When MLB’s Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as GM, the question was posed: when would the day come that a woman would take the top team-building job for an NHL club?
As happens, a handful of candidates had their names bandied about. Some were former players. Others were current scouts. But two near ubiquitous mentions – the Seattle Kraken’s Alexandra Mandrycky and Namita Nandakumar – are from different backgrounds.
Neither played the game or grew up in hockey-mad households. Neither paid so-called dues in the minor leagues or spent years riding the bus with junior squads. When they did break into big-league front offices, it was by way of the relatively novel concept of analytics expertise. And while their respective journeys to the NHL may be somewhat unconventional, it hasn’t prevented either from cultivating impeccable credentials that more than earns them their keep on the list of future first-time GMs.
Consider Mandrycky, whose work in bringing advanced statistics to the masses as part of now-defunct website War-On-Ice led to a post with the Minnesota Wild where she rose to prominence before becoming the Seattle Kraken’s director of hockey administration and one of the organization’s first hires. Ron Francis’ hiring as GM? Mandrycky had a say in that decision.
As for Nandakumar, an exceedingly bright statistical analyst whose study of drafting first caught Mandrycky’s eye, she contributed to the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl championship before moving on to become senior quantitative analyst with Seattle.
So, first female GM? “My answer is always no,” Nandakumar said. “I would like to maybe, possibly become an NHL GM someday when there's already been others to lead the way, bear that weight or just share it a little more. If I got that chance, people would just probably prod through my resume and be like, 'Oh, is she going to be good like this?' Rather than being like, 'Well, she's a she, and that's huge, so let's figure out if women can GM solely based on what she's doing.’”
Mandrycky shares a similar sentiment. “Being one of the higher-ranking women in hockey operations, it's like, well, what if I suck? Does that mean all the men I work with are going to think all women suck? Feeling as if you're one of only a few places a lot of pressure to be the good example and have success.”
The insistence that one woman – or any one member of an underrepresented community – speak for or have their performance represent an entire group is one of the most overlooked burdens faced by those who are the firsts or one-of-fews. As the landscape of front offices change, however, there comes the opportunity for that weight to be lessened by greater representation. The Kraken are already changing the conversation by embracing diverse hiring practices. Mandrycky has the ability to have a hand in that, just as other women who’ve recently risen into more powerful positions in NHL front offices will in the future.
“I am able to go seek out candidates that maybe are within my network that wouldn't be within the network of your standard hockey operations personnel,” she explained. “If there's a director of player development that's a woman, maybe as she goes to hire a player development assistant, she's going to be looking within different networks. We're going to not takeover, but there's going to be more and more of us within hockey very soon.”
And the more women, more underrepresented minorities, more people who’ve taken untraditional routes to NHL front offices, the greater the chance others like Mandrycky and Nandakumar can become inspirational figures for those who want to see someone like themselves in a big-league management role. For now, though, Mandrycky and Nandakumar understand and find great meaning in their ability to be those role models.
“As much as I would love to talk about my work all day, I also feel like it's important to advocate for diversity and inclusion and be upfront about it, as well,” Nandakumar said. “If we can just make one girl or one underrepresented minority in any facet think, 'Maybe this sport is for me after all,' that is huge and that would mean everything to me.”