The new general manager of the San Jose Sharks takes over a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in three seasons, had the third-weakest offense last season (2.57 goals per game), and has big dollars and term tied up in high-mileage veterans such as Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who make a combined $26.5 million per year through 2025.
Oh, and there’s the matter of running the draft, hiring a new coaching staff, and filling out the front office, as the offseason is well underway.
It’s fair to say Mike Grier had a bit of work to do in his first couple weeks on the job. It’s also accurate to say he was qualified to do it.
Grier, 47, became the first Black GM in NHL history when hired this past week. It is a pioneering designation he took in stride, and a role he had been training for, in his estimation, since he “was about 10 years old.”
The son of Bobby Grier, the former Patriots personnel director, and younger brother of Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier, Mike Grier has traveled a path from Holliston and St. Sebastian’s, to Boston University, to a 14-year career as an NHL player that always seemed destined for hockey management. It didn’t matter that no one who looked like him had filled his new role before.
“I lean on them quite a bit,” Grier said of his father, who now consults for the Dolphins, and brother, who has been GM in Miami since 2016. “There’s a wealth of knowledge there with those two. As soon as I told my dad about the job, he went right into the mode of giving me tips and advice.
“Growing up, we talked about the challenges of building rosters, and things like that. At dinner … I’d want to talk football, they’d want to talk hockey.”
The Grier brothers would have rather been playing, but management was never uncool.
“No, we enjoyed it just because we got to be around my dad so much and saw how hard he worked and the passion he had for it,” Mike Grier said. “We kind of got a peek behind the curtain of how you build a team, what works and what doesn’t work, the importance of culture.”
The latter element, the professionalism and knack for winning, eventually became one of the top lines on Grier’s résumé.
As a player, he was a fan favorite who helped BU to the NCAA title in 1995. He made the playoffs in 11 of his NHL seasons as a tough, responsible, hard-checking, penalty-killing forward.
“Coaches love guys who don’t make mistakes,” former BU coach Jack Parker once said. “And he doesn’t make mistakes.”
Initially considered by Parker — and many NHL scouts and front offices — to be too bulky and slow to crack a college or pro lineup, Grier trimmed down as a BU freshman (thanks to some hard hours with trainer Mike Boyle) and became a reliable right winger.
He was shocked, though, when Parker told him to sit out his first few games.
“I was a pretty good player, and being told I wasn’t going to play that much, that never happened to me in my life,” Grier recalled. “The lesson there is there’s no easy way. The only thing to do was to work harder, practice harder. I was just determined to win my spot back in the lineup and not let anyone take it away.”
One of his roles while riding the bench was showing high school recruits around campus. One of those prospects, Chris Drury, later became GM of the Rangers. After Grier’s stint as an assistant coach with the Devils (2018-20), Drury brought him on as a hockey operations adviser in 2021, and stumped for his candidacy in San Jose.
That freshman year also saw Grier, drafted 219th overall by the Blues in 1993, traded to Edmonton (with goalie Curtis Joseph) for a pair of first-round picks. In 1996, Grier went straight from BU to the Oilers’ lineup. He spent six seasons in Edmonton, where he had a pair of 20-goal seasons and scored a career-high 44 points in 1999.
Traded from the Oilers to the Capitals (where he played for rookie coach Bruce Cassidy from 2002-03), Grier was dealt to Buffalo at the 2004 trade deadline, and helped the post-lockout Sabres go on a run. Grier put up a 3-5–8 line in 18 playoff games as they reached the 2006 Eastern Conference finals. Grier wound down his career in San Jose (2006-09) before finishing with a pair of years in Buffalo. He retired in 2011, months after skating in his 1,000th game.
All in all, a solid run at the highest level: 162 goals and 383 points in 1,060 games.
“He is a great, great human being, first and foremost,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who played against Grier and has crossed paths with him at local rinks for years. “He’s a real soft-spoken guy but played the game hard, was smart, cerebral. It’s such an interesting family dynamic that he’s able to tap into that none of us certainly can utilize. But I’m really, really proud of the decision San Jose made in Mike getting the opportunity. I think it speaks volumes for where the game is going.”
Grier, who is also the first Black player who trained exclusively in the United States to make the NHL, would have been a pre-teen in 1987 when soon-to-be-fired Dodgers GM Al Campanis conducted his infamous interview with ABC’s “Nightline.” Anchor Ted Koppel asked him why there weren’t more Blacks in pro sports management, and Campanis replied, straight-faced, that it wasn’t prejudice, they just didn’t have “the necessities” to lead.
