Monday, April 21, 2008

Bonner agrees to contract with Blazers

From The Daily News of Monday, April 21, 2008 . . .

Daily News Sports Editor

The Kamloops Blazers have their man.

Craig Bonner, the Vancouver Giants’ assistant general manager/assistant coach, has agreed to terms on a five-year contract as the WHL team’s general manager, a source familiar with the negotiations told The Daily News on Sunday night.

Bonner, who chose not to comment when reached at his Lower Mainland home last night, will be introduced as the organization’s newest general manager at a Tuesday news conference.

The Blazers’ ownership group – majority owner Tom Gaglardi of Vancouver and ex-Blazers players Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi and Darryl Sydor – took over the franchise on Oct. 25. The quintet identified early on that it wanted Bonner, a 35-year-old native of Edmonton, as its general manager.

“Craig is really excited and ready to get going,” Recchi wrote in an e-mail from Toronto, where he was working as an analyst on TSN’s NHL playoff coverage.

Gaglardi received permission to speak with Bonner from Vancouver owner Ron Toigo in November. Gaglardi and Bonner had dinner together in late November, something that only served to reinforce the belief of the owners that Bonner was the man for the job.

“I think he’s ready,” said Giants head coach Don Hay, who has known Bonner since 1988-89. “It’s always a little scary changing jobs . . . but I really think he’s ready for it and I think he’s really going to help the Blazers organization.

“It’s a big loss for us. I hate to lose him but I think he’s ready to move on.”

Hay admitted to feeling mixed emotions.

“It’s a happy and sad day,” he said. “I’m happy for Craig; I’m really sad to be losing such a fine young man.

“Like I told him, ‘You’re ready for this. Trust your instincts and go out and make good decisions.’ “

The defending Memorial Cup-champion Giants had their season come to an end a week ago when they lost a six-game series to the Spokane Chiefs. The Blazers immediately opened negotiations with Bonner, who has been on the Giants’ coaching staff for five seasons and has been the assistant general manager/assistant coach since June 17, 2004.

Toigo gave Bonner a new three-year deal in August, meaning he had two years left on it. The Giants and Blazers were able to reach agreement on compensation for Bonner last week, with Vancouver to receive two bantam draft picks, one to be used in the 2008 draft, which is scheduled for May 1 in Calgary, and the other in 2009.

Bonner becomes the fifth general manager to run the Blazers’ hockey operations since then-president Colin Day fired Bob Brown on June 5, 1995, two weeks after the organization had won its third Memorial Cup in four seasons.

Stu MacGregor succeeded Brown. MacGregor, now the head scout for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, left to join the Dallas Stars’ scouting staff and was replaced by Mike Moore on June 8, 1998. Moore and the Blazers “mutually” agreed to part ways on Jan. 12, 2004, with Dean Clark taking over as interim director of hockey operations.

Subsequently, Clark was named general manager and head coach, a relationship that ended Nov. 7 when the Blazers’ new ownership group, which had taken over the franchise two weeks earlier, fired him.

Long-time Blazers scout Brian Fortin, who was named interim general manager on Jan. 2, has been keeping Bonner’s seat warm. It is anticipated that Fortin will be leaving the Blazers to scout for an NHL team.

Bonner has a long history with the Blazers.

A defenceman, he played two games with the Blazers in 1988-89 before joining the team fulltime the following season. He played 248 games over the next four seasons during which time the Blazers twice appeared in the Memorial Cup. Bonner was the team captain when the Blazers won the Memorial Cup in Seattle in 1992.

“I’ve seen Craig grow up,” said Hay, who was an assistant coach with the Blazers during Bonner’s first three seasons and the head coach in 1991-92. “I saw him play his first game as a Blazer as a 15-year-old. He was the first captain of my first Blazers team. I really wanted him to be a captain of that team because I liked his leadership abilities as a 20-year-old.”

After a brief professional career that was beset by knee problems, Bonner returned to the Blazers as executive assistant over the summer of 1996. He was an assistant coach under head coach Marc Habscheid for 1997-98.

In July 1999, he was named executive assistant/assistant coach and worked under Moore and head coach Dean Evason. The entire coaching staff was fired on April 5, 2002, shortly after being swept from a first-round series by the Kelowna Rockets.

Evason was named head coach of the Giants six weeks later, with Bonner on staff as an assistant coach.

Once he gets settled, Bonner is expected to begin the search for a head coach.

Greg Hawgood was named interim head coach on Nov. 8 and, with a year left on his contract, is expected to remain on the coaching staff. It also is expected that goaltending coach Steve Passmore and part-time assistant coach Steve Gainey will be retained, while assistant GM/assistant coach Shayne Zulyniak also will remain, but perhaps with different responsibilities.

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