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Hall of Famers turning to executive roles

Monday, 11.09.2009 / 2:18 PM / Hall of Fame

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"I'm a part of the organization's management group and my position means I'm no longer a player. In some ways I miss that, but we're a team and we have a lot of fun. The humor is the same, the goals are the same and the work ethic is the same. I'm at the front of the plane."
-- Steve Yzerman

TORONTO -- Intelligence, experience and love of the game are prerequisites for players who want to get into management positions when they hang up the skates, but so too is popularity.

According to Brett Hull, that's why you're seeing so many of the recent inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame currently sitting in executive chairs around the League.

"I think ownership and management of teams realize, especially now, that there is a lot for us to offer," Hull said. "We're educated and we're smart. We have so much power within the fans and to keep us and have us in the organization keeps the fans thinking that it's a family. I think that's how you build strong organizations."

This year's class of five inductees, which will be enshrined Monday night, includes three former players in Hull, Steve Yzerman and Luc Robitaille who have transitioned into management roles in organizations for which they spent a good portion of their playing careers.

The 2007 class included current executives Al MacInnis, Ron Francis and Mark Messier.

Including '05 inductee Cam Neely, the past five Hockey Hall of Fame classes boast seven inductees who currently hold jobs in NHL front offices. Plus, Patrick Roy, inducted in 2006, is the co-owner, GM and head coach of the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts.

"I don't think we're any more equipped (than players of the past), but I just know that all of us really enjoy being in the game regardless of the role," Yzerman said. "Luc is in the front office trying to sell tickets, trying to sell suites and he's working very hard, but he's still in the game and around the people in the game. That's what I like. Upon retiring you think, 'What am I going to do? Should I do something else?' I like the hockey world. That's why I have stayed."

"It's not an issue about money," Robitaille added. "It's about still being in the game and being involved in something we love."

Seeing Hall of Famers in executive roles isn't new in the NHL. All you have to do is look at legends such as King Clancy, Bob Gainey, Bob Clarke, Bill Barber, Jean Beliveau, Bryan Trottier, Ken Dryden, Phil Esposito and Mario Lemieux.

But the trend seems to be growing exponentially over the last five years and even the recent inductees who haven't matriculated into the front office appear on their way.

Leetch enjoys being a dad to his kids that are 9, 6 and 4, but he sees himself getting back into the game in some type of capacity soon enough. He even threw out the possibility of himself, Messier and Mike Richter doing it together.

"There is nothing that I'm not interested in except for head coaching," Leetch said.

Scott Stevens, who was inducted in 2007 with MacInnis, Messier and Francis, already is working for the Devils as an assistant coach. Igor Larionov, a '08 inductee, has the smarts to take over an NHL team right now. He is instead involved with the KHL.

Roy was under consideration for Colorado's vacant GM and head coach jobs this summer before they went to Greg Sherman and Joe Sacco. Glenn Anderson, who went in with Larionov last year, does community service projects for the New York Rangers.

"I believe that it's fantastic to have former players in these positions," said Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, who is being inducted into the Builders category Monday. "They have a feel for the players. They've been through the experiences. They can share their experiences, whether it's positive or negative, to make the game better. And I've learned from these people in different areas, too, in seeing what their thoughts are."

Yzerman said he's not sure if the recent inductees are better equipped to be in front office roles now than legends that came before them, but an argument can be made that they in fact are because of the work stoppages in 1994-95 and 2004-05.

"We had to fight for things, for our rights, and some of them were hard lessons," Robitaille said. "You learn a lot of lessons along the way. You have to fight and give in a little bit and if you do something fair you'll get rewarded."

Robitaille, who is the president of business operations for the Kings, added that the '05-06 work stoppage was even more beneficial to him because it gave him a full year to research and learn about the world outside the dressing room.

"I started reading a lot of books and meeting a lot of people in different businesses," he said. "That prepared me. I knew I wanted to come back and play but I also knew it was going to be a year or two at best because I was getting older. In a funny way the lockout helped me in getting ready for this career."
"I knew I wanted to come back and play but I also knew it was going to be a year or two at best because I was getting older. In a funny way the lockout helped me in getting ready for this career.." -- Luc Robitaille
For the most part, Yzerman said the transition from the dressing room to the front office is smooth.

"It's a different lifestyle, but they have done it for so long that it's not a big transition," Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman told NHL.com.

The only hard part is remembering that they are not players anymore and they can't try to act like one or associate with them too much. It's made even more difficult for guys like Yzerman, who was the captain for many of the players who still play in Detroit.

"Players come to the rink to get ready for practice, to get ready for games, to do their job on the ice and then they want to leave," Yzerman said. "I'm a part of the organization's management group and my position means I'm no longer a player. In some ways I miss that, but we're a team and we have a lot of fun. The humor is the same, the goals are the same and the work ethic is the same. I'm at the front of the plane."

Robitaille, though, said it's imperative that they remember what it was like to be a player.

"If you don't forget how players feel than you can always address them, hear them and their concerns," he said. "I try not to forget that."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com
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