NHL GM Roundtable: Is There Too Much Pressure In The NHL?

Alan BassSenior Writer INovember 11, 2008

Before I start this article, let me just confirm what everyone is going to ask me: yes, I actually talked to these four general managers in the NHL.  Yes, these are exact quotes.  And yes, I felt horribly insignificant while talking to them.

This is a response to the article I published a few days ago on Stefan Legein and the NHL.  I asked many GMs about if the NHL puts too much pressure on young players in the NHL.  Read on to see what they had to say! 

Scott Howson, General Manager, Columbus Blue Jackets:

“We got concerned about Stefan’s passion and commitment last spring when he told us he’d rather go home after he signed with Syracuse, he didn’t want to play very much in the AHL playoff run; and so we had some concern there.  I monitored him over the summer, and not much really changed; he did show up for our development camp, and then we got the notice a couple weeks before training camp that he did not want to report.  So we did have some concerns, starting last spring.

“He didn’t come and tell us, he did it through his agent, which is fine.  And no, we didn’t really…we weren’t going to try and convince him to stay or anything like that.  We thought it was best for him to train in Columbus over the summer, he didn’t want to do that with a lot of our other young players.  So no, we didn’t try to convince him, but I think you need passion and commitment to play this game at a special level, and if it’s not there, then I think you’re wasting your time.  So if he doesn’t have it, then he probably made a good decision.

“I don’t think it’s the NHL, no, I think it’s all the things, you know, Stefan played at a high level for a long time, he played in the national junior championships, a high level in the OHL, and maybe the game itself put pressure on him, because he’s played so much for so long, I don’t know that, you’d have to ask him.  But I don’t think it’s the NHL, no."

(Have you talked to him since he quit?): “Oh yeah, we’ve talked to his agent numerous times (since he stopped playing), we’re still communicating with him, and we talk maybe two or three times a month, with his agent, to see what he is doing, to let us know what their thoughts on this are.  But we weren’t expecting anything to change.”

(What if Stefan wants to come back?): That’s a hypothetical question, I think we would want to understand the process of how he got to wanting to play again, and if it was genuine, then it could possibly be something we could talk about.”

(What do you know about the Dan Ryder situation?): “Just what I read”


Lou Lamoriello, General Manager, New Jersey Devils:

(Stefan Legein and Dan Ryder incidents): “I honestly have no idea, I have no background or knowledge, but I don’t think the NHL puts pressure on anybody.  I think that pressure comes from within, and every organization is run differently.  I don’t adhere to that.”


(Have you had problems with players not wanting to play?): “Yes, I’ve seen it, for personal reasons, but it’s more an exception, it’s no different than people in life not wanting to go to work one day, maybe it’s the vocation that they really choose, they’re not happy.  It shouldn’t be the vocation, say, hockey, in this case, that is the cause.  It’s just natural.  Not everybody is happy in everything they do, people change job descriptions, people change work vocations.  I think it’s under no circumstances, in fact, it’s the love that you play, you play this game, you work at it, it’s a passion.  And sometimes people lose that for different reasons, could be personal reasons, could be health reasons, could be family reasons, could be pressure that they are not capable of handling.”

(How to pick up on problems before they happen?): “You would need a crystal ball in 99% of the cases.  Certainly, traits are different things.  But it’s something that you learn, and sort of…you’re never going to be 100% sure…I’ve seen people change, because success wasn’t where it should be.  They had thoughts about themselves; people involved told us they were someone they weren’t.  They couldn’t accept that…there’s so much that goes into it; but it’s life, it’s not anything different.  It’s like people who can’t handle jobs working in the industry, because of pressures, everybody handles things differently.  I don’t think that sports should be looked at any different.  Sometimes the media pressures that people receive, or the negativity, you know, those are all things you can’t make judgments on until people experience them.  Some can handle it and some can’t.”

(Steven Stamkos): “First of all, I don’t talk about any players in any other organizations.  I do know this young man, he is an exceptional young man, he is an exceptional talent, and he will have tremendous success in this league; and he’ll be a star.  So I don’t even worry about Steven in any way whatsoever.”


Dale Tallon, General Manager, Chicago Blackhawks:

(Did you ever worry that Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews were busts?): “Every day, it’s not easy, it’s a tough job; I’ve been through it myself, and you worry every day if you’re doing the right thing or not.  And you never know, there’s no scientific clues or facts on how to handle this.  You deal with human beings, even though they’re 18 year old kids, and it varies from player to player and from person to person.”

(Any specific way of development for young players?): “We have all kinds of psychological testing and all kinds of things that we do in order to do as much as we can, and in order to get as much knowledge as we possibly can on the player’s character; how they respond in certain situations, and how to surround them with the best people in order to get them to succeed.  We have to have a good team that they can rely on, whether it’s a trainer, a family to live with, psychological coaching, and giving them everything available to make sure these kids are protected, and to give them the best possible chance to succeed; that’s what our goal is.  We have to make decisions, whether they’ll play or not, and whether or not they’re going to be in it for the long haul.  I mean, we’re in it for the long haul with these kids, we don’t want to destroy them in the first year or first month.  We want to make sure they’re surrounded by good players in the locker room, make sure they’re rooming with the right guy, that veteran guy who can help them out on the road, and it’s known; we do everything to try and protect these kids.”

