MONTREAL — Mike Grier is the newest member of the Sharks front office, but the fallout from a terrible Wednesday morning also hit him near home.
Bryan Marchment, who spent six of his 17 years as a resilient, respected NHL player with San Jose and the last 15 years as a scout for the organization, died unexpectedly. The cause of death was initially unknown.
“It’s a sad day for me personally, a very sad day for our organization,” said Grier, who was announced Tuesday as the new Sharks GM. “He meant a lot to a lot of people in our organization, our players, our staff – everyone who knew Brian, the kind of man he was. He was just an honest, down to earth, loving person who just cared about everyone. He had time for everyone in the building. He had time for everyone he met.
“For me personally, he was great for me in my early years in Edmonton. Treated me with respect right away. Felt like home. If I ever needed anything, even if it was a home cooked dinner, instead of eating out every day, he and Kim would cater to me. It’s a very difficult day.”
Grier said he gave Sharks scouts and front office staff in Montreal the rest of the day for the 2022 NHL draft, which begins Thursday night. Sharks alumni, current players and prospects took to social media to pay their respects to the man almost everyone calls “Mush”.
“We’ll come back to that tomorrow,” Grier said. “‘Mush,’ he’d say that — he’d want us to get back to work and have the best draft possible.”
The mourning process for a beloved member of the organization and the hockey community in general will continue well into the future. The challenges ahead for Grier and the Sharks might feel trivial and unimportant on a day like Wednesday, but they still loom, beginning with Thursday night’s first round of the draft.
Here’s a look at some of the items on a long to-do list for Grier in his first few weeks and months as the new head of hockey operations.
1. First GM meeting
This has already been crossed out. Grier was announced Tuesday in San Jose as the organization’s new GM and on Wednesday afternoon he attended a meeting of the league’s 32 general managers in Montreal. It was the first in-person GM meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic and an opportunity to learn about the state of the league from various aspects and discuss things like possible rule changes.
It was the first of this kind of meeting for Grier, but there were some familiar faces in the room, including some former teammates and people who were GMs when he played.
2nd NHL draft 2022
The Sharks have number 11 in the first round. They have no pick for the second round, traded to Arizona for goaltender Adin Hill. You have eight picks in the last five rounds.
Grier said he might contribute to some players, but most of the work on this draft class was completed by the staff who were already in place before he arrived. During draft there is usually some significant trading activity and the groundwork for future transactions between now and the start of free agency has been laid. This is where Grier could have a big impact.
There has been so much talk about the direction of the Sharks franchise over the last few months (and years) as the club has missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. The team has repeatedly emphasized that owner Hasso Plattner is not interested in a long-term conversion project, but also discussed how this should be interpreted.
After Grier spoke in San Jose on Tuesday and Montreal on Wednesday, this leadership change appears to be a chance for the Sharks to subtly change the narrative of the organization’s plan.
“It was talked about throughout the process. You have to be a bit realistic,” said Grier. “I think if you look at the playoffs, to be in the playoffs and play at that level and compete at that level, you have to get to a certain level. At the moment I’m not sure if we’re there yet. I will not rush to try to get us there either. I think you can really get yourself into trouble if you’re short-sighted and take the short view and bypass the big picture. I think that’s what gets people and teams in trouble – they think short-term without looking to the future.”
3. Free agency
Unrestricted free agents can sign with new clubs beginning July 13. Until then, there might be some movement. Teams can trade the negotiating rights of a forthcoming UFA by then, which would give a club the option of signing a UFA before the 13th and also give the player an eight-year deal instead of seven if they wish.
The Sharks have no UFAs that have made a significant contribution. They have eight restricted free agents highlighted by defender Mario Ferraro and goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen.
Grier has three NHL goalies under team control, including Kahkonen, Hill and veteran James Reimer, who had one of the best seasons of his career with San Jose in 2021-22. Reimer and Hill have one year left on their contract. Clarifying the goalkeeper situation and potentially using one of them in a trade to help out in other areas could be a key part of the squad adjustments this off-season.
“I think we can improve in every way, to be honest,” said Grier. “There are a few parts on the list that we like and want to build around, but overall there isn’t a specific area that I feel needs work on. We have to keep working on the squad and keep getting better as a team.”
4. Development Camp
This is the first summer gathering of the club’s best young players and prospects since 2019. It is possible that players preparing for August’s World Youth Championship (which was canceled shortly after it started in late December due to COVID-19). ) will not be present. New Jersey GM Tom Fitzgerald said Wednesday that Luke Hughes, who was selected in the 2021 first round, will not be at Devils Camp, for example.
A topic that developed in Grier’s first two days at the top? Player development is an area where he wants to make some changes.
5. Expansion of the ice hockey department
Grier on Wednesday offered some details on what he would like to see in a revamped front office team.
“I will expand it from what it was. I’ll definitely add a few positions,” he said. “We’re basically going to try to add a whole player development department. In the past, John McCarthy has done it as a one-man show, but as it is now, it’s difficult for one person. This is an important area. We’re going to add some analytics, and we’re going to expand our staff ourselves, the inner circle, so to speak. We will expand and try to attract the best possible hockey people.”
The NHL has a tough salary cap, but the esports arms race really happens behind the scenes. There is no upper limit to the resources that franchises can put into coaching staff, player development, analytics and data science, nutrition and player health, and any other area where clubs can seek to gain an advantage.
Doug Wilson’s inner circle was relatively small, which has long been the norm for many GMs in this league. Other front offices have grown in recent years, and Grier aims to do the same.
Given that Grier is a first-time general manager and relatively young (he’s the fifth youngest GM in the league), a summary could be that he’d be looking for someone with experience in the job to be some sort of senior to become a consultant. He has Assistant GMs Joe Will and Tim Burke on the team, who have been with the organization for a long time.
“I’m kinda open to everything. I have people in mind,” Grier said. “Joe knows the organization inside out. He was Doug’s right hand man for a long time. He was definitely great being where we are now and having someone to bounce things off of. I don’t necessarily feel like I need a real senior around me. If that works, great. If not, that’s fine. It’s all about finding the best people and sort of the best to work with.”
6. Coaching search
This could happen before the hockey ops division is added. With Will last week announcing the layoffs of head coach Bob Boughner and assistants John Madden, John MacLean and Dan Darrow, Grier has nearly an entire coaching staff to fill. He and the incoming head coach are likely to work together on the other positions.
Even with nine other NHL clubs hiring new coaches since the end of the season, there are still many exciting opportunities. Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern and former Rangers head coach David Quinn were two names who popped up in conversations with others in the hockey community Wednesday.
Grier joked Tuesday that while he wants to conduct a thorough search, he hopes it won’t take as long as GM’s hiring process. He spoke Wednesday about the detailed plans he had prepared for interviews with Plattner, Will and team president Jonathan Becher. He will have to try to execute some of them in a short time.
“During this interview process, Mike immediately impressed us with his up-to-date and in-depth knowledge of NHL talent and teams, along with a vision that encompasses all aspects of the game – coaching, scouting, player development, wellness, mental skills, data science, physical training and contract management.” said Will. “Furthermore, Mike gives us confidence that a capable team will be put together to turn his new vision into reality. I can tell you that Mike is already busy with this draft, free agency, upcoming coaching appointment and upcoming contract term.
(Photo courtesy of Amanda Cain/San Jose Sharks)