On consecutive days in May, three NHL teams introduced rookie general managers whose future success could foretell the direction of front offices across the league.
Ray Shero of the Penguins, Boston's Peter Chiarelli and Colorado's Francois Giguere are among six new GMs in the NHL this season, five of them in the post for the first time.
While coming up through the playing and/or coaching ranks is still considered a valid route to the general manager level, Shero, Chiarelli and Giguere represent a newer type of GM: men who come from more of a business background and learn the hockey operation side of things.
"I don't think any background -- being a former player or the background Peter Chiarelli or I or Francois have -- guarantees success, but there are varied backgrounds and experiences you can bring, and I'm just hopeful the new young guys do well," Shero said.
Shero, Chiarelli and Giguere worked their way to becoming assistant general managers and each benefited from working with a mentor who gave them wide-ranging responsibilities.
Shero, a former hockey agent, learned the NHL side of things with the Ottawa Senators and under longtime executive David Poile at Nashville.
Chiarelli, another former agent, was hired in Boston a day after Shero was introduced by the Penguins.
A lawyer who played four seasons at Harvard, Chiarelli tuned up for his current job while serving as assistant GM in Ottawa under John Muckler. Like Shero with Nashville, Chiarelli was involved in all aspects of the Senators, from the minor leagues to scouting to contracts and day-to-day operations.
"When I was in Ottawa, John Muckler allowed me to do a lot of these things that I'm doing here now," Chiarelli said.
"The transition has been fairly smooth that way."
Hired one day before Shero was Colorado's Giguere.
He spent the past five seasons as assistant GM with Dallas, but cut his teeth with the Quebec/Colorado organization, spending 10 years moving through the ranks as controller, assistant general manager and vice president of hockey operations.
While Shero and Chiarelli left their mentors to strike out on their own, Giguere is working for his, as former Avalanche GM Pierre Lacroix is now the team's president.
"I thought I was just going to be a business guy, and Pierre was the one who pushed me and pushed me to become the best hockey guy I could be," Giguere, a former CPA with a law certificate, told the Denver Post.
Brian Burke blazed a trail 20 years ago when he went from being an agent to the Vancouver general manager. There have been others who matriculated from more of a business background, but the fact that three such GMs were hired in one offseason seems to indicate that a non-traditional background is as accepted as the long-time standard routes.
Florida's Jacques Martin ascended in a more old-fashioned way. He became an NHL head coach 20 years ago, but he is in his first season as a general manager. He is the only man in the league right now with the dual title of general manager/coach.
Perhaps the most intriguing first-year general manager is Garth Snow, who retired as a goaltender July 6 to move into management with the New York Islanders. That came after a short stay -- as in, 40 days -- by veteran hockey executive Neil Smith.
Snow became the third player to go straight to a GM chair, the others being Hall of Famers Bobby Clarke and Serge Savard. By contrast, Snow's perennial role was that of a strong backup.
"I'm coming into a position I never had experience at, and I admit it," Snow told Newsday recently. "I'll make up for the inexperience with hard work and by doing my due diligence. All those people I'm working with make the job a lot easier."
That would include executive director of player development Bryan Trottier and coach Ted Nolan. And fourth-year owner Charles Wang, who is still calling many of the shots, such as the decision to sign goalie Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract.
Dean Lombardi, hired in April by Anaheim, is the only one of the six new GMs who isn't a rookie. He formerly was general manager with San Jose.
That was before the new collective bargaining agreement, though, and that leaves Lombardi feeling his way through like the others.
"I think anybody that thinks they have all the answers under this system right now isn't telling the truth," Lombardi said.
"The one thing about this system that is in place, obviously with free agency the way it is, it does give us avenues that probably weren't available to teams in the past. I still believe that the drafting and development is critical. It's just that now it is more balanced in terms of the amateur and the pro side."
Not to mention the hockey and business side.Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette Associated Press
Day 1 on the job for Ray Shero in May with Mario Lemieux at his side.
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Garth Snow, above, took one of the more unorthodox approaches to a general manager's job, while Jacques Martin, below, took the most conventional.
Click photo for larger image.Paul Chiasson, Associated Press
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Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.