One of the areas where I believe forward-thinking NHL teams could tap into an under-used knowledge base is by considering longtime officials for decision-making roles in their scouting departments and/or front offices. Why not?
An NHL owner once said to me, "Paul, you're not a scout or a GM. You're a ref and a former player. What would you know about finding players and putting a team together?"
My blunt response: "I am three feet from these guys. I know who's real and who throws snow. The scouts are three hundred feet up there in the press box. Some do a great job and some are mostly drinking coffee and worrying about the traffic getting home."
Listen, some NHL teams have taken chances on candidates who never played the game at any significant level. Some have been former agents or whatnot. Some have watched a lot of hockey and know all the buzz words, but anyone who has been on the ice in a playing capacity at the NHL (or high minor league) level can see they really aren't qualified for hockey operations-related posts as coaches, general managers, scouts, etc.
Some non-players have excelled in those posts. Some have been disasters.
Scotty Bowman is the ultimate example of someone who excelled in the NHL despite never playing pro hockey. Ditto Pat Burns and Ken Hitchcock.
Here's a little secret about those guys: Part of what made them so intelligent and successful as coaches is that they know when and what to delegate to their assistant coaches who had been former NHL players, or at least had been former pro players. Ray Shero, a former agent whose playing career topped out at the collegiate level, became an NHL front office man in Ottawa and Pittsburgh and later brought a Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh as a general manager.
The non-players who have been disasters in those jobs are the ones who went into the post thinking they were smarter than everyone else.
Listen I don't want to pick on Pierre McGuire. He's too easy of a target. A lot of folks mock him for his, shall we say, glad-handing in interviews and tendency to talk over the game during broadcasts. I don't really care about that nor do I have anything personally against him.
Nevertheless, I am mentioning McGuire here because, in my view, he is the prototype for what NHL teams should NOT be looking for when they make an outside-the-box hockey ops hire.
Pierre is a nice enough man. He clearly knows all the right hockey jargon and can rattle off a lot of facts about players and teams. His own background in the game is that he played hockey at Hobart College and a little semipro hockey in the Netherlands. He spent some time as an NHL assistant coach under Bowman in Pittsburgh.
That does not mean he's qualified to run an NHL team.
Pierre's tenure as Hartford Whalers head coach (on a team that had some pretty good talent on it) in 1993-94 was an utter fiasco. He was in way over his head but refused to listen to any of the experienced hockey people around him who tried to steer him in the right direction.
I don't know. Maybe now that it's two decades years later, Pierre would do better a second time around if some team took a chance on him as an NHL general manager or in another hockey ops capacity. I just know that he would not be my choice.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were rumored to have considered McGuire last summer to replace Ray Shero before hiring the much more experienced Jim Rutherford. Frankly, though, someone like Pierre would not have been on my long list of candidates. Knowing where each and every player went to college or played his junior hockey -- and for which coach -- does not make one qualified to assemble a team.
Maybe McGuire would have proven me wrong. I do respect the man's persistence and, if he does eventually have another go-around in an NHL organization, I hope he succeeds.
At any rate, if some NHL teams are willing to consider for high-level jobs some non-players or those who otherwise lack high-level coaching experience, I should think that savvy hockey officials should also be part of the mix.
There are some really sharp hockey people on the officiating side of the game. Officials ARE hockey people. Those who achieve longevity can spend 1,000 games -- sometimes even much more than that -- on NHL ice, and are students of the game.
My brethren who excel in their profession know how to "read" players and often have a level of hockey sense than rivals even some longtime players. I have no doubt in my mind that there are current and former officials who could make for good scouts and front office people if NHL owners would open their mind to that possibility.
I once interviewed for an NHL general manager job with the Boston Bruins. I didn't get the job but the organization was impressed by the 90-page prospectus I had put together, laying out a long-term plan for what I thought the club needed to get to the next level of success. Even my biggest critics would not say I lack hockey savvy from my 40 years in this business.
I am not the only former official who has the chops to deserve consideration for such posts. It just takes one progressive-thinking team to open that door to my fellow officials and I think the rest of the hockey world will be surprised by just how much we actually do know about what goes into the making of a successful hockey team.
It did my heart good a few years ago when the Toronto Maple Leafs hired longtime NHL linesman Pat Dapuzzo as a scout. It's not just because Pat is a close friend of mine and was one hell of a linesman. That's a guy who learned a hell of a lot from all of his years working the lines. He's just not one to trumpet himself.
So how about it, NHL teams? Give a few more of the savviest guys in stripes a chance to show how they can help your organization. You will be pleasantly surprised and ahead of the curve.
Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.
The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.
Stewart's writings can also be found on HockeyBuzz.com every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He is currently working with a co-author in writing an autobiography.