MONTREAL — Mike Grier is the newest member of the Sharks front office, but the impact of a terrible Wednesday morning hit close to home for him as well.
Bryan Marchment, who spent six of his 17 years as a rugged, respected NHL player with San Jose and the past 15 as a scout for the organization, died unexpectedly. The cause of death was not immediately known.
“It’s a sad day for me personally, a very sad day for our organization,” said Grier, who was announced as the new Sharks GM on Tuesday. “He meant a lot to a lot of people in our organization, our players, our staff — anyone who knew Brian, the type of man he was. He was just an honest, a down-to-earth, loving person who just cared about everyone. He had time for everyone in the building. Anyone he came across, he had time for.
“For me personally, he was great to me in my first few years in Edmonton. He treated me with respect right away. He made me feel right at home. If I ever needed anything, even if it was a home-cooked dinner instead of eating out every day, he and Kim would have me over. It is a very difficult day.”
Grier said he gave the Sharks scouts and front-office personnel in Montreal for the 2022 NHL Draft, which starts Thursday night, the rest of the day off. Sharks alumni, current players and prospects alike took to social media to pay their respects to the man nearly everyone called “Mush.”
“We’ll get back to it tomorrow,” Grier said. “’Mush,’ that’s what he would say — he’d want us to get back to work and have the best draft possible.”
The grieving process for a beloved member of the organization and hockey community at large will continue well into the future. The challenges ahead for Grier and the Sharks could feel trivial and unimportant on a day like Wednesday, but they still loom, starting with the first round of the draft Thursday night.
Here’s a look at some of the items on a lengthy to-do list for Grier in his first weeks and months as the new leader of the hockey operations department.
1. First GMs meeting
This one is already crossed off. Grier was announced Tuesday in San Jose as the new GM for the organization, and Wednesday afternoon he was at a meeting of the league’s 32 general managers in Montreal. It was the first in-person GMs meeting since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and a chance to get updates on the state of the league from different aspects and to discuss things like potential rule changes.
It was the first of these types of meetings for Grier, but there were some familiar faces in the room, including some former teammates and guys who were GMs when he was playing.
2. 2022 NHL Draft
The Sharks have the No. 11 pick in the first round. They do not have a second-round pick, which was traded to Arizona for goaltender Adin Hill. They do have eight picks in the final five rounds.
Grier said he might offer some input on a few players, but the bulk of the work on this draft class was completed by the staff already in place before his arrival. There is usually some significant trade activity during the draft, and the groundwork laid for future transactions between now and the start of free agency. That could be where Grier has a big impact.
There has been so much discourse in recent months (and years) about the direction of the Sharks franchise while the club missed the playoffs each of the past three seasons. The team has emphasized that owner Hasso Plattner is not interested in a long-term rebuilding project on several occasions, but how that can be interpreted has also been debated.
After Grier spoke Tuesday in San Jose and Wednesday in Montreal, it does seem like this change in leadership could be a chance for the Sharks to subtly shift the narrative about the organization’s plan.
“It was all talked about throughout the process. You have to be somewhat realistic,” Grier said. “I think when you watch the playoffs, there is a certain level you need to get to be in the playoffs and play at that level and compete at that level. At the moment, I’m not sure if we’re there yet. I won’t rush to try and get us there, either. I think you can really get yourself in trouble if you’re shortsighted and take the short view and bypass the big picture. I think that’s what gets people and teams in trouble — they think short term without having an eye on what’s down the road.”
3. Free agency
Unrestricted free agents can sign with new clubs starting July 13. There could be some movement before then. Teams can trade the negotiating rights of a pending UFA between now and then, which would allow one club a chance to sign a UFA ahead of the 13th, and to also give the player an eight-year deal instead of seven if so desired.
The Sharks do not have any UFAs who were significant contributors. They do have eight restricted free agents who were, highlighted by defenseman Mario Ferraro and goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen.
Grier has three NHL goalies under team control, including Kahkonen, Hill and veteran James Reimer, who had one of the best seasons of his career with San Jose in 2021-22. Reimer and Hill have one year left on their contracts. Sorting out the goaltending situation, and potentially using one of them in a trade to help in other areas, could be a key part of the roster tweaks this offseason.
“I think we can improve in every facet, to be honest with you,” Grier said. “There are some pieces on the roster that we like and that we’d like to build around, but overall there’s not one spot in particular that I think needs work. We need to keep working on the roster and keep getting better as a team.”
4. Development camp
This will be the first summer gathering of the club’s top young players and prospects since 2019. It’s possible that players who are getting ready for the world junior championships in August (the one that was canceled shortly after starting in late December because of COVID-19 ) will not be in attendance. New Jersey GM Tom Fitzgerald said Wednesday that 2021 first-round pick Luke Hughes will not be at Devils camp, as an example.
One theme that has developed in Grier’s first two days in charge? Player development is an area where he wants to make some changes.
5. Expanding the hockey ops department
Grier offered some specifics Wednesday about what he’d like to see in a new-look front-office team.
“I am going to expand it from what it was. Definitely going to add a few positions,” he said. “We’re basically going to try and add a whole player development department. In the past, John McCarthy was kind of doing it as a one-man show, but the way it is now, it is tough for one person to do. That’s a major area. We’re going to add some analytics, and we will add to our staff itself, the inner circle so to speak. We are going to expand and try to get the best hockey people possible.”
The NHL has a hard salary cap, but the arms race in the sport is really happening behind the scenes. There is no cap on the resources franchises can funnel into coaching staffs, player development, analytics and data science, nutrition and player wellness and any other areas where clubs can try to gain an edge.
Doug Wilson’s inner circle was relatively small, which was pretty common for a lot of GMs for a long time in this league. Other front offices have expanded in recent years, and Grier wants to do the same.
Given this is Grier’s first time as a general manager and his relative youth (he’s the fifth-youngest GM in the league), one summation might be that he would look for someone with experience in this job to be a senior adviser of sorts. He does have assistant GMs Joe Will and Tim Burke on staff, who have been with the organization a long time.
“I’m kind of open to everything. I have people in mind,” Grier said. “Joe knows the organization inside and out. He’s been Doug’s right-hand man for a long time. He’s definitely been great, just where we are now and having someone to bounce stuff off of. I don’t necessarily feel like I need a real senior person around me. If that happens to work out, great. If it doesn’t, it’s fine. It’s just all about finding the best people and kind of the best fit to work together.”
6. Coaching search
This could happen before the hockey ops department additions. Given that Will announced the firings of head coach Bob Boughner and assistants John Madden, John MacLean and Dan Darrow last week, Grier has nearly an entire coaching staff to fill. He and the head coach to come will likely collaborate on the other positions.
There are still a lot of interesting options available, even after nine other NHL clubs have hired new coaches since the end of the season. Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern and former Rangers head coach David Quinn were two names that came up Wednesday in conversations with others in the hockey community.
Grier joked Tuesday that while he wants to do a thorough search, he is hopeful it will not take as long as the GM hiring process did. He spoke Wednesday of the detailed plans he prepared for the interviews he had with Plattner, Will and team president Jonathan Becher. He’s going to have to try to execute some of them in short order.
“During this interview process, Mike impressed us immediately with this current and thorough knowledge of NHL talent and teams, along with a vision that takes into account all aspects of the game — coaching, scouting, player development, wellness, mental skills, data science, physio training and contract management,” Will said. “Further, Mike gives us confidence that a capable staff will be put together to help guide his new vision into reality. I can tell you that Mike is already dug in with this draft, free agency, the upcoming coaching hire and the upcoming contractual period.”
(Photo courtesy of Amanda Cain / San Jose Sharks)