Cup than teams led by Cup-winning players, including players who served as a team captain. This does not support the proven-winner theory that David Poile is now counting on. Indeed, the lure of hiring a “proven winner” from the ranks of those who played seems to lead to counter intuitive results – a lowering of the odds of building a Cup-winning team.

 

TABLE ONE

 NHL General Managers Who Won The Stanley Cup

General Manager

Cups

Team

Played*

Captain**

Coach ***

 

Prior to

During

Pollack, Sam

9

Montreal

No

 

No

No

Adams, Jack

7

Detroit

Yes (2)

No

No

Yes (3)

Gorman, Tommy

3

Ottawa

No

 

No

No

1

Chicago

No

 

No

Yes (1)

1

Maroons

No

 

Yes (1)

Yes (1)

2

Montreal

No

 

Yes (2)

No

Smythe, Conn

7

Toronto

No

 

No

Yes (0)

Selke, Sr., Frank

6

Montreal

No

 

No

No

Sather, Glen

5

Edmonton

Yes (0)

No

Yes (0)

Yes (4)

Imlach, Punch

4

Toronto

No

 

No

Yes (4)

Torrey, Bill

4

NY Islanders

No

 

No

No

Holland, Ken

3

Detroit

Yes (0)

No

No

No

Lamoriello, Lou

3

New Jersey

No

 

No

Yes (0)

Patrick, Lester

3

NY Rangers

No

 

No

Yes (2)

Ross, Art

3

Boston

Yes (0)

No

Yes (0)

Yes (1)

Allen, Keith

2

Philadelphia

Yes (1)

No

Yes (0)

No

Bowman, Stan

2

Chicago

No

 

No

No

Dandurand, Leo

2

Montreal

No

 

Yes (1)

No

Lacroix, Pierre

2

Colorado

No

 

No

No

Patrick, Craig

2

Pittsburgh

Yes (0)

No

Yes (0)

Yes (0)

Querrie, Charles

2

Toronto

No

 

No

Yes (0)

Savard, Serge

2

Montreal

Yes (8)

Yes (0)

No

No

Schmidt, Milt

2

Boston

Yes (2)

Yes (0)

Yes (0)

No

Burke, Brian

1

Anaheim

No

 

No

No

Chiarelli, Peter

1

Boston

No

 

No

No

Devellano, Jim

1

Detroit

No

 

No

No

Feaster, Jay

1

Tampa Bay

No

 

No

No

Fletcher, Cliff

1

Calgary

No

 

No

No

Gainey, Bob

1

Dallas

Yes (5)

Yes (1)

Yes (0)

Yes (0)

Gerard, Eddie

1

Maroons

Yes (3)

Yes (3)

Yes (0)

Yes (1)

Gill, Dave

1

Ottawa

No

 

No

Yes (1)

Grundman, Irving

1

Montreal

No

 

No

No

Ivan, Tommy

1

Chicago

No

 

Yes (3)

Yes (0)

Kennedy, George

1

Montreal

No

 

No

No

Lombardi, Dean

1

Los Angeles

No

 

No

No

Rutherford, Jim

1

Carolina

Yes (0)

No

No

No

Shero, Ray

1

Pittsburgh

No

 

No

No

Smith, Neil

1

NY Rangers

No

 

No

No

Tobin, Bill

1

Chicago

No

 

Yes (0)

No

     *If GM won the Stanley Cup as a player, the number of Cups won as a player is in brackets.

   **If GM won the Stanley Cup during his tenure as a team Captain, the number won as a Captain is in brackets.

*** If GM won the Stanley Cup as a coach, whether it was prior to his tenure as a GM or during his tenure as a GM, the number won is in brackets.

TABLE TWO

Relationship between Playing in the NHL and Winning the Stanley Cup as a General Manager

 

Won Stanley Cup as a GM

 

No

Yes

Totals

%

Played in NHL

No

60

25

85

29.4

Yes

82

11

93

11.8

Totals

142

36

178

 

Statistically, this is a significant negative relationship with a significance level of p< .005.

