Summertime Busy For Hockey GM

July 9, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Most might think that the general manager of a professional hockey franchise wouldn’t have much more to do in the summer than to decide whether to use his pitching wedge or nine iron for his next approach shot.

But that hasn’t been the case for Grand Rapids Griffins GM Bob McNamara.

As a matter of fact, one of the busiest stretches of his work year started in late June when he joined the Detroit Red Wings brass in Raleigh, N.C., for the National Hockey League draft.

Then McNamara headed to Hilton Head, S.C., for the weeklong American Hockey League meeting. After that conference, he returned home for a whole day and then went to Troy for another week to participate in the Red Wings’ prospect camp.

“During that time period as well as through the end of July, we’ll be looking to work with the Red Wings to get some free agents signed and really kind of assemble the team for next season,” he said.

“There is no shortage of things to do from late June through early August.”

At least there is one thing he doesn’t have to do over that six-week stretch, and that is worry about a work stoppage possibly disrupting the upcoming AHL season.

The league’s board of governors, made up of team owners, and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association, which represents 1,400 minor league players, extended their collective bargaining agreement for two years through the 2006-07 season last month.

For McNamara that means he won’t have the labor pains that his counterparts at the Red Wings, GM Ken Holland and Assistant GM Jim Nill, are likely to suffer this summer.

“It helps to know that we’re going to have consistency through the next couple of years and that things aren’t going to change significantly relative to our players,” said McNamara.

“Looking at the NHL CBA, which is up, and the fact that they’re going to be going through some pretty significant issues, I think it’s important for us to make certain that we’ve got our association in line and that we’ve got a deal in place.”

While the owners and GMs got some peace of mind from the deal, the new contract has owners upping their donations to the players’ benefits package and granting higher licensing fees to the union. The league minimum salary for new players was also increased, while all players got an employee assistance plan and a higher per-diem allowance.

McNamara said none of those concessions would strain his budget for the upcoming season, which gets underway on Oct. 15. Instead, he saw the concessions as a cost of doing business and said the new contract wouldn’t negatively impact the team financially.

“It was just something we felt we needed to do to get it done. Obviously, there is give and take in any negotiation and I think it’s a deal we arrived at that both parties were comfortable with,” he said.

Another change to the CBA calls for franchises to carry more developmental, or young, players on the 17-man playing roster. That means each team will only be able to carry six veteran players next season and just five in the following year. The Griffins ended the past season with five vets on their roster, so McNamara isn’t overly concerned about the change.

“That will be a bit of a change, but not a significant change,” he said.

Indications are the NHL won’t play this fall because it’s unlikely that the players will agree to a salary cap for the league, a cost constraint the owners are apparently demanding.

“Everybody’s hope is that the NHL plays and they come to some kind of agreement this summer. But the reality is, that may not happen,” said McNamara.

A revival of the World Hockey Association is tentatively set for late October and the new version will begin its initial season with a team salary cap of $15 million. But McNamara didn’t think the WHA would be a strong competitor with the AHL for experienced players.

“Typically, there has always been plenty of veteran players out there and I know a lot of veterans that played in the American League last year that have already signed to go and play in Europe. At the end of the day there is going to be plenty of veterans out there. So I’m not that concerned,” he said.

The Griffins will be entering their third season as the primary affiliate of the Red Wings this fall and McNamara, a native of Toronto and graduate of Notre Dame, is heading into his ninth year at the helm of the local AHL franchise. In fact, he is the only GM the team has had, quite a feat in its own right at a time when sports executives have short tenures.

McNamara operates on one-year contracts and he said he has verbally agreed to one for the upcoming season. He felt that it wouldn’t be too long before he signed a new agreement with owners Dan and Pamella DeVos and David Van Andel.

“I’ve been real fortunate to work for the people that I work for and to live in a city that I think is one of the best-kept secrets in the country. And I think that anybody who lives here understands that,” he said.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate to be in one place for such a long time.” 

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