I’ve been asked a lot what moves I would make if I were GM for the Sabres. So, I’m finally putting this blog together after much thought. I’m basing my philosophy on one of my favorite movies, Miracle. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s the Hollywood version of the 1980 Miracle On Ice.
About 10 minutes into the film, you see tryouts for the 1980 USA team, and Herb Brooks’ character is sitting in the press box assessing players (Right after one of the powers-at-be said that Mike Eruzione had no chance of making the team). His assistant coach, Craig Patrick comes in, thanks him for the opportunity to coach the team with him. Brooks hands him a list of 26 players, and informs him that the difficult thing will be cutting the list down to the 20 players in time for the Olympics. Patrick looks confused, and this is the dialogue that follows
Patrick- “You’re missing some of the best players.”
Brooks- “I’m not looking for the best players Craig, I’m looking for the right ones.”
I love this concept. But what defines the “right” player so to speak?
Based on this, these are the steps I’d take in order to try to put a championship team, or at least a competitive one on the ice.
First, I’d sit down and determine what pieces of my team are not moveable, and who I would not want to part with. I’d make sure the coach in included, and determine the style of play he is trying to implement on the ice, what players get it, and what one’s don’t. Then, we’d start playing with line combinations.
I’d want to design the team to have even lines. For example, Grigorenko is not a player who should be flanked by John Scott and Patrick Kaleta. Just like having Scott join Vanek and Pominville is not necessarily the greatest idea either. The players on each line would be there to compliment each other to maximize their skill and talent. For example, a center who can score and make passes to set up Vanek and Pominville is the logical decision in this instance.
After doing this, my next move would be to assess the market. Not just for who is available. I see several names on the free agent market, or on the trading block. That doesn’t mean they’re going to fit on my team. I would want to focus on the players that don’t fit on their current team, and could fit on mine. For example, say Cody Hodgson (just an example) isn’t fitting in with what I want to do and the coaches game plan. After studying film and talking to other teams, I determine that Paul Stastny would fit into my teams system, and Hodgson would fit into the Avalanche system, that’s when I’d start proposing a trade. Both teams win, and get what they need to improve their club.
When it comes time for free agency, I don’t necessarily want to go after the biggest fish in the sea. I want to get the player that will fit into what I’m trying to do, and that will maximize his potential. There’s a reason as to why certain players do well in 1 city, and poorly in another. They may not fit in, the style of hockey played isn’t the way that they’re used to playing, etc. Just signing a huge contract, doesn’t guarantee results. Plus, just because they were an explosive forward for one team, doesn’t mean it will carry over to the next.
Also, I’d change the way that players are called up to the team from the minor leagues. We all know players come and go from the farm system quickly in the NHL. The player called up needs to match the style of the player who is hurt or who he’s replacing. For example, if John Scott got hurt, I’d call up Cody McCormick (But after his 2 goal game last night for the Amerks, he may fill in for Hodgson). If a scoring forward got hurt, after the lines were shuffled around, I’d call up who would best fill in the role that was left by the injured forward.
One more factor plays into all of this. Pride. Sometimes, you just have to admit that you made a mistake. There will always be things that pop up that cause some of your deals to just fall through. Someone’s game goes in the toilet, injuries, any number of reasons contribute to this. Look at Rick DiPietro. That’s a perfect example of a move that was meant to better a team, but didn’t happen. Which leads me to my final point.
Sometimes a GM needs to swallow his pride and admit that the moves he made weren’t the best, despite what he may have initially thought. An honest assessment needs to be made, and if it’s time to rebuild a team, start making the moves to do that. However, in making those moves, make sure that you determine with the coach what type of game is to be played, and what players will succeed in that system, and what one’s won’t.
I’ll use a current example of what my plan would be with the Sabres. I’m going to focus on the fan favorite Mikhail Grigorenko. He’s a goal scorer. Right now, Buffalo doesn’t have enough scoring forwards to make a line that allows him to maximize his talent, as well as the talent of the other 2 forwards on his line. So, I’d say that my job would be to find some wingers who can come in and compliment Grigorenko’s talent.
Being a GM isn’t about getting the best players on the market. It’s about getting the best players who fit into your team’s system and game plan. If you’re able to do that, then regardless of what the experts say, you’re getting the right players for you.
Which in turn, can make them be the best players for your team.
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