TABLE THREE

Relationship between Winning a Stanley Cup as a player and Winning as a General Manager

 

Won Stanley Cup as a GM

 

No

Yes

Totals

%

Won Stanley Cup as NHL Player

No

46

5

51

9.8

Yes

36

6

42

14.3

Totals

82

11

93

 

 

TABLE FOUR

Relationship between Serving as Team Captain and Winning a Stanley Cup as a General Manager

 

Won Stanley Cup as a GM

 

No

Yes

Totals

%

Served as an NHL Team Captain

No

53

7

60

11.7

Yes

29

4

33

12.1

Totals

82

11

93

 

 

TABLE FIVE

Relationship between Winning a Stanley Cup as Team Captain and as a General Manager

 

Won Stanley Cup as a GM

 

No

Yes

Totals

%

Won Stanley Cup as an NHL Team Captain

No

21

2

23

8.7

Yes

8

2

10

20.0

Totals

29

4

33

 

 

COACHES TO GM

Another question for NHL team owners/CEOs/presidents is whether or not GMs with coaching experience (prior to or during their tenure as a GM) win significantly more Cups than those who never served as a coach? I found the percentage of GMs who won Cups without coaching experience was 19.7 per cent, compared to 20.7 per cent for GMs with coaching experience (see Table Six). This is a non-significant difference. The non-significant difference was also there when I split GMs with coaching experience prior to their GM tenure from GMs who coached during their GM tenure (see Table Seven). The percentage of GMs who won Cups and coached during their tenure was 26.5 per cent, compared to 17.2 per cent for those with coaching experience prior to their tenure as GM. This suggests that having coaching experience appears to make no difference in a GM’s ability to build a Cup-winning team. While the difference between having coaching experience or not makes no difference in a GM’s ability to build a Cup-winning team, maybe those who coached prior to becoming a GM and won a Cup during that part of their career do better in building Cup winners as a GM. There were 58 GMs who had coaching experience prior to becoming a NHL GM. Ten won Cups as coaches prior to becoming a GM. Of these 10, three were able to build a Cup-winning team as a GM. This compares to 10 of 48 GMs with prior coaching experience that did not lead to a Cup win building a Cup-winning team as GM. The percentages are 30 per cent to 20.8 per cent, respectively (see Table Eight). This is not a significant difference and does not support the proven-winner theory. As a result, the odds of building a Cup-winning team with a GM having coaching experience prior to becoming a GM, whether winning a Cup or not, is no different than never having coached in the NHL.

 

TABLE SIX

Relationship between Coaching in the NHL and Winning Stanley Cups as a NHL General Manager

 

Coaching Experience

Won Stanley Cup as a GM

No

Yes

Total

Percentage Wins

Never Coached

69

17

86

19.7

Prior to/Only During Tenure

73

19

92

20.7

Total

142

36

178

 

 

TABLE SEVEN

 Relationship between Coaching in the NHL and Winning Stanley Cups as a NHL General Manager

 

Coaching Experience

Won Stanley Cup as a GM

No

Yes

Total

Percentage Wins

Never Coached

69

17

86

19.7

Prior to

48

10

58

17.2

During only

25

9

34

26.5

Total

142

36

178

 

 

TABLE EIGHT

 Relationship between Winning a Stanley Cup while Coaching prior to Becoming a GM and Winning Stanley Cups as a NHL General Manager

 

Won a Stanley Cup while  a Coach Prior to Becoming a GM

Won Stanley Cup as a GM

No

Yes

Total

Percentage Wins

No

38

10

48

20.8

Yes

7

3

10

30.0

Total

45

13

58

 

 

PLAYERS TO COACHES

Two of the winningest coaches from 1915/1916 to 2012/2013 are Scotty Bowman with nine Cups and Toe Blake with eight Cups (see Table Nine). Bowman never played in the NHL. Blake won three Cups as a player, two of them as the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. So, should a team look for a former player to be the coach? And if so, should they hire a former Cup-winning player, a former team captain or a Cup-winning former team captain? The odds of winning with a former player are significantly lower at 10.6 per cent than it is with a person who did not have the opportunity to play in the NHL at 22.5 per cent. Whether the player won a Cup or not makes no difference. Whether he served as a captain or not makes no difference. However, if you are going to hire a player, the data suggests that team captains who won a Cup (22.2 per cent) are significantly more likely to win as a coach than those team captains who did not win a Cup (6.3 per cent). Having said that, the odds of winning with a Cup-winning captain are virtually the same as winning with a person who never played in the NHL. This suggests that being seduced by the glitter of a Cup ring on the hands of a former player does not improve the odds of hiring a Cup-winning coach, whether he won a Cup as a player and/or as a team captain.

