The Coyotes are nearing a decision on a new general manager and Les Jackson’s name keeps coming up. The Coyotes have already asked the Dallas Stars for permission to speak to Jackson, their assistant GM, and we noted a week ago that he is considered a leading candidate.
Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc is keeping all information on the team’s GM search confidential, but he did say Wednesday that the team could make an announcement as soon as next week. That time frame would be in line with what LeBlanc said at a press conference on April 11 to announce the firing of GM Don Maloney. LeBlanc said then that he expected the process to take anywhere from two to six weeks.
LeBlanc stressed Wednesday that nothing had been decided yet and declined further comment.
Jackson, 63, is in his 27th season with the Stars, dating back to the club’s days in Minnesota. He worked with Coyotes coach Dave Tippett for six seasons while Tippett was the Stars’ coach from 2002-2009.
Jackson has a wide range of experience. He was the head coach of the Great Falls Americans and Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL for three seasons total. He was also the Wheat Kings GM for two seasons. Before the 1985–86 season, Jackson joined the Minnesota North Stars as an assistant coach, and served in several capacities until 1999, when he joined the Atlanta Thrashers as assistant general manager.
In 2000, Jackson rejoined the Stars, and was named interim co-general manager (along with Brett Hull) on Nov. 13, 2007. The interim tag was later removed and both signed three-year deals to become co-general managers. On May 31, 2009, Jackson and Hull were replaced by Joe Nieuwendyk as GM, and Jackson reassigned.
“I’ve known Les for 30 years; we were together my whole career,” said Hall of Famer center Mike Modano, who played 20 of his 21 NHL seasons with the Stars from 1989-2010. “He’s a man of many titles but the common denominator is he’s a smart guy who does a great job when it comes to scouting, grading talent and putting a draft together.
“There’s no question he has the depth of experience, but he also just knows everybody. He has so many contacts around the game and that always helps.”
LeBlanc said Wednesday that the AHL’s Board of Governors is scheduled to meet May 10, at which point the sale of the Springfield Falcons to IceArizona could be approved and the team can begin plans to move its top affiliate to Tucson.
“Our plan is to have the franchise operating out of there in October,” LeBlanc said, noting that there are still details to be worked out with the City of Tucson, the Tucson Convention Center and officials from the Rio Nuevo District, where the convention center sits.
LeBlanc met with Tucson officials again on Thursday.
While the convention center’s seating capacity is 6,700 for hockey, LeBlanc said there has been some talk about adding loge and premium seating to stretch that to about 7,000. The arena would also need renovations to the locker room, training and medical areas, but LeBlanc said some of those could take place after the season starts.
LeBlanc said he does have a couple backup locations in mind if negotiations sour (one is Gila River Arena) in Tucson, but he said he has been encouraged by the tenor of talks in what both he and city officials say is the largest market in the United States without a semipro or professional team in one of the four major North American sports.
LeBlanc said he expects the team’s color scheme to be similar to the Coyotes, but after watching the interest fans had in the team’s name, he is leaning toward a name-the-team contest for fans.
Moving the affiliate to Tucson will clearly ease the process of calling players up in the event of NHL injuries. For the past several seasons, the Coyotes have had to fly players across the country from Portland, Maine or Springfield, Massachusetts; their previous two affiliates.
That isn’t the only convenience, however. It will allow the NHL and AHL staffs to work together and integrate more easily, LeBlanc said.
“There’s no way that Tucson does not make sense,” he added.
There was some confusion about whether the Coyotes would get the New York Rangers’ first-round pick this season or next. The Coyotes acquired the pick at last season’s trade deadline in the deal that sent defenseman Keith Yandle to New York and brought Anthony Duclair to Arizona.
At the time of the deal, then-GM Don Maloney said the pick was lottery-protected. With New York making the playoffs this season, it was assumed the pick was the Coyotes’ until a recent New York Post story quoted NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly saying the Rangers could defer the pick until next year.
After checking, Coyotes spokesman Rich Nairn issued a one-line email on Wednesday clarifying the situation.
“Since the Rangers made the playoffs, we 100% own their first round pick.”