(Scouting combine: what kind of questions?): “We have this kind of testing called “virtual coach” that we’ve utilized over the last couple of years, it gives us a lot of data; there’s no right or wrong answers, and these kids voluntarily fill these questionnaires out, and then it comes out in their evaluation, what type of person they are, whether it’s emotional or carefree…we try to get to know about their family life, what kind of stress there is in their life…we try and do everything we possibly can to make sure that we draft the right player.”

(Any experience with troubled players because of pressure?): “I haven’t had people come and tell me this, not to my face anyway.  I mean, players have issues with off-ice things, and then they may come to me and ask me for advice, and that’s also an issue of on-ice performance.”

(As a GM, do you think it reflects on the league when a player quits like Legein?): “I don’t think it has anything to do with the league, I think it’s just part of this business.  I mean, being a professional athlete, there aren’t many people that do this for a living in the whole world; you know, you get six or seven hundred people maybe, making a good living out of this.  You’re in a tough situation.  You’ve wanted this since you were a kid; some guys can handle it and some guys can’t.  It’s just a matter of it’s so easy to get other people to do it, because so many are successful at it.  I know, fortunately, because I lived it as a former second overall pick in the draft, and I can pass that experience onto our young players, it’s just a matter of you can’t point fingers at anybody, it’s up to the individual.  It’s the pressures of being a professional athlete.”

(Did you ever feel pressured as a player because of your draft spot?): “No, I mean, I think people just put pressure on themselves, they don’t want to fail, they want to be good.  They want to be the best they can possibly be.”

(Have you ever passed over a player in the draft because of attitude issues?): “I’m sure that probably has been, you know, I can’t give you anything exact, but I’m sure there were guys that we weren’t sure about, not so much whether or not they could get past the pressure, as whether or not they are the right character for our organization.  But I don’t think it has to do with pressure.  And there are always a lot of other reasons, you know?”


Paul Holmgren, General Manager, Philadelphia Flyers:

(Know anything about Ryder and Legein?): “No”


(How to pick up on a player problem before it happens): “That’s why you watch the games, I think the interviews for most of those players are guys you’ve seen over the course of the year, and for their age group, it’s a very high level of competition.  I think that’s where you get the first idea of how they handle pressure.  I think the interview process, you can use it as a bit of a supplement, but it’s got to be in and along the lines of what you’ve seen as well.”


(Being a player, with pressure): “I don’t remember anything like that, I consider myself very fortunate to be a player in the NHL, and I took every day as “well this is pretty neat,” so I don’t have any recollection of [pressure].  I’m sure there was, you know it’s a business, you want to win, the organization wants to win, but I don’t remember feeling as if it had an effect on me one way or another.”


(Development of young players): “Well, by the things we do over the course of the year with all our young players starting in the summer with our development camp, then coming to our rookie camp and our main camp, we try to prepare them for everything they’re going to face, from off-ice issues to grocery shopping, in terms of nutrition, the value of proper diet, and anything we might face on the ice.  Are we perfect, probably not, but I think we’re willing to try anything to help our young players become the best they can be.”


(Questions at the combine): “I think it varies, we asked a lot of different questions over the years, dealing with some background of their family life, what their long term goals are in life, where they see themselves in 5 years, who’s your favorite player in your league, who is the toughest competitor in your league, you know, just trying to get a feel for the individual that you’re talking with.  I don’t know if there’s any right or wrong questions.”


(Do you sometimes lie awake at night wondering whether or not certain players are going to become busts?): “Well there’s lots of things that make you lay awake at night, but I don’t remember that being one of them.”


(Ever passed over draftee because of attitude?): “I don’t know if passed over would be the proper term.  We might not put them as high on our list, because of character issues, outside issues, or whatever, we just may not have them as high on our list as we would if we knew they didn’t have these issues.  These players are all pretty decent players, but we have to figure out if we want  to draft them in this spot, or if we want to pass over them.”


(Reflective on NHL for Legein?): “I don’t think it’s fair for me to comment on that particular player, because I don’t know what happened.”


(Ever had problems with players?): “I don’t think our business is any different from another business.  People have their ups and downs.  I think that comes with the camaraderie of your group, and contact with players on a daily basis.  Sometimes the managers come into play whether they have to do something to spurn the performance of our hockey team.  Hockey players are no different than any other walk of life, everybody has their ups and downs.  You have some good days and have some bad days.


Alan Bass is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report and the Community Leader for the NHL and Philadelphia Flyers’ section.  He is also the co-host of NHL 2Day, a weekly radio show on Youcastr.com.  You can contact him at ALN424@aol.com.  You can also check out his BR archives here.