Grier emerged from those stone ages, showed he had the goods for 14 NHL seasons, and now has one of the 32 chairs at the NHL’s GM table. Asked how he wants his Sharks to play, he all but described himself. “Tenacious. Highly competitive. Fast. In your face.”
“We hired the best general manager available,” Sharks president Jonathan Becher said. “Mike just happens to be Black.”
IT’S ABOUT TIME
In-person draft didn’t disappoint
This NHL Draft was worth the wait.
The first in-person draft since Vancouver in 2019 brought back the entire league to arguably the best hockey city in North America. Montreal was a gracious host. The crowd was electric, booing and cheering like it was a regular-season Canadiens game.
They were merciless with commissioner Gary Bettman, as per tradition. They openly mocked the Coyotes when they shouted out their fans back home. They went wild when trades were announced. After some initial shock, they showered No. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky with love any time they saw him.
Slafkovsky, too, looks like he’s cut out for this city. The big Slovakian winger departed from the draft floor through the stands, slapping hands, and was spotted around the city wearing his bleu, blanc et rouge draft sweater, taking pictures with fans.
A great number of Montreal backers, judging by the initial reaction to the top choice, wanted Shane Wright first overall. With his initial foray into NHL drafting, Habs GM Kent Hughes made a bold call in passing up a 200-foot center, one that’ll be discussed for generations.
Wright, no doubt, hopes he regrets it.
After the Ontario native fell to Seattle at No. 4 overall, he smiled and posed on stage with Kraken management. After greeting Bettman on stage with a smile, Wright was caught on camera staring daggers at the Montreal draft table, which was front and center. We’re talking a long, stone-faced, two-count of a stare. It was obvious.
His agent, Kurt Overhardt, later confirmed to a reporter that Wright was indeed sending a message. Kraken GM Ron Francis downplayed the incident, claiming Wright was looking at photographers in front.
“I think people are making a bigger deal than what actually happened. He’s not that type of kid,” said Francis, who will be pleased to deploy Wright and Hingham product Matty Beniers as his top two centers for the next decade-plus.
The Kraken, by the way, visit Montreal on Jan. 9.
Knights happy to have Cassidy
Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon thinks Boston’s loss — Bruce Cassidy — is his gain.
“I had no history with Bruce,” McCrimmon said. “I was a fan of his work in Boston. I liked how his teams were really responsible defensively and I didn’t think it was at the expense of choking the team offensively. When you can have a good run over that period of time [six years] … certainly he took over a good team with tremendous leaders, but there are changes along the way and injuries, and I think he handled those situations well.”
McCrimmon had an interesting answer when asked if he expected any pushback in Vegas regarding Cassidy’s willingness to make public his private criticism of players.
“He’s the right coach for this team at this time,” McCrimmon said. “I don’t think people have a problem with someone being honest. We’ve got really good leadership in Vegas. We’ve got a veteran team. I look forward to him coaching those players hard.”
Making the Bruins is up to Lysell
Fabian Lysell will head to Bruins rookie camp, then varsity camp. Could he really make the main roster?
“It’s up to him,” said P.J. Axelsson, the team’s European scouting director. “He’s going to have to get bigger and stronger and all those boring comments, but that’s the way it is.
“It’s hard. He’s still young . It’s not easy to break into an NHL roster at that age.”
More seasoning will help Lysell, the 21st overall pick in 2021, but reviewing the speedy right winger’s season with WHL Vancouver (22-40–62 in 53 games, plus 4-17–21 in 12 playoff games), Axelsson saw a mental drive that popped off the page.
“The one thing I liked last year, he got more competitive,” Axelsson said. “He got [ticked] when he got hit. He wanted a puck. He was so skilled as a junior in Sweden that he didn’t have to do all that stuff.”
