My mentors in the game were iconic GMs such as Pierre Lacroix and Lou Lamoriello. The inner workings of their teams were never discussed in public or played out in front of the media. I admired the way both operated under the radar and when I became GM in Tampa Bay and I attempted to run my club in the same manner.
When hiring personnel, I explained to them how I wanted things done. I made it clear that our business was to stay within our own operation. While our scouts were free to listen to and collect information from other scouts who were willing to dish information about their own franchises, we would not reciprocate. The penalty for sharing our internal business with other teams’ personnel was “termination for cause.”
Similarly, if we were talking with another NHL club about a possible trade and I brought our scouts or other personnel into the discussion, it was stated up-front that the discussions were confidential and proprietary and were to be kept within our franchise only. That included information about the other club’s players being discussed as part of the deal. My colleagues knew that anything discussed with me would stay tightly within our organization and failure to do so would cost the offending employee his job, without pay, regardless of the term remaining on his contract.
Unfortunately, this standard was not followed by all NHL clubs. I knew that, in most circumstances, if I were to call my 29 colleagues or perhaps send an email or facsimile message advising of a player’s availability, the media would know chapter and verse about our business before long.
Some of my colleagues used the media as a sounding board, knowing they would float any information like a trial balloon, which allowed management to gauge public and industry reaction. Others immediately took the information to the media in hopes there would be reciprocity some day. Still others, I was convinced, shared the information in hopes that public disclosure would become a distraction in our dressing room and derail whatever team success we might be having at the time.
It happened to me in 2006 when I knew our captain, Dave Andreychuk, had reached the end of his career. I wanted to meet with him and tell him I had contacted each team to gauge interest in his services. I sent out a memo via facsimile to every NHL team and within hours it was in the hands of the media who phoned Andreychuk to tell him before I could gather the information and meet with him in an orderly fashion. To this day I regret the manner in which Andreychuk found out about that memo.
Similarly, when I began making phone calls prior to the trade deadline last season regarding interest in former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards, I had a fellow GM ask me if I realized that by contacting all 29 other teams in this manner it would guarantee the news would be leaked to the media within hours. I understood what would happen, but I had to make the calls. Having learned from the Andreychuk situation, I made it a point to alert Brad and his agent before hand.
Speculating about trades is great fun for fans and media, and it certainly keeps sports talk radio in business. At the same time, I remain firmly convinced that discussing potential deals under the radar is in the best interest of the franchise. Perhaps some day all 30 NHL clubs will come to the same conclusion.
On second thought, not a chance!
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.