Editor's Note: This story ran in the Dec. 14 - Jan. 13 edition of Ducks Digest.
From the beginning of the franchise’s existence, David McNab has been a vital part of the behind-the-scenes workings of the Ducks By Adam Brady
Take a look at the large oak desk in David McNab’s office, on the executives’ wing of the basement at Honda Center, and you get a pretty good idea of what he’s all about. Among the piles of paper, folders and a well-worn laptop are the necessities of McNab’s role as Ducks Assistant General Manager.
There’s a thick copy of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement regulations, which McNab refers to as the team’s primary contract negotiator and salary cap expert. There’s a portable DVD player to watch video of Ducks prospects, which he uses as one of the team’s top amateur scouts. And, of course, there is an ever-present silver can of Diet Coke.
McNab is widely known around the Ducks offices as always having that Diet Coke by his side. If it’s not a can, it’s a 2-liter bottle, which he has been known to swig from feverishly while watching Ducks games from the press box.
“I probably drink about two dozen cans a day,” McNab admits. “But I like the 2-liter bottles better, because these cans are just not enough. Plus, they taste better in the 2-liter bottles.”
The 6-foot-6 former college goaltender with the booming voice has seen it all with the Ducks, as one of the few people who has been with the team since its inception in 1993. McNab was the team’s first Director of Player Personnel, coming to the franchise after more than 15 years as a scout with the Washington Capitals, Hartford Whalers and New York Rangers.
| McNab is most proud of scouting and signing “guys who weren’t supposed to make it” like McDonald. |
“The rewarding part is that I have seen things every step of the way with this team,” says the 51-year-old McNab. “I know everything that’s ever happened to this franchise, and I’m one of the few who does.”
And he’s had a lot to do with those developments from a fledgling franchise into a Stanley Cup champion. It’s an accomplishment McNab calls “the greatest feeling in my life,” as the diamonds on his championship ring glimmer from his right hand.
“When you love a franchise as much as I like this one, it’s exciting,” say McNab, while leaning forward in a large leather chair behind that cluttered desk. “Being with this franchise has been like a family sort of thing for me. I know that sounds like a corny line.”
McNab’s teenage daughters, Ali and Erica, were just infants when he took the job in ’93, “and they’ve grown up with this franchise and grown up in this city. So, it’s really a rewarding experience that they’ve spent their whole lives with this franchise and my whole existence has been with this franchise as well.”
Like his own children, McNab grew up in a hockey family, which led to an upbringing that from sixth grade through high school was in San Diego, not exactly considered a hockey hotbed.
“I’ve now spent 20 years in Southern California,” McNab says. “I’ve always told people that I don’t buy the belief that hockey weather is cold. I’m a total believer that the proper dress for hockey players is shorts.”
David’s father Max, a former Stanley Cup champion with Detroit, was coach, general manager and eventually vice president of the San Diego Gulls of the Western League. In 1975 he became GM of the Washington Capitals and later the New Jersey Devils, before retiring from hockey in the early ‘90s. Max passed away last September at the age of 83. David’s brother Peter played 14 years in the NHL and is currently a broadcaster with the Colorado Avalanche.
“My brother was a tremendous player, and I knew I wasn’t going to play professionally,” David says, “so I was always interested in what my father did, the behind-the-scenes work, that part of the game.”
David was good enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, where he was a goaltender on the Badgers’ 1977 NCAA championship team, widely considered one of the best college squads of all time.
That background led McNab to become the Ducks’ primary scout of college free agents, where he scouted and signed Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Carter and former players Dustin Penner and Ryan Shannon.
“The interesting part about players that I’m scouting, is that these are players who have been told their whole life they can’t make it,” says McNab, who these days spends most of the week in the office and finds time to scout players on the weekends. “It’s not like scouting the amateurs who are going to be picked in the first or second round of the draft, the players who are always told they’re stars. It’s fun to watch and see guys who weren’t supposed to make it become NHL players. Those players appreciate it more when they have success. ”
That’s especially true for McDonald and Kunitz, two players who were undrafted and went on to have standout collegiate careers at Colgate and Ferris State, respectively. McNab’s reputation as a diligent worker was put to the test in his quest to visit McDonald in the tiny city of Hamilton, New York in the winter of 2000.
“I had told Andy I would come in and watch a practice and go out to lunch to discuss things,” McNab remembers. “The night before I was going to see him there was a huge snowstorm in that area. I went into Hamilton and there was two feet of snow and it was colder than cold. I went into the rink at about 10 in the morning, with my 2-liter of Diet Coke and a newspaper and I was sitting in the stands. I’ve always believed that when Andy came on the ice and saw that I had actually made it to the practice, that might have been the tiebreaker if there was one.”
| McNab, here with daughters Erica and Ali and wife Kari, says “I believe so much in this franchise, and to win the Stanley Cup here was the greatest feeling in my life.” |
McNab later developed a connection with Kunitz, who at the time was, according to McNab, “one of the most highly sought-after collegiate free agents, probably of all time.” The day after Kunitz’s last game as a collegian in 2003 (an NCAA Regional game against Minnesota in which he scored two goals and then got injured in the loss), he got on the next flight to Anaheim to sign with the Ducks.
“I always say that with guys like McDonald and Penner and especially Kunitz, they chose to come here,” McNab says. “You get drafted and you go to whatever team that picked you. I’ve often believed that guys like Andy McDonald and Chris Kunitz weren’t supposed to have success anywhere else but Anaheim.”
That is largely due to the work of the man Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Burke calls “indispensable to our hockey club. He negotiates all player contracts, manages our salary cap and still finds time to be one of our most productive amateur scouts.”
These days, McNab’s proficiency with the complex salary cap system has been vital. “I find it very interesting,” McNab says. “There are so many more rules that come into play. The organizations that do well have to prepare with a lot more depth than they did in the past. You have to stay organized and ask a lot of questions. I call the league almost every day to ask questions, even if it’s something I’ve dealt with before.”
And despite the long hours of making countless phone calls, reading the fine print and crunching the numbers, McNab never forgets how much he cherishes his time in Anaheim.
“I’ve said from Day 1, this is a wonderful franchise,” he says. “Obviously now we’re at the highest level, but it really was a work in progress for a long time to get the team we put on the ice last year and have right now.
“Now that we’ve got a good team here, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to stay on top. As difficult as it is to get there, it’s even harder to stay there. That’s the challenge now.”