Tuesday's NHL: Sharks hire Mike Grier as league's first Black GM

Associated Press

San Jose, Calif. — The San Jose Sharks’ three-month search for a general manager ended with a barrier-breaking hire as the team made longtime NHL forward Mike Grier the first Black GM in league history.

“It means a lot to me,” Grier said at his introductory news conference Tuesday. “It’s not something I take lightly. I realize there’s a responsibility that comes with the territory. But I’m up for it. How I carry myself and how this organization carries himself, I think we’ll do well and hopefully we’ll leave a footprint and open some doors for people to follow.”

Grier fills the spot that opened when Doug Wilson stepped away for health reasons on April 7. Wilson had taken a leave of absence in November with Joe Will serving in the interim role since then.

Mike Grier, middle, poses for photos on Tuesday as he is introduced as the new general manager of the Sharks between assistant general manager Joe Will, left, and president Jonathan Becher.

Team president Jonathan Becher said Grier emerged from a pool of dozens of candidates because of his experience as a player, scout, coach and executive over the last few decades and his commitment to building a winning culture in San Jose.

But he acknowledged the history-making nature of the hire as well.

“I hope you do serve as an inspiration to lots of people and that I hope you’re the first and certainly not the last,” Becher told Grier.

Grier spent three of his 14 seasons in the NHL with the Sharks from 2006-09. He retired in 2011 after playing 1,060 career games, and has spent time as a scout in Chicago, an assistant coach in New Jersey and most recently the hockey operations advisor for the New York Rangers, where he was given many of the responsibilities of an assistant general manager.

The hire comes less than a week after Will announced that head coach Bob Boughner and three of his assistants wouldn’t return next season. Will said he made the move two months after the season ended to give the new general manager a clean slate.

Grier has a tough task in San Jose in trying to rebuild a team that has missed the playoffs for three straight seasons for the first time in franchise history.

Grier will have to get to work quickly, dealing with the draft Thursday and Friday, the start of free agency next week and the need to hire a coaching staff and build up the front office.

Grier said the draft and free agency are the immediate priorities as well as trying to create more salary cap flexibility if possible before he turns to the coaching search.

“I just think that’s a challenge to try to get everything in order as quickly as possible, but still doing it the right way and being thorough,” he said. “It’s all a challenge but everything I’m looking forward to.”

Grier said he’s not interested in tearing the team down and doing a complete rebuild but acknowledged taking one step back to move forward may be necessary.

San Jose has many high-priced veterans on the roster and could look to either trade defensemen Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson or buy out defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to create more flexibility.

“It’s definitely a balance,” Grier said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself and be the kid in a candy store and be like ‘I can go get this. I can go get that.’ We’ve got to stay patient and stick with the vision that we believe in and not rush things. I think we’ll set a path and stay the course and not rush anything and get ahead of ourselves and end up digging a hole that we can’t get out of in the future.”

Grier comes from a family of successful sports executives. His brother, Chris, serves as general manager of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and his father, Bobby, served as a longtime coach and front office executive for the New England Patriots and Houston Texans.

Grier said he’s been preparing for this new role since he was about 10 years old in discussions he had with his brother and father.

“Growing up we talked about the challenges of building rosters and things like that at dinner,” he said. “I would want to talk football, they would want to talk hockey. I lean on them a lot. They get a different perspective because of the sports, but I definitely lean on them a lot and trust their input.”

The NHL has been stressing diversity with several women also getting opportunities in front office positions and on coaching staffs.

The Arizona Coyotes announced Tuesday that Kelsey Koelzer and Kori Cheverie will serve as coaches under head coach André Tourigny during the team’s development program next week.

Top goalie prospect sent to military base

Flyers goaltending prospect Ivan Fedotov, who reportedly was picked up by law enforcement in Russia last week ahead of a planned move to the U.S., is now at a remote military base in northern Russia, his agent said.

The agent, J.P. Barry, spoke with The Associated Press amid speculation about Fedotov’s well-being. The situation raised fresh concerns over whether Russian players will be willing or able to join NHL teams that draft them this week as the war in Ukraine continues.

The 25-year-old Fedotov is considered one the top goaltenders in the world outside the NHL, and the Flyers expected him to compete for a spot on their roster next season. He won the silver medal as the Russians’ starting goalie at the Beijing Olympics in February and led CSKA Moscow to the Gagarin Cup as KHL champion.

He was a seventh-round pick of the Flyers in 2015 but has since played in Russia, with CSKA retaining his rights. The NHL and KHL do not have a transfer agreement for players and Fedotov was eligible to sign with Philadelphia in May only because he did not have an existing contract in Russia for next season.

CSKA, whose name translates to “Central Sports Club of the Army,” was founded as the Soviet army’s hockey team in 1946 and still has traditional ties to the military.

The first sign something had gone wrong for Fedotov came Friday. Russian media said he was picked up by law enforcement outside a hockey rink in his home city of St. Petersburg, where he’d been filming a documentary with a TV crew, and taken to a military enlistment center. Local news site Fontanka reported he was suspected of evading compulsory military service required of Russian men.

Alexei Ponomaryov, a lawyer representing Fedotov, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Saturday that Fedotov had been taken to a military hospital with apparent stress-induced gastritis. Ponomaryov said he and Fedotov’s relatives had not been allowed to visit.

The Russian Defense Ministry hasn’t commented on Fedotov’s location. Russian newspaper Sport Express published Monday what it said were photographs showing Fedotov at a military base in Severodvinsk, a naval city with shipyards on Russia’s north coast, though there have been conflicting reports about exactly where he is.

The NHL and Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher have said the team is aware and investigating. As recently as last week, Fletcher said he expected Fedotov to compete for a spot on the roster next season.

Ice chips

The Coachella Valley Firebirds have hired the American Hockey League’s first female assistant coach. Jessica Campbell is ready for the opportunity.

Campbell has spent the past year working with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL development program and she was an assistant coach with Germany at the IIHF men’s world championships.

Coachella Valley is set to begin its first season this fall as the AHL affiliate for the Seattle Kraken.

Campbell was part of the Canadian national team program and played three seasons for the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She also played collegiately at Cornell.

… The Maple Leafs have promoted Hockey Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser, Ryan Hardy and Darryl Metcalf to assistant general manager and hired Curtis Sanford as a goaltending coach.

Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympic gold medalist with the Canadian women’s hockey team, joined the Leafs as assistant director of player development in 2018 and was promoted to senior director of the department last year. She was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019.

She joins Emilie Castonguay and Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato with the Canucks and Meghan Hunter with the Blackhawks as other women who have been hired as NHL assistant general managers.