GLENDALE, Ariz. — Anthony LeBlanc wouldn’t divulge the gory details, but he provided all the necessary talking points for the franchise’s decision to fire general manager Don Maloney on Monday.
“It’s fair to say that there has been a difference in philosophy in regards to the overall philosophy of how the ownership group would like to manage the operation,” LeBlanc said at a press conference at Gila River Arena. “This is about a few key points moving forward: collaboration, communication and the modernization of our entire process.”
Maloney’s firing wasn’t a sudden reversal of course. This move has been at least two seasons in the making, and all of the aforementioned points played a role.
The feeling was that Maloney, who had two years remaining on his contract, had increasingly insulated himself from parts of the organization, cutting himself off from that collaborative and communicative process LeBlanc mentioned.
It was apparent in his hiring of old-school confidante Darcy Regier as the team’s assistant general manager less than two years ago — a man ownership fired in February in a telling statement about its confidence in its GM.
It was apparent in the way Maloney cut coach Dave Tippett off from the process of free agent and trade pursuits, frustrating a coach whose job performance was based in part on those decisions.
“We have actually studied our neighbors, the Cardinals, and are looking to their structure as a model for success of how ownership, management, coaches and the team interact with each other,” LeBlanc said.
In case you haven’t noticed, coach Bruce Arians has a whole lot of say in the Cardinals’ personnel decisions, and you should expect the same for Tippett moving forward. Tippett doesn’t want to be a GM, he just wants a bigger say in the lineup he puts on the ice every night and that’s a reasonable expectation for any coach.
It was no secret internally that a rift had developed between Maloney and Tippett for that reason, but it was also no secret that a faction of the ownership group was losing faith in Maloney, including the guy who truly calls the hockey operations shots, Gary Drummond.
“This isn’t to say that one is right or wrong. It is simply to say that we have made a decision that we wish to operate in a different manner and under a different over-arcing philosophy,” LeBlanc said. “We believe we’re right. We have the ability to make that decision and we have made that decision.”
It’s important to recognize all the good things Maloney did in his nine seasons in Arizona. For years while the league owned the team, Maloney operated with a small budget and less intel on prospects because the team’s scouting staff was more like a skeleton crew (they had one European scout for years).
Somehow, the Coyotes made the postseason three straight seasons from 2010-2012. In 2012, they won the first division title in franchise history, their first playoff series since moving to Arizona in 1996, and they advanced to the Western Conference Final.
Maloney was honored as the league’s GM of the year in 2010 and he led the Coyotes to three straight 40-win seasons for the first time in franchise history.
He is also the man responsible for many of those highly-touted prospects that comprise the Coyotes’ future. He drafted Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, Connor Murphy, Jordan Martinook, Louis Domingue, Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini, among others. He swung key trades for Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder.
But he also ran afoul of several key first-round draft picks that he couldn’t get signed. Blake Wheeler (2004) is lighting it up for Winnipeg, Kyle Turris (2007) has turned into a top-six forward in Ottawa and Mikkel Boedker (2008) was traded at the deadline after Maloney missed a chance to sign him to a long-term deal three seasons ago for far less money.
In an odd reversal of personality, Dealer Don also became Indecisive Don over the past few seasons. The Coyotes identified defenseman Dougie Hamilton as a potential cornerstone of their future blue line last summer, but Calgary GM Brad Treliving (a former Coyotes executive) swooped in and snatched him away from Boston, adding another level of frustration for a coaching staff tired of always looking to the future.
Outside of Duclair, it’s hard to remember the last significant free-agent signing or in-season trade that Maloney pulled off. There were also concerns that he didn’t take advantage of opportunities in the college and European free-agent ranks. Many of his recent moves were to bring in former Coyotes, bottom-six forwards or bottom-pairing defenseman, and LeBlanc insisted it wasn’t a matter of resources.
“We did have the ability to make some moves,” LeBlanc said. “The reason that things didn’t happen was not because of money.”
As the Coyotes narrow their search for a new GM that LeBlanc estimated would take between two and six weeks, collaboration, communication and modernization will be key attributes in that search. The Coyotes are embracing the analytics movement so they’ll need a modern-thinking GM, but they’ll also be looking for a man who will share in the process, not one that controls or shields the process.