LIGHTNING'S BARBER BRINGS HALL OF FAME PLAYING, COACHING EXPERIENCE TO HOCKEY OPERATIONS DEPARTMENT
/ Tampa Bay Lightning
The first thing that strikes a person walking by Bill Barber's office is the neat row of suits, ties and shoes along the wall. The clothes arguably spend more time in the office than their owner, but not because he's out vacationing or taking days off. That idea couldn't be further from the truth.
Even though Barber doesn't necessarily hang around the Tampa Bay Lightning offices very often, the reality is that he works just as hard as anyone to know the Lightning inside out. Barber, Tampa Bay's Director of Player Personnel, doesn't actually need to be in an office on a regular basis to do his job. Instead, his job is done on the road as he travels from city to city watching everything from NHL to Canadian Junior hockey in an effort to evaluate players within the Lightning organization.
As the Director of Player Personnel Barber's day-to-day duties aren't completely unlike those of a scout. Barber logs a lot of miles traveling to different arenas to assess players. He makes suggestions to General Manager Jay Feaster about players based on what he sees in games while always keeping an eye out for new talent.
What makes the job slightly different from that of a scout is that Barber's focus is mainly on players within the Lightning organization. Barber acts as an invaluable source of information when it comes to assessing players who might join the Lightning via trade or free agency. He is also a key decision maker when it comes to deciding where current Lightning players fit within the organization.
"I get to view the National Hockey League and the American League along with the East Coast League now because we're associated with Johnstown," Barber said. "In that process I evaluate players on other teams, and by doing that [the importance] is in having a real good read on your own team. If something ever materializes, we're always looking to better our situation here in Tampa and we are making sure that we have the right player coming in and that the players will fit and will fit well into how we play, system-wise and so forth.
"Along with evaluation of players on the other teams through comparables to our own team, we follow the progress of our own players, whether its here in the National League or Springfield or Johnstown [in] the East Coast League," Barber said. "To watch the progress, so that the right decisions are made there [when] communicating with the coaches in the sense that [we] make sure that we've tried to keep the merit system best possible."
Barber is one person who knows the importance of having players that fit into a system first-hand. Although a member of the Hall of Fame thanks to his playing days with the Philadelphia Flyers, Barber has a lengthy coaching and scouting history that began as his playing career ended.
After playing for the Flyers through the 70s and into the early 80s, Barber jumped into a head coaching position with Hershey of the AHL the year after he retired as a player. Within a year he found himself behind the Flyers bench as an assistant coach, a position he would hold twice in the midst of eight seasons as the director of pro scouting for the team.
In the mid 90s Barber got back into head coaching within the Flyers organization. After bringing an American Hockey League Championship to the Philadelphia Phantoms (1998) Barber returned to the NHL coaching ranks to earn the Jack Adams Award with the Flyers in 2001.
Since joining Tampa Bay in 2002, Barber has enjoyed continued success in his career by helping build a Stanley Cup Championship team for the Lightning. The hand he had in that success was built upon his experience as both a coach and a scout.
"From coaching it's different because you're really kind of like a lone soldier," Barber said. "You do a lot of travel by yourself - I see a lot of hockey. I station myself out of the Philly area most of the time; reason being is that it's essentially where I do coverage. I don't have to be on an airplane all the time. I get a lot of coverage by just driving to games and coming back. And plus I've got two kids who still live in the area and I've got grandsons so it gives me a chance to catch up with them, too. It's great."
For Barber, the opportunity to work out of the Philadelphia area is one that not only allows him to spend time with his family, but it significantly cuts down on travel time. While he acknowledges every day is an adventure and that on many days there is "some frustration with traffic or fighting flights that are late," Barber enjoys the challenge his position presents.
"I think it's like life, you have to be honest in life and face up to what you're going to be entailing through the day or through whatever period, and I don't think it's any different with our own team," Barber said. "We really have to be open-minded, and I've always kept myself off to the side here kind of in the sense that I'm an outside opinion. I think when I first came on board here Jay [Feaster] hired me because I'm an outside guy coming in to evaluate. Sometimes that has a lot of accuracy to it, because I don't know all the little heartbeats that go on internally in the room with the coaches and stuff."
"I can come in and say, 'This is how I view this player,' and it's a different view," Barber continued. "I've kept it that way. I have a real good rapport with all the coaches and I know they respect the amount of time that I travel and stay on top of things as far as evaluations go. So it works out really well. It's a good position for me because I'm not here in Tampa all the time. I'm kind of all over the place and it makes it good."
Being all over the place is exactly what makes Barber such a valuable asset to the Lightning. As Barber travels across the United States and Canada evaluating the players in Tampa Bay's system, Feaster and company can rest assured that they have someone with loads of hockey knowledge helping assess the team and its players.
As for the clothes in his office, they just have to sit and wait patiently for Barber's hectic schedule to bring him back to Tampa before they find out where they're going next.