A Conversation With The Grim Reaper
Stu Grimson was known as one of the most fearsome fighters in the NHL, patrolling the ice for eight different NHL teams and playing in 729 regular season games during his career.
"The Grim Reaper", as Stu was known, was not just a fighter, however. He was a solid hockey player and a leader both on and off the ice.
Once his hockey career was over, Stu obtained his law degree from the University of Memphis Law School and began his legal career with the NHLPA. After a stint with that organization, Stu and his family returned to Nashville, where he is in private practice.
Stu was gracious enough to sit down with me to talk about some hockey issues and life after hockey. Stu is articulate and affable, and talking to him feels like you are talking to someone you have known all your life. His perspectives are interesting and insightful.
Our first topic of conversation was about the current state of the NHLPA and the potential for a work stoppage in 2011. Stu believes that there will be no strike at the expiration of the CBA and that a new agreement will be in place between the owners and players.
"I think you could see one of two things happen with the salary structure in the NHL. One, you could still have a ceiling on salary, but an elimination of the salary floor. The floor is very problematic for small market teams such as Nashville. The floor and the ceiling are determined by league wide revenues, and small market teams have faced a rising salary floor since the implementation of the current CBA.
Revenues, and revenue opportunities, are greater in a larger market and as the league's revenues rise, mainly because of what is happening in the larger markets, smaller markets are forced to spend money they may not have. So one option is to eliminate the floor and make it easier for small markets to spend to a budget that is appropriate for them."
"Another option is to eliminate the salary cap altogether, but establish a salary tax over a predetermined amount similar to what baseball has currently. A team can spend any amount they want for salaries, but over a predetermined amount, a tax is assessed against that team and redistributed to other teams in the league."
"The thing you have to remember and know is that you cannot purchase a championship in hockey. It takes an entire roster to win, and injuries can change the face of a team instantly. Hockey requires the contribution of every member of the team, and this is what successful teams get."
The conversation turned to the NHLPA and the recent firing of Executive Director Paul Kelly. Stu worked for the NHLPA, and because of some on going issues, did not want to discuss the situation specifically.
He did say that for the Players Association to function effectively, more players had to be engaged in the activities of the PA. They cannot cede their responsibilities to the individual player reps or the leadership of the organization. Greater player involvement will lead to a healthier organization, in his opinion.
The conversation turned to the ice, and I asked Stu about the young players that are trying to make the jump to the NHL and what advice he would offer them. "I would tell any young player that he should do three things: listen; watch; and learn. It is not unwise to be deferential to experience.
The guys that have been in the league are there for a reason, and they have a wealth of experience. Draw from that. See how they practice, how they are in the locker room, and what makes them successful as a player."
All teams need great leadership but especially those with a young roster. I questioned Stu about leadership and what makes a great captain and leader. "Leadership comes from the captain and other leaders in the locker room. The words and actions of a few set the tone for the team.
The best leaders and captains that I played for were extremely humble. I remember Steve Yzerman, a great hockey player and captain, answering every question that was asked of him. he was especially visible and accessible after a loss. That was not just him being the captain, but it was who he was as a person.
At times, it would have been easier to duck in to the training room and avoid some of those questions, but he didn't. he was a leader."
Stu was a solid hockey player who carved out a career in the NHL as a policeman on the ice. Naturally, our conversation turned to fighting in the NHL. I asked Stu about staged fights- fights that are agreed upon and occur after the drop of the puck. "I find the term 'staged fights' peculiar.
In my mind, there is no difference between that type of a fight and a fight that occurs while a play is in progress. You are doing the same thing- letting someone know that their actions will not go unpunished or attempting to change momentum.
If I asked a guy if he wanted to go at the drop of the puck or while we were skating down the ice, and they said yes, the result is the same. So I don't think there is a 'staged fight'."
We talked about the scraps that often break out after a clean check that flattens a player, and his response was very interesting. "There are two considerations here. The first is that you cannot let another team appear to have physical superiority.
"You have to respond physically to their physical play and let them know you are not intimidated. The second is that if you are on the ice and this happens, and you do not respond, you are wondering 'What is my coach going to think?' You were on the ice and didn't respond, and you could find your ice time limited if not eliminated.
"You do not want your coach negatively evaluating your play because you didn't do your duty."
Stu only played 30 games for the predators when his career was cut short by an injury. We talked about life after hockey. "Even though I was well prepared for life after my playing days, it was a difficult transition out of hockey.
"I felt I still had games to play. As an athlete, accolades and opportunities seek you out. When you leave the game, you are staring at a blank canvas and you have to create something new and different with your life.
"I was able to finish my undergrad degree at Belmont (University in Nashville) through a league program called Life After hockey, which works with each player to custom fit a program of development. I new I wanted to continue my education and get a graduate degree, and law was the field I chose.
"I never thought, however, I would practice law in the traditional sense. I thought I would tend toward being an agent or involved in some way in sports. And while I don't actively seek opportunities in hockey today, I don't rule anything out."
Stu is practicing law at Kay, Griffin, Enkema, and Brothers in Nashville. Stu met my son earlier this year at a Predators ticket drive. I introduced him as "The Grim Reaper", to which he responded, "My life has changed, and now I am the Grim Reader."
"Hockey taught me to be a great team mate and it taught me accountability. Come to the rink, practice hard, and do your job. That has translated to my law practice. My goal is the same as all the attorneys in our firm- to provide exceptional legal counsel. The lessons I learned in hockey have carried over to my professional life."
I asked about Nashville and what he thought about living here. He said that when he told his wife there was an opportunity to play in Nashville, her response was "There is no way we are going to Nashville."
Stu and his family are now firmly ensconced in our community and enjoy living here. Stu is active in the community and can occasionally be heard on Preds radio doing color with Tom Callahan. You can always find him at the rink.
Stu is one of the good guys, and he is a shining example of an athlete that has taken the blank canvas of his life and is creating something new, different, and worthwhile.
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