Many at the draft were rocked by the sudden death of Sharks scout and former NHL defenseman Bryan Marchment, who died Wednesday in Montreal at age 53. “It’s a sad day for me personally, a very sad day for our organization,” said new Sharks GM Mike Grier, who was taken under Marchment’s wing as a young Oiler. “He meant a lot to a lot of people in our organization, our players, our staff, anyone who knew Bryan.” … Bruins GM Don Sweeney believes that Joona Koppanen, who signed a one-year, two-way extension, can push for an NHL job. The 6-foot-5-inch Finnish wing has logged five years in the AHL and ECHL and was contemplating going back to Europe before he re-signed … If Jack Studnicka is an NHL player, it’d be a great year for him to show that. Sweeney: “We’re not forcing Lysells and [Jakub] Laukos and [Johnny] Beechers [into the lineup], but we have a lot of guys that are ready to come in with their ears pinned back and see if they can take a spot. We’re excited about that and the opportunity, with the injuries [to Brad Marchand, etc.], is certainly going to present itself.” … Rick Middleton can call himself a Hall of Famer — as a coach. He led the underdog 2002 US Paralympic sled hockey team to a gold medal, and two weeks ago the squad was selected for the US Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame … The Capitals are in a tough spot with Nicklas Backstrom, who believes he can come back after major hip surgery. Until then, they wait. “It’s not like we can go out and sign a $9 million player,” GM Brian MacLellan said at the draft. With Backstrom likely to miss most of the season and Tom Wilson (ACL surgery) likely missing all of the first half, it could be bleak in D.C., other than Alex Ovechkin’s chase for Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals (780 and counting, with Gordie Howe, 801, up next). Prospects such as Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre, and Alexei Protas could get an opportunity to stick …. Grier’s hire comes two years after Brett Peterson (Northborough/Boston College) became the league’s first Black assistant GM when he was hired by Florida. In the past six months, women have ascended to assistant GM roles in Vancouver (Émilie Castonguay, Cammi Granato), Chicago (Meghan Hunter), Toronto (Hayley Wickenheiser), and New Jersey (Northeastern’s Kate Madigan). “The pendulum is really swinging to sort of add diversity,” Granato said. “There’s naysayers that say, ‘Oh, you’re just trying to catch up and you’re just adding people to add them,’ but they are qualified people.” … The Canucks drafted Elias Pettersson — a Swedish defenseman — at No. 80 overall. His favorite player? Canucks star Elias Pettersson, of course. The two have not met ... The Red Wings shoring up a weak spot in adding netminder Ville Husso is more evidence that the Bruins’ playoff standing in the Atlantic Division is far from guaranteed … The Maple Leafs left the draft unsure if they would qualify Ondrej Kase, who is arbitration-eligible ... The Senators are expected to move netminder Matt Murray ... Word around the draft floor was that Edmonton’s Duncan Keith, 38, will retire. The Oilers desperately needed to shed Keith’s $5.538 million cap hit, even after dumping Zack Kassian ($3.2 million) on the Coyotes ... Stunned to see how much the Flyers gave up for local man Tony DeAngelo: picks in the second, third, and fourth rounds, and a two-year contract extension worth $5 million per ... Sources on both sides of the best 2022 draft trade rumor that never happened — J.T. Miller to the Islanders — were firm in their position that it either was, or wasn’t, happening ... In 1974, long before NHL teams scouted internationally and the draft was held via conference call, Sabres GM Punch Imlach got bored. In the 11th round, he said, “From the Tokyo Katanas, Taro Tsujimoto.” That name was fabricated, culled from a list of popular Japanese names, as was the team (a katana is a type of Japanese sword). With reporters asking when the Japanese phenom would finally arrive, Sabres PR staff kept up the bit until training camp. The 183rd selection never made it to the league — again, he didn’t exist — and the pick was later re-registered as invalid … Cam Neely, drafted ninth overall by the Canucks in 1983, recalled the Sabres and Jets as the only other teams that interviewed him. The Comox, British Columbia, native wound up happy … Highest recommendation for the new ESPN documentary “Unrivaled,” which recalls the Avalanche-Red Wings battles of the mid-to-late 1990s. Compelling tales of a fantastic rivalry. The footage of Vladimir Konstantinov, both of his all-world playing days and compromised present day, is alone worth the view. Those of us who grew up with newspaper and TV accounts, rather than the information overload of the Internet age, may not have realized just how nasty Claude Lemieux’s hit on Kris Draper was. The reveal at the end — spoiler alert — that Draper still has not forgiven Lemieux was no surprise to former Red Wings GM Ken Holland. “The emotions were real. They were very real,” said Holland, now the Oilers’ GM. “Drapes is really intense. It wasn’t like it was one year, it was six or seven years of that rivalry. His face was rearranged. I don’t blame him.” Holland hasn’t seen the doc itself. “I’ll watch it someday,” he said. “It was pretty epic when we lived it.”