 

TABLE NINE

 NHL Coaches Who Won The Stanley Cup

Coach

Cups

Team

Played*

Captain**

GM***

Bowman, Scotty

5

Montreal

No

 

No

1

Pittsburgh

3

Detroit

Blake, Toe

8

Montreal

Yes (3)

Yes (2)

No

Day, Hap

5

Toronto

Yes (1)

Yes (1)

No

Arbour, Al

4

NY Islanders

Yes (4)

Yes (0)

No

Imlach, Punch

4

Toronto

No

 

Yes

Irvin, Dick

1

Toronto

Yes (0)

Yes (0)

No

3

Montreal

Sather, Glen

4

Edmonton

Yes (0)

No

Yes

Adams, Jack

3

Detroit

Yes (2)

No

Yes

Green, Pete

3

Ottawa (1920/1921/1923)

No

 

No

Ivan, Tommy

3

Detroit

No

 

No

Gorman, Tommy

1

Chicago

No

 

Yes

1

Maroons

Yes

Hart, Cecil

2

Montreal

No

 

No

Patrick, Lester

2

NY Rangers

Yes (0)

No

Yes

Quennville, Joel

2

Chicago

Yes (0)

No

No

Ross, Art

2

Boston

Yes (0)

No

Yes

Shero, Fred

2

Philadelphia

Yes (0)

No

No

Babcock, Mike

1

Detroit

No

 

No

Boucher, Frank

1

NY Rangers

No

 

No

Burns, Pat

1

New Jersey

No

 

No

Bylsma, Dan

1

Pittsburgh

Yes (0)

No

No

Carlyle, Randy

1

Anaheim

Yes (0)

Yes (0)

No

Carroll, Dick

1

Toronto

No

 

No

Crawford, Marc

1

Colorado

Yes (0)

No

No

Crisp, Terry

1

Calgary

Yes (2)

No

No

Dandurand, Leo

1

Montreal

No

 

No

Demers, Jacque

1

Montreal

No

 

No

Gerard, Eddie

1

Maroons

Yes (3)

Yes (3)

Yes

Gill, David

1

Ottawa

No

 

Yes

Hartley, Bob

1

Colorado

No

 

No

Hitchcock, Ken

1

Dallas

No

 

No

Johnson, Bob

1

Pittsburgh

Yes (0)

No

No

Johnson, Tom

1

Boston

Yes (6)

No

No

Julien, Claude

1

Boston

Yes (0)

No

No

Keenan, Mike

1

NY Rangers

No

 

No

Laviolette, Peter

1

Carolina

Yes (0)

 

No

Lemaire, Jacques

1

New Jersey

Yes (8)

No

No

MacNeil, Al

1

Montreal

Yes (0)

No

No

Muckler, John

1

Edmonton

No

 

No

O’Donoghue, George

1

Toronto

No

 

No

Perron, Jean

1

Montreal

No

 

No

Pilous, Rudy

1

Chicago

No

 

No

Primeau, Joe

1

Toronto

Yes (1)

No

No

Robinson, Larry

1

New Jersey

Yes (6)

No

No

Ruel, Claude

1

Montreal

No

 

No

Sinden, Harry

1

Boston

No

 

No

Skinner, Jimmy

1

Detroit

No

 

No

Stewart, Bill J.

1

Chicago

No

 

No

Sutter, Darryl

1

Los Angeles

Yes (0)

Yes (0)

No

Tortorella, John

1

Tampa Bay

No

 

No

Weiland, Cooney

1

Boston

Yes (2)

Yes (1)

No

 

CONCLUSION

The most important decision for a NHL team owner/CEO/president involves who he/she hires as general manager. As a result, an examination of GMs who led their team into the 2013/2014 season (see Table Ten) reveals an interesting pattern. More than half of those GMs played in the NHL, so it appears most current team owners/CEOs/presidents believe NHL playing experience will enable a GM to better build a Cup winner. That’s despite the fact that of the nine GMs that have won Cups, six did not play in the NHL and only one (Glen Sather) had coaching experience prior to his first stint as a GM. Furthermore, despite evidence that the odds of winning with a GM who won Cups as a team captain are no better than with someone who never played in the NHL, two teams appear to have been seduced by the lure of a “proven-winner.” Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman is a three-time Cup-winning team captain with the Detroit Red Wings, and Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish is a four-time Cup-winning player with the Oilers.

The data presented in this paper suggests the skill set acquired as a NHL player, team captain and/or coach is different than the skill set required to be a Cup-winning NHL GM. Only 36 (20 per cent) of the approximately 178 men who have served as an NHL GM have managed to build teams that won the Stanley Cup. Sam Pollock won the most Cups, nine times in 14 seasons as GM of the Canadiens. And he never played or coached in the NHL before taking over as Montreal GM from Frank Selke. Selke won six Cups in 18 seasons as Montreal’s GM. He never played or coached in the NHL. Since 1987, only two GMs have led their clubs to three Stanley Cup-winning seasons – Lou Lamoriello and Ken Holland. Lamoriello has won three Cups as GM of the New Jersey Devils. He never coached or played in the NHL. Holland has won three Cups with the Detroit Red Wings. He never coached in the NHL, although he did play four games. So where did these winning GMs develop the skills required to bring home a Cup?

