SEATTLE -- NHL Seattle's new assistant general manager, Ricky Olczyk, arrives in town with a zest for the long road.
Here's proof: He led the effort to found an American Hockey League franchise in Oklahoma City while serving as an assistant GM for the Edmonton Oilers, meeting with local politicians, working on financing and developing with colleagues the player roster for the inaugural 2010-11 season.
He was a key member of the management team for Team Europe during hockey's inaugural 2016 World Cup.
Most recently, Olczyk (pronounced "ohl-check") served in an assistant GM role alongside NHL Seattle GM Ron Francis for four years with the Carolina Hurricanes as the front office transformed a player development system ranked in the league's lower third when they embarked and now widely considered top third.
"I am extremely excited and honored for the opportunity to help establish a team culture with Ron and Alexandra [Mandrycky, director of hockey administration]," says Olczyk during an exclusive interview this past weekend. "Plus to do it in Seattle, a city with such great vibrancy. I love the idea of building from the ground up."
That exuberance for planning, strategizing and don't forget patience will be a huge plus in collaborating with Francis and Mandrycky. Announced Tuesday, Olczyk becomes the third member in an NHL Seattle hockey operations group targeting for a regular-season puck drop still two years away.
One of Olczyk's primary duties in Carolina-and now Seattle-involves managing the team's salary cap. Every NHL franchise has to stay within a minimum and maximum team salary range; the cap maximum for the upcoming NHL season is $81.5 million. The salary cap will certainly factor into which players Seattle selects in the NHL Expansion Draft in June 2021, plus any potential free agent signings during that summer, beginning July 1.
"Every transaction has an impact," says Olczyk, 49. "You of course consider the present impact but you also have to consider how it affects the [salary] cap situation two or three years from now. You want to have the best players at the best values currently and down the road. For example, you might have to coordinate your current roster so you will be able to sign a highly promising young player to a new contract a season from now."
"Ricky has tremendous experience working contracts and managing the cap," says Francis. "He has deep scouting experience. We have a great relationship and a friendship away from the game. He's got high energy and he will always tell me honestly what he thinks and feels."
One question proffered to Olczyk during the interview makes abundantly clear he knows the complexities and details of salary cap management (we promise a salary cap tutorial article with "Ricky O" insights coming soon). Olczyk will also act as resident expert on the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, "keeping us in compliance," says Francis.
Olczyk's management credentials are deep: Cornell law degree; legal work for the NHL Players Association; several years working for law firms in Chicago and Phoenix; starting his own consulting firm for players and their families to consider professional and academic opportunities, seven seasons with Edmonton, six as assistant GM; four years in Carolina and last season working as a pro scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I have to thank [Toronto GM] Kyle Dubas and the whole organization," says Olczyk. "That is a group doing it the right way and bound for a lot of success. It was tremendous observing and watching it. Plus, I got the chance to scout full-time. I have scouted amateurs and pros, but this was the first time that scouting was my only job.
READ Press Release: NHL Seattle Announces Assistant General Manager
"I thought I knew what scouts do and what they face," Olczyk explains, "now I know exactly how to make their jobs easier as a part of management."
Francis and Olczyk align on how they view the role and input from scouts, whether evaluating NHL players, AHL players or amateurs in juniors and NCAA: "We want scouts who are not vanilla and not Switzerland. We want to hear their views, allow them to make a passionate case for players they like."
Olczyk's Team Europe experience squares up intriguingly with NHL Seattle's hockey ops endeavor. Team Europe was created from scratch to represent European countries without their own national team in the World Cup tournament, including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland. It finished second, shutting out the U.S. in qualifying rounds, beating a strong Swedish squad in the semifinals and playing a stacked Canada team closely in the final best-of-three series, losing tight games 3-1 and 2-1.
"It was obviously not the same scale [as the work ahead with NHL Seattle]," says Olczyk, "but there are many similarities, logos, team colors, picking a roster."
There is one difference: Olczyk says Team Europe even needed to create a national anthem to be played before games.
Olczyk brings a valuable wealth of playing experience to the job with NHL Seattle: As a defenseman growing up in the Chicago area, he captained a USA Under-17 team to a silver medal, voted to wear the "C" by future NHLers such as Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte among others.
"That was humbling," recalls Olczyk, who by the way says his birth-certificate name is Ricky. "As a player on the ice, I never tried to do more than I was capable. My brother Eddie had the gift of being a forward with 'soft hands' and the scoring touch. I had hands of stone. I aimed to outwork everyone, especially in my skating."
Eddie Olczyk was a 16-year NHL player and teammate of Ron Francis for two years in Pittsburgh. Some fans might know him better as a world-class hockey analyst who pairs with the legendary multiple-Emmy winner Mike "Doc" Emrick on national broadcasts for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network.
Eddie infused a love of hockey in his younger brother that continued into college competition. Ricky was voted captain of his Brown University NCAA Division I collegiate team as a senior. Similar to his new boss Francis, who captained teams in Hartford, Pittsburgh and Carolina, Ricky appreciates the pivotal role of a captain in hockey to establish team chemistry and a positive organizational culture he, Francis and Mandrycky all covet.
"I had an open-door policy as a captain," says Olczyk. "Any player could come to me any time. Ron is very inclusive as a GM. He wants to hear opinions whenever he considering who to trade for, sign, waive or draft."
One more bit of evidence about Olczyk's readiness for the long haul and late nights ahead as the team builds a roster plus a brand-new arena and Northgate training complex: He is more than 15 years into his pursuit of trail running. His first conquest was Camelback Mountain in the Phoenix area with urging from a mentor and fellow attorney at a law firm.
Olczyk says he "caught the buzz" has since participated in the Pike's Peak Marathon and completed the "Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim" (known as R2R2R), which is a double-crossing of the Grand Canyon in one day. The route is 48-mile out-and-back route starting and ending at the south rim near the visitor center with an elevation change of 20,000 feet and, depending on time of year, a temperature change up to 70 degrees.
"I am chomping at the bit to get on the trails in the Seattle area and Pacific Northwest," says Olczyk. "Ron was laughing when he told me about the trails and has even promised some walking meetings."