I had to chuckle when I read a piece in one of the Toronto dailies that said history suggests the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup drought will only get longer if they go out and hire a “proven winner” such as Ken Holland, Jim Rutherford or Brian Burke to fill their GM vacancy.
The notion had the backing of Glenn Rowe, a professor at the University of Western Ontario’s School of Business, who pointed out that the last person to serve as GM of multiple Stanley Cup teams is Tommy Gorman, who won Cups with the Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Maroons and Montreal Canadiens from the 1920s to ’40s.
In fact, Gorman is the only man who has ever done it, unless you include Lester Patrick, who led the Victoria Cougars of the Western Canadian Hockey League to the Cup in 1925 before repeating the feat with the New York Rangers.
But what the noted scholar fails to mention is only seven men in the history of the NHL have gone on to be GM of another team after winning the Stanley Cup with one team, again with the exception of Patrick. The fact is, since the NHL was formed in 1917, only 28 different men have been the GM of a Stanley Cup team. Of those, Bob Gainey, Glen Sather, Cliff Fletcher, Bill Torrey, Milt Schmidt and Punch Imlach have failed to win the Cup with another team.
So, if the Leafs hire someone who has won the Stanley Cup, that means they historically and statistically have a one in seven chance of winning a championship with their new GM. That gives them a 14.3 per cent chance, which would rise to 28.5 if you include Patrick in the equation. In a 30-team NHL, I’d take those odds anytime.
They’d certainly be better than if they hired someone who has never won a Stanley Cup. By my count, the 30 NHL teams currently in existence have had 193 GMs, 28 of whom have won Cups, which would give them a 14.3 per cent chance of winning at least one. But that doesn’t take into account any of the league’s defunct teams, which would drive that percentage even lower.
You don’t think Sam Pollock or Frank Selke or Jack Adams would have won Cups if they had changed teams? Does that mean Lou Lamoriello or Holland would suddenly lose their ability to build a winner if they changed organizations?
Of course it doesn’t, which is why if the Maple Leafs search committee doesn’t do everything it possibly can to get permission to speak with Ken Holland, then hire him if they do, then they are simply abdicating their responsibility and doing the organization a complete disservice.
That’s because Holland is the best GM in the NHL, period. That’s why the Detroit Red Wings have won three Stanley Cups and are a perennial contender regardless of the financial landscape of the league. There’s absolutely no reason to believe he wouldn’t bring those same attributes to Toronto if he were hired.
Holland should be the first and possibly, only, candidate the Maple Leafs consider. The biggest obstacle would be to get the Red Wings to give permission to speak to them, but would Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch really stand in Holland’s way if Holland had the chance to run one of the most storied franchises in NHL history, particularly with the front-office depth Ilitch has at his disposal?
The Leafs must do everything within their power – leaning on commissioner Gary Bettman wouldn’t even be a bad idea – to get permission to speak with Holland, then make it absolutely impossible for him to turn the job down.
And here’s how they could do it: simply give Holland everything he could ever wish for and more.
• The first thing you do is tell Holland dealing with the board of directors of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is simply a fact of life. But reiterate to him that there will be no board interference and the board simply wants to be occasionally kept up to speed on what he’s doing.
• Then you give him unfettered power to control the fates of all hockey department personnel right from the guys who wash the jocks to the coaches and scouts. Allow him to fire the whole lot of them and replace them with his own people if that’s what he wants. Give him an unlimited hockey operations budget and allow him to use it completely at his discretion.
• Then, if you’re team president Richard Peddie, stay the hell out of the way. There’s a rumor that Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has a clause in his deal that allows him to quit if Peddie so much as steps into his office without an invitation. It’s probably an urban myth, but it actually sounds like a pretty good idea.
• Then, most importantly, make Holland rich beyond his wildest dreams. Present him with a 10-year contract worth $50 million with incentives that could push his yearly stipend up depending on how well the Leafs do in the playoffs, with a cap of $7.5 million if the Leafs win the Stanley Cup. Elite players are getting contracts such as that one these days and having Holland as part of your organization is every bit as valuable as having a star player on the ice.
If the Leafs approach the deal on those terms and either the Red Wings say no or Holland turns them down, then they can move on knowing full well that they did their best to get a deal completed with the most coveted executive in hockey.
If they don’t, they can always go out and hire someone who hasn’t won a Stanley Cup.
After all, there are lots of those guys around.
Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
One of THN’s senior writers, Ken Campbell gives you insight and opinion on the world of hockey like no one else. Subscribe to The Hockey News to get Ken’s expertise delivered to you every issue.