The NHL's latest franchise has no name yet, but it is already falsifying its identity – and the league is all the better for it.
"I think from the start, when you walk in, you notice that the organization looks a little different than maybe other hockey organizations in the league," said Alexandra Mandrycky, director of hockey strategy and research at NHL Seattle.
Mandrycky was the first hockey worker in Seattle – and the first sign that this is a franchise that wants to do things a little differently, both in terms of diversity and in terms of its Attitude to analytics.
"It's really exciting," said 29-year-old Mandrycky of the rare opportunity to build a team from scratch. "So often when you step into a company and are hired for that position, you come across something that already exists. You may be trying to change an existing culture. Here it is an exciting challenge because we are really laying the foundation can – we can create culture. "
While the on-ice roster is still far from taking shape, Tod Leiweke, CEO of NHL Seattle, and the rest of the leadership were busy putting together an organization as diverse as the city in which she is at home. What really sets Seattle apart from other professional sports clubs is its dedication to diversity. The organization currently has a gender breakdown of 50/50 and a leadership team where women are represented in more than half of their VP roles.
“Ultimately, the test is for us, what will we look like on the opening day? Will we look like the community we serve? Will we look like our fan base? "Leiweke recently told Christine Simpson of Sportsnet," I think there is a real movement going on and it is really exciting to see glass ceilings being broken everywhere. "
Leiweke is no stranger to Seattle, nor to the art of bringing an expansion franchise to life. He revived the NFL Seahawks to the steadfast rivals we know today, and also founded the city's major league soccer team, the Sounders. On the hockey front, he helped launch the Minnesota Wild and most recently was instrumental in building the Tampa Bay Lightning into an impressive force in the Eastern Conference.
But the former NFL-COO is not resting on his laurels when he faces this new challenge.
"I think when you hire people, you often think about who you've worked with and who you've had good experiences with," he said. "And if you come from the sports business, where there are a lot of men, there is a tendency to summarize the usual suspects. I think we didn't feel this pressure. We stopped early, very thoughtfully."
Leiweke had a lot of help in the process and learned from those around him in Seattle – people like Mandrycky, general manager Ron Francis, and vice president of human resources at April West – and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and executive VP of social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Matters Kim Davis.
When it came to the challenge of the expansion team to build a diverse fan base, Davis pointed to the success of the Vegas Golden Knights.
"We know that demography has changed across North America – macro demography, but microdemography by market," Davis said in an interview last month about Vegas. "I think each of our markets is beginning to understand more wisely where they stand to grow, build these youth talent pipelines, and make sure there is an open, accessible opportunity at every stage of this pipeline – whether it is For Girls, be it for colored people who are broken down by race, ethnicity and sexual orientation – we create an environment in which people simply win. "
Seattle has employed people like Dani Chu among its staff who have been selected directly from Simon Fraser University. Siblings Kyle Boyd (director of youth and community development / training) and Kendall Boyd-Tyson (now vice president of strategy and analytics); and analytics guru Namita Nandakumar, a star in the analytics world who thrived with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I think it's time we made this a priority in this business – and I'm talking about the sports business as a whole," Leiweke said of diversity. "We have made it a priority here and in a way it is not the least resistance. When you think of a manager and people you have worked with, you think of men so often. So it takes a little one Double clutch to say, "Hey, maybe you don't have to have 10 or 20 years of experience." Maybe there are some leaps of faith. I'm very proud of the progress we're making. It's still in progress, but I can give examples of that lead phenomenal people in our team, represent diversity and will serve us well in the future. "
The hiring of the US hockey legend and the hockey hall of Famer Cammi Granato as Pro-Scout sheds even more light on the club's mindset. While we had already seen women break into the NHL scouting departments – Noelle Needham was hired as an amateur scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018 – Granato was the first woman to hold her position.
"I think people will take note of it and I think we will see some changes and I think it will only be really positive," Granato told Simpson. "Whatever your background, it doesn't matter. I think that will happen. I think the fact that Seattle does it, I think you will see more of it."
That has already started in the hockey world. Since Granato's hiring, Blake Bolden has joined the Los Angeles Kings in a similar role. And in October, the Moose Jaw Warriors hired Olivia Howe, which made her the first woman to be part of a WHL coaching staff.
"The head coach actually credited and directed – & # 39; You know, I had never thought of it and then I heard what NHL Seattle was doing and I just thought: & # 39; Why not? & # 39 ; "Mandrycky said about the setting. "Well, I think if the NHL starts this trend, it will go down in the whole ice hockey world."
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A research-based role like that of Mandrycky in Seattle wouldn't normally be in the spotlight – and that fits her well – but she understands the importance of being in the public eye when it comes to making changes.
“I don't really like attention, but I realize that when these types of stories are written, when my name appears in other stories, someone sees, 'Oh, she's a woman and she's in this hockey story "And then it just becomes the norm," she said.
As Mandrycky explained, in the past NHL clubs were not simply averse to new ideas. The problem lies in the pipeline and the traditional, hierarchy-based pools they are looking for.
"I think if you just pool candidates from these traditional pipelines, you are doomed to not have a variety of employees," she said. "And that doesn't mean that these pipelines are not particularly valuable – these people have a lot of experience that they deserve to be considered for all of these positions." But I think they're not the only people we consider when we think about hiring the group. "
She pointed out that a conscious effort is required to interrupt the traditional way of searching for candidates.
"It takes someone who is open-minded to review this application and really try to hire the best person available," she said. "I think the organizations that have shown … openness to getting women on board should definitely be welcomed this way."