Red Wings’ Front Office Shake-Up Offers New Opportunities

Good organizations breed good people. You see examples of that in every industry, but especially in sports. Mere days after a certain Original Six franchise came under fire yet again, the Detroit Red Wings bid farewell to one of their top executives as assistant general manager Pat Verbeek was hired as the general manager of the Anaheim Ducks. This marks his first time managing an NHL franchise after spending the last decade and more as Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman’s right-hand man, first in Tampa Bay with the Lightning, and then in Detroit starting in the spring of 2019. Verbeek was also the general manager of the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate.

The move surely has to excite fans of the Ducks. After all, the last person to move up from being an Yzerman assistant to take over an NHL franchise was Julien BriseBois, the two-time Stanley Cup-winning general manager of the Lightning. Of course, Verbeek’s proximity to Yzerman does not automatically mean he will be successful in his new position, but learning from somebody that is widely considered to be one of the top GM’s in the league can’t hurt his odds.

“I’m hoping I can do the job that [Yzerman] did in Detroit and Tampa and build the Anaheim Ducks into a contender,” Verbeek said.

From the Red Wings’ side of things, Verbeek leaves a hole that cannot be undersold. While the organization has since filled the vacancy, it’s worth diving into what this front office shake-up means for the team going forward.

Red Wings and Ducks Connected Now

It pays to have friends in high and low places. Since joining the Red Wings from Tampa Bay, Yzerman has worked out three deals with BriseBois and the Lightning. Two of these deals saw the Red Wings give an opportunity to a fringe player for the Lightning (Adam Erne, Mitchell Stephens) and the other deal saw Detroit play middle-man by retaining some of defenseman David Savard’s salary in a trade deadline deal last season. It’s safe to say that Yzerman and BriseBois have each other’s numbers if either are looking to make a deal.

And that’s not to mention the relationships Yzerman has with Jim Nill, the Dallas Stars’ GM, and Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland – both being names that Red Wings fans should be very familiar with.

With Verbeek now out in Anaheim, Yzerman now has another familiar face that he can contact if an opportunity to make a deal presents itself. Verbeek is very familiar with the Red Wings and the players in their system at this point, and if there’s a player he has a particular affinity for, Yzerman is just a phone call away. Considering the fact that their relationship goes back decades as executives and players, there’s a mutual respect there and an understanding that neither GM’s are going to take advantage of each other should they arrive at the negotiating table.

“Pat Verbeek is one of the brightest minds and hardest workers in the game, and he has been a trusted and valuable resource to me throughout my management career,” Yzerman said in a statement. “I will miss working alongside him, but I will continue to value the close friendship we have developed over the years.”

With that in mind, it’s fair to start wondering if there are players that Verbeek may target as he looks to put his stamp on the Ducks. Considering he was the Griffins’ GM this season, there may be some players doing their thing down in the AHL worth monitoring. It’s an obvious one, but could Hayden Verbeek, Pat’s nephew, find himself on his way out to San Diego to play for the Gulls?

Pat Verbeek Anaheim Ducks GM
Pat Verbeek, Anaheim Ducks GM (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

That being said, Verbeek finds himself in a different situation that he was in with Detroit. While the Red Wings are still in the thick of their rebuild as they continue to play .500 hockey this season, the Ducks look to be a step or two ahead of the Red Wings in terms of their own rebuild, with players like John Gibson and Cam Fowler supplementing the play of