Pollock won two Memorial Cups as coach/GM with junior teams owned by the Canadiens in 1950 (Montreal Junior Canadiens) and 1958 (Ottawa-Hull Junior Canadiens). In addition, he won two championships with minor pro teams owned by the Canadiens in 1963 (Ottawa-Hull Canadiens in the Eastern Professional Hockey League) and in 1964 (the Omaha Knights in the Central Hockey League). Selke served as Conn Smythe’s assistant GM in Toronto from the 1929/1930 season to the 1945/1946 season. During this period, Smythe built three Cup-winning teams. Selke also assisted Smythe in building the first farm team system from which Smythe built his Cup-winning teams. He brought this farm team building ability to Montreal and trained Pollock in this system. Lamoriello was associated with Providence College for 20 years as a hockey player, hockey coach and administrator. He served as the coach for 15 seasons compiling a 0.578 record. During his last five seasons (1978-1983), the NHL drafted more players from his team than it drafted from any other college team. After playing just four games in the NHL with a 0-2-1 record as a goalie (one loss with the Hartford Whalers during the 1980/1981 season and three games with the Detroit Red Wings in the 1983/1984 season), Holland served as a Red Wings’ scout for two years, as Director of Amateur Scouting for seven years and as the assistant GM for three years before becoming the GM in July 1997.

When considering hiring a new GM, team owners/CEOs/presidents should look for individuals like these who have spent time learning to assess coach and player talent, from a different position, with a different team, or in a different hockey system, and have demonstrated a proven ability to find, recruit and retain such talent.

What about coaches? At the start of the 2013/2014 season, 18 of 30 teams had a coach with NHL playing experience which indicates the majority of NHL GMs appear to prefer coaches who played in the NHL. To improve their chances, they should consider looking for coaches in the three junior leagues, the minor professional leagues and the university systems in Canada and the United States. Why? I can offer four reasons: Pat Burns, Mike Babcock, Punch Imlach and Scotty Bowman!

Burns coached in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the American Hockey League. Babcock coached at the university level and in the Western Hockey League and the American Hockey League. Imlach coached in the Canadian military, in the Quebec Senior Hockey League and in the minor professional leagues as coach of the Spring Indians. Bowman coached in the Quebec Junior Hockey league and the Ontario Hockey Association. None of them played in the NHL, but they led teams to one, one, four and nine Cups respectively.

 



TABLE TEN

 

List of GMs Who Led Their Teams at the Start of the 2013/2014 Season

 

General Manager

Team

Played in

NHL**

Coached Prior to Assuming GM Duties**

Cups Won

Bob Murray

Anaheim

Yes (0)

No

 

Peter Chiarelli

Boston

No

No

1

Darcy Regier*

Buffalo

Yes (0)

No

 

Jay Feaster*

Calgary

No

No

1 – with Tampa Bay

Jim Rutherford*

Carolina

Yes (0)

No

1

Stan Bowman

Chicago

No

No

2

Greg Sherman

Colorado

No

No

 

Jarmo Kekalainen

Columbus

Yes (0)

No

 

Jim Nill

Dallas

Yes (0)

No

 

Ken Holland

Detroit

Yes (0)

No

3

Craig MacTavish

Edmonton

Yes (4)

Yes (0)

 

Dale Tallon

Florida

Yes (0)

No

 

Dean Lombardi

Los Angeles

No

No

1

Chuck Fletcher

Minnesota

No

No

 

Marc Bergevin

Montreal

Yes (0)

No

 

David Poile

Nashville

No

No

 

Lou Lamoriello

New Jersey

No

No

3

Garth Snow

NY Islanders

Yes (0)

No

 

Glen Sather

NY Rangers

Yes (0)

Yes (0)

5 – with Edmonton

Bryan Murray

Ottawa

No

Yes (0)

 

Paul Holmgren

Philadelphia

Yes (0)

Yes (0)

 

Don Maloney

Phoenix

Yes (0)

No

 

Ray Shero

Pittsburgh

No

No

1

Doug Armstrong

St. Louis

No

No

 

Doug Wilson

San Jose

Yes (0)

No

 

Steve Yzerman

Tampa Bay

Yes (3)

No

 

Dave Nonis

Toronto

No

No

 

Mike Gillis*

Vancouver

Yes (0)

No

 

George MacPhee*

Washington

Yes (0)

No

 

Kevin Chevldayoff

Winnipeg

No

No

 

          *Fired/stepped down during or at the end of the 2013/2014 season.

              **If played or coached in NHL, numbers in parentheses are number of Cups won.

The Author:

W. Glenn Rowe

W. Glenn Rowe is the Paul MacPherson Chair in Strategic Leadership and an Associate Professor, Strategic Management, at the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ontario. He can be reached at growe@ivey.uwo.ca.