Who's Running the Show?

As an economics grad and a guy who's been lucky enough to work with some exceptional executives all over the world; I find myself asking: who's that guy running my favourite sports team, anyway? And why doesn't anybody want my ticket to the game tonight? You know it's "BLACKED-OUT" on NHL Gamecentre.com, right?

The popular belief at the local bar is that the NHL is a boys club; a big family, taking care of their own. If this is true; then good for them. Haters gonna hate.

The Deets on Your Favourite Team

Lets take a look at some of the facts for 3 major North American sports, the NBA, MLB and the NHL. We compiled a current list of General Managers (as of Feb 5 2018), with details of their origins - whether they played at the pro level or not.

For the purpose of this research, we define "pro" as having played at least one game in the corresponding league. College, university, the minor leagues, overseas leagues and no playing experience are grouped as "Non-Pro".

In Major League Baseball, there is only one current General Manager who had previously played in the Majors - Jerry Dipoto of the Seattle Mariners; played between 1993 & 2000.

However, within the 29 "Non-Pro" group, there are 16 GMs who topped-out at the college or minor league levels. So, 57% of MLB GMs played the game at a high level.

100% of MLB General Managers attended college or university.

For the National Basketball Association, 8 current General Managers (27%) were former NBA players.

Of the GMs we grouped in "Non-Pro", 8 played college, and 1 played in Europe - Masai Ujiri of the Toronto Raptors. In total there are 17 GMs (57%) with big-stage playing experience (pro + college + Europe); same percentage as their MLB peers.

26 of the 30 NBA GMs have post secondary education, according to wikipedia.com.

Now, lets take a look at the "ugly cousins" (your words, not mine): the National Hockey League.

23 current NHL GMs (74%) were former NHLers; the vast majority retired with long pro careers. Of the 31 teams, 8 employ GMs with no NHL playing experience.

A closer look reveals that all of these executives, in the "Non-Pro" group, had strong connections to the sport in junior, college or university, but nothing near a pro career; not even a single game in the NHL.

It was not easy to dig up the education backgrounds of these men, especially Doug Armstrong and Pierre Dorion *pop-up says " internet shutting down"*. The other 6 GMs in this group have some interesting backgrounds, with strong education and some experience outside the rink. Did you know Lou Lamoriello was a math teacher? Don't even start wth the abacus jokes.

General Manager Research Summary


  • 3% are former pro players

  • 100% have post secondary or higher degrees


  • 27% are former pro players

  • Over 85% have post secondary or higher degrees


  • 74% are former pro players

  • Education? *the dog ate my research data. Ask Editor for a deadline extension*

Some Important Considerations

There are some apples to apples issues here. Both the NBA and MLB have feeder and development systems within the postsecondary institutions - university and colleges; presumably much more likely to be committed to education. Whereas the NHL is fed mostly by the Canadian Hockey League, and players are drafted and turn pro at a young age before they can even register for post secondary school. The "system" itself works against young hockey players in this regard; an unfair disadvantage.

Is There a Trend?

Since 2016, there have been 6 new NHL GMs hired; one - Chayka - is from the "Non-Pro" group. From the outside it remains stale looking, however, recently there have been inspiring moves, including creation of Capologists (knowledge of abacus required) and advanced stats departments filled (mostly?) with nerdy gurus. Like any good MLB Princeton grad will tell you, internal debate is essential for innovation and growth; surrounding yourself with backslapping, likeminded beer buddies is, in the business world considered, certain death. *echo and fade the word "death" for about 10 seconds*. But, it's a GOOD TIME while it lasts, right?!

And how long will this last for the NHL party club? All major sports are on a collision course with the new wave of consumers who have short attention spans and give-me-what-I-want, no-loyalty attitudes. It could get ugly. The NHL seems to be least prepared of all sports. There are empty seats at the Bell Centre in Montreal. *Maurice Richard's hands ... Forum smokey haze ... slowly ... emerge to choke Marc Bergevin*

So What?

Exactly. Who cares anyway? Only one team wins the championship each year. If all GMs were highly educated, possessing wizard powers, your team still has the same lousy odds of winning.

For Canada, its more about the sport as a culture, a passion; something to be proud of. To progress, be entertained, have fun; one must celebrate the past but not be stuck in it. Any MLB Princeton grad will tell you that past success can be a impediment for future success. If you're an NHL fan, you're gonna have to put up with "150% effort" until revenues flatline enough for real change, or Justin Trudeau steps in. Enjoy ;-)

*data sources: wikipedia.com

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