The Kamloops Blazers began their WHL offseason by scuttling assistant coaches Scott Ferguson and Geoff Smith on Saturday.
Hey, stuff happens when you finish up the creek. Ferguson and Smith both understood the risks when they signed on three years ago, and neither is the least bit interested in slinging mud.
Of course, only time will tell whether those moves are to be followed by more personnel changes.
Obviously, when you miss the playoffs and lose your last eight games changes happen, and when a franchise hasn’t been out of the first round of playoffs since the spring of 1999 — American Beauty won the Academy Award as best picture — there is much work to be done.
Here then is a six-pack of suggestions for those who call the shots for a franchise that is struggling to get up off the canvas . . .
1. Hire a team president.
That someone will live here and oversee every aspect of the operation, thus becoming a face of this franchise.
That was the original plan when the present owners purchased the club in the late summer of 2007.
In October 2007, majority owner Tom Gaglardi said: “I sat down with the league and discussed how the club should be run and that is the advice they have given us — get someone to run the business on a day-to-day basis. We’ll be looking at someone to run the business.”
That, however, never happened.
The new owners separated the hockey and business sides, as they should have, hiring Craig Bonner as general manager over the summer of 2008 and naming Angie Mercuri the executive director of business operations.
Gaglardi is the franchise’s governor and president, but doesn’t live here, rarely attends home games and has more than enough on his plate with his other business interests.
While Bonner runs the hockey operation and Mercuri the business side, there is no one in the office on a daily basis who is at the top of the organizational pyramid. The franchise needs someone there to ask questions — “Why are we doing this? Why aren’t we doing that?” — and make suggestions and to be a sounding board.
Hello, Bob Brown.
The former Blazers general manager, who was fired when the organization chose to go in a different direction after winning three Memorial Cups in four years, scouts for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and lives in the Lower Mainland. Find out what he wants and give it to him. He may resist at first, but you know he would be intrigued by the opportunity to help restore the franchise to some semblance of past glories.
2. Hire some help for the marketing and communications departments.
The personable Dave Chyzowski, whose title is director of sales and marketing, and Tim O’Donovan, the media and communications co-ordinator who also is the video coach, hardly have time to come up for air.
Chyzowski, who came into the position without any experience, is busier than the legendary one-armed paper hanger.
With so much competition for the entertainment dollar and for leisure time, the marketing department should be treated like fine China. A lot of the time, the marketing people are the face of your product in the community, but they need help in numbers in order to fill that role.
3. Ditch the five-year plan.
I don’t know where it came from — perhaps its genesis was in the five-year contract Bonner signed — but this is not a good idea.
Hey, it’s good to have objectives within an organization. But going public with the fact that you have a five-year plan simply isn’t a good idea. After all, what happens if the franchise still is treading water — or worse, wallowing in the mud — when the five years is up?
Do you clean house and start over? With another five-year plan?
Better to have a series of one-year plans and work to improve at the end of each one-year segment.
4. Change the organization’s approach to 20-year-old players.
Each WHL team is allowed to use a maximum of three 20-year-olds. The rule doesn’t say you have to use three. And a wise man once said that good 20-year-olds are harder to find than hen’s teeth. That’s because many players that age have had their NHL dream die and now are starting to think about life after the WHL.
When your team is battling to restore its competitive credibility, when you know you’re not going to finish in the upper echelon, why trade for 20-year-olds who are going to take playing time away from younger players who need to play in all situations?
The Blazers finished ninth with three 20-year-olds. How much worse could it have been with younger players filling one or more of those spots and getting that experience?
5. Stop trying to trade for leadership.
A team needs to draft character and, as those players mature, the leadership will manifest itself. Those players will grow into the Blazers of the future and, by the time they get here, will know the Blazers way.
For too many years now, this franchise has tried to acquire leadership through trades, something that is virtually impossible to do in the WHL. If a player is strong of character and a leader, why would his original team trade him away?
Finding leaders is kind of like getting potatoes — if you want the best, grow your own.
6. Hire a sports psychologist.
Integrate this individual into the program and make regular use of him/her. Make the sports psychologist available to the players on a 24/7 basis. Hey, if it’s good enough for teams like the Everett Silvertips and Kelowna Rockets, it should be good enough for the Blazers.
Oh . . . one other thing.
(Gregg Drinnan is sports editor of The Daily News. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org and gdrinnan.blogspot.com, or you may follow him at twitter.com/gdrinnan.)