Hockey is a business.
For the purpose of this exercise, then, let’s treat the Vancouver Canucks like a company approaching its annual budget process with pressing financial concerns, a strategic plan that needs to be fulfilled and a demanding workforce uneven in delivering.
Four human resource questions any company would ask:
1) Who is coming up the ranks and has to be retained with a raise?
2) Who might be lost to the competition?
3) Who might be in the interests of the firm to leave, but won’t?
4) Who might be fine to stay, but we will let them go because they can be replaced?
Let’s play general manager for a few minutes. You have $17 million in additional spending on an $81.5 million budget to go to the next level. One year hence is a flatlined budget, when two difference-making employees can walk if they can’t be made wealthy.
Answer 1: This is a young workforce, nowhere near its collective peak. Contracts in this firm being what they are, compensation is as much about future potential as recent performance – rewarding in advance for the privilege of retaining risk-laden progression. Golden handcuffs are needed, if not this year then certainly next, so you can’t commit funds as a firm to others if you cannot find funds for key contributors next. Into this long-range planning envelope: Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes.
Answer 2: Every year there is a glad tiding of high-level talent that, if not retained, will change employers. It’s bloodless business, tinged with sentiment. Contracts expire, employees canvass interest, then decide if rivals will secure their services. Into this envelope is the firm’s most valuable element, goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who will be the open market’s best catch with that skill – expensive to get (or sign again), securing nothing if lost, like a senior executive walking across the street housing the most elite competitiveness. Complication: a young talent, Thatcher Demko, breathing down his neck is cheaper now and may be better in the long run. He might be lost to a startup firm in Seattle in a year because of the industry’s rules. For safety’s sake, can the organization lose its prime performer for nothing and risk suffering at his hands? Can it lose its future and have a past-due-date performer on its hands? Also up for grabs is the worker bee of the enterprise, defenceman Chris Tanev, willing to take one for the team, who worked his way up the organization and built its culture.
Answer 3: Deadwood is every organization’s misery, and even in a team of a couple of dozen, there will be overpaid, underperforming members on contracts in the way of better members who can’t bump them out of their secure privilege. Included in this envelope is the guy everyone would get rid of but can’t. You can’t show him the door or send him elsewhere because he has a costly long-term contract no one will take. You definitely know his name and it would be a cruelty to print it. But you know. Beyond him are others who don’t earn their keep: someone who feebly defends, someone who is foolishly fighting, someone who was once a champion but is a shadow self. Listen, it’s the private sector, and even the private sector is not a paragon of efficiency. You just have to eat the costs.
Answer 4: Here is the toughest part of the team dynamic. Key pieces mean much, but the folks down the ranks are the difference in tough situations. Into this envelope are the hard-working types like the frenetic Tyler Motte, give-it-all Troy Stecher, and the still-finding-himself Jake Virtanen. Maybe there is money for one.
There, our second job – to run the Canucks – is satisfied for the moment. •
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.