Don Maloney’s life seems a little bit like an episode of Mission: Impossible. Basically, as the newest general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes, he’s been tasked with turning around a franchise that, by all accounts, hit rock bottom a year ago.
Not to worry, Coyotes fans. “Mr. Fix It” has arrived, and he brings with him one of the more impressive hockey resumes in the game right now. He’s learned on the job from some of the most intelligent hockey people around, and now Maloney is applying the lessons learned from Stanley Cup winners like Glen Sather, Lou Lamoriello and Bill Torrey to the born-again Coyotes.
It’s a crazy business, but one thing the GM is sure of is that there’s plenty of work ahead of him and his team and that it won’t be an easy endeavor turning around an entire franchise.
“It’s a five-part process,” Maloney told NHL.com. “We’re probably just in the middle of Phase One, which is just starting to rebuild the infrastructure of the organization, from the office staff to the scouting staff, and getting to know the people involved. It’s not something you do in a week or 10 days. It’s an ongoing process.”
Maloney’s five-part plan is his own creation and he says he’s only in the first phase. The fifth and final phase, of course, is winning a Stanley Cup. While that may be years away from happening, what the GM has been doing in his first summer on the job in Phoenix is laying the groundwork for a championship program, installing a culture of hard work and raising the level of standards in the desert.
Maloney’s also still getting his bearings, he’s surrounding himself with able assistants, and he’s rebuilding an entire organization on the fly.
“We all have the same common belief and that’s long-term success means we have to build this team the right way,” Maloney says. “And that’s make good decisions, outwork people, build from within, draft better, all those things that add up to a championship team. It’s early. It’s exciting to be a part of it.
“Phoenix is a neat place,” he said. “It’s growing, it’s expanding, there’s a lot of construction everywhere, and I look at the team the same way. We have some work ahead of us, but it’s all very positive.”
Maloney cut his teeth running the Islanders after the legendary Torrey stepped down in 1992. He got his doctorate in NHL 101 as Sather’s assistant GM with the Rangers, where he spent over a decade helping to change the culture of that proud franchise. It wasn’t long ago when the Rangers were in the middle of an eight-year playoff drought, when they spent money like it was going out of style, and didn’t have much style on the ice.
In many ways, they were a lot like the last-place team he took over in May.
“What I plan to bring to the Coyotes is a real workman’s approach to the franchise,” said Maloney, who spent his playing career with the Rangers, Whalers and Islanders. “I’ve had the luxury of working with Glen Sather and understanding his approach to the game. I’ve been a huge, huge Lou Lamoriello admirer from the day he showed up in New Jersey. I look at how he built that franchise from the back end, from the goaltending, and staffing, and how they operate the last few years, just how they operate and how they view players.
“That’s the culture we’re going to bring to Phoenix,” he said. “It’s not going to be quick. We’re going to have to be patient with our people, our younger players, we’re going to have to be intelligent with the contracts we give out and the players we acquire. All those things go into being successful. There’s no question in my mind we will be successful and once we are, the people of Phoenix will come out to support us.”
Maloney makes no secret of the awesome task before him.
“We’re not making any promises that we’re going to win the Stanley Cup this year,” he said. “But what we are promising is that we’re not going to be outworked, we’re going to be better every month and all the decisions we make are based on building a long-term, successful franchise.”
|"What I plan to bring to the Coyotes is a real workman's approach to the franchise."
-- Don Maloney
In the new NHL, where there is a salary cap and players reach free agency younger than ever before, it’s possible to turn around a franchise quicker than in the past. Look at what they did in Philadelphia this summer for a prime example of reversing fortunes.
“To me, it comes down to player assessment, drafting better,” Maloney said. “We drafted Kyle Turris this year and he looks like he’s going to turn into a terrific player. If he is a terrific player, it’s a piece of the puzzle. We have this Peter Mueller kid, another piece of the puzzle who we hope will be a top-two line player. Once you do that and you inject these young players into your lineup, then the pieces start coming. I don’t think it has to be five years, but I do think it has to be a methodical process. It can happen quicker.
“Our goal going into the season is to get to the playoffs,” he said. “That’s what our expectations are. Given the Western Conference, people are going to question if that’s attainable or not, but I do believe it is attainable. If the guys believe, if we can get our chemistry together, if we can hit on some goaltending. That’s what we’re looking for this season.”
Maloney knows how important chemistry is to a team’s success. He knows from watching the Rangers sign so many big names during his tenure only to be rewarded with small victories on the ice. He knows the root of any championship rests in hard work rather than bright lights and big names.
“The mix was always off,” Maloney said of those Ranger blunders. “It just didn’t connect. We could spend three hours on the different names. But I really believe you learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
“You look at the Yankees and it was the same thing. In the ‘80’s, they were getting all the big names, but they didn’t start winning until (Derek) Jeter and (Mariano) Rivera and Bernie Williams and (Jorge) Posada and the whole core group came through. Now they had a team. Same with the Devils and (Scott) Stevens, (Ken) Daneyko, (John) MacLean, that’s how they started their long-term success.”
And perhaps the Phoenix Coyotes started on the path to their long-term success this year when they hired Maloney to carry them out of the darkness.
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