The idea of accountability is nebulous. For some, it means the buck stops with them – and if they don’t get the job done, they’ll fall on their sword, move along and give another individual a shot at succeeding where they failed. For others, it only means explaining themselves to a superior and/or business owner and/or Toronto civic taxpayers and carrying on with their duties regardless of their inability to fulfill their mandate.
There’s no better example of this in the NHL than the Metropolitan Division, a.k.a. the place where upper management accountability goes to die. This is a division that has seen just two GM changes since 2006, and both of them occurred with a team (Columbus) that hasn't been part of the division until this season began. If there’s anywhere running a hockey team is akin to being an emperor or tenured university professor, it’s the Metro.
To be fair, there are understandable reasons why the GM turnover in the Metropolitan is notably lesser than the NHL’s other three groups of teams.
When you win a Stanley Cup – as Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero did in 2009; as Carolina’s Jim Rutherford did in 2006; and as New Jersey’s Lou Lamoriello has done three times since 1995 – you earn some job security. But even when you take Cup-winning GMs (with their current team) out of the mix, it’s clear the Metro specializes in long leashes and a paucity of pink slips.
In Manhattan, Glen Sather has run the Rangers since the turn of the century and has delivered only five playoff series victories (no more than two in one season) in some 14 years. George McPhee has been GM in Washington since 1997 and after making it to the Cup final in his rookie season, the Capitals have never made it past the Eastern Conference semifinals. On Long Island, Garth Snow has held the Islanders’ reins of power since the summer of 2006 despite the Isles winning only three games in two playoff series and finishing last in their division for five straight seasons prior to last year. And despite being employed as Flyers GM since the fall of 2006, Paul Holmgren has been more famous for Philly’s near-constant major turnover and directly and indirectly stockpiling the L.A. Kings’ championship run than it is in achieving a decent amount of playoff and regular-season success.
Contrast that with the GM changes in the NHL’s other divisions: the current Atlantic Division has had six of its eight teams hire new GMs since 2006; only Boston and Detroit have retained their top hockey man – and again, the Bruins and Red Wings fall under the same Cup-winner rules of accumulating leeway. In the Western Conference’s Central Division, the Nashville Predators are the sole franchise to retain their GM for eight years or longer; and in the Pacific, the San Jose Sharks are the only team to hang on to their GM over the course of that span.
There are arguments to be made for the Flyers, Caps, Islanders and Rangers to stay the course and improve on what their present-day architects have built. However, there’s just as much, if not more to be said for fresh voices, different approaches and bottom lines. And the bottom line is, those four franchises have consistently disappointed their fan bases and don’t look like bona fide Cup contenders this year.
If you’re truly accountable in hockey, you don’t talk about how many Cup rings you won as a player. You point to the list of Cup-winning GMs and find your name, or you admit culpability in coming up short. It’s something nearly every NHL organization has to admit to itself to compete. So there's something sad about seeing four teams in one division still figuring out ways to propagate their management’s status quo. There's a ton of great history with the Metro's franchises and fans deserve optics that don’t suggest their beloved team might be laboring under a personal fiefdom.
The motto of every team should be “Cup or bust”, not “Cup or bust…or Metro.”