December 10, 2009

Messing With Team Canada

Count me as one of the apparently few that are skeptical about the appointment of Mark Messier as Team Canada's general manager for the 2010 World Championships.

I'm not really all that concerned about the result in Mannheim, Germany. The IIHF World Championships have never really registered on the hockey consciousness here in Canada, not like it probably should anyways. Expectations are low, especially in an Olympic year where many top candidates may sit this one out after a long and arduous season.

That alone might be why Canada is giving Mess the reign this year. Who would dare say no to him? And that's all fine and dandy, probably even a good move by Hockey Canada.

But I am far more concerned about the long term implications of Messier's inclusion with Hockey Canada.

2010 Is Fine

The world's GM job is generally considered to be an entry level job with Hockey Canada. Much like the players chosen, success and loyalty here can lead to bigger and better things, namely the Olympics. Past managers include Doug Armstrong (2009), Steve Yzerman (2008 and 2007), Ken Holland (2006). These three, along with 2002 and 2006 Olympic assistant executive director Kevin Lowe, are heading up Canada's 2010 Olympic team.

It is a fairly safe position. The manager ultimately has little impact, other than selecting the coach and staff, and working with them to pick the players. I'm making that sound a whole lot simpler than it really is, but ultimately team success at worlds really lies with the players and coaches. And Hockey Canada's Bob Nicholson will provide a very steady guiding hand.

Beyond 2010, I'm Worried

But if the choice of Messier indicates Hockey Canada sees potentially bigger roles for him in the future, I'm not completely comfortable with that.

What little management experience Messier does have he's learned from Glen Sather, and his awful record in the past 15 years or so speaks for itself. That's not exactly the mentor I'd choose if I were an aspiring GM. He's politically savvy, but his hockey savvy can very much be questioned since 1995 or so.

There is no doubt Messier is politically calculating too. Messier's other management experience dates back to his playing days with the Vancouver Canucks. That's when hockey's so called greatest leader was said to be in cahoots with owner John McCaw in bringing in Mike Keenan and many on ice acquisitions, and tearing apart the Canucks heart and soul by getting rid of people like Pat Quinn, Trevor Linden and Martin Gelinas. The result speaks for itself - zero playoff games during what is now bitterly remembered in Vancouver as the dark Messier Error Era.

Messier represents the old boys network. Like Sather, he is too loyal to his friends. Such cronyism did in Wayne Gretzky at the 2006 Olympics. Messier's not so subtle hinting that Gretzky could very well be the 2010 Olympics coach is fine, but certainly suggests the era of cronyism will be back.

I'd rather see Canada continually rewarding the best of the best, and rotating new ideas on a regular basis.

Messier as GM of the 2010 World Championship team is fine in itself. His job will essentially be to recruit more so than manage. But the bigger picture scares me.


Captain Canuck said...

agreed. 1000%.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. Messier is one of the greatest players in hockey history - and would be remembered even more fondly if it weren't for the disaster in Vancouver - but for Canada's sake I hope his appointment won't lead to an old boy network of former Oilers running team Canada.
Sather's record since the 1990's really makes one doubt how much he really had to do with the Oilers' success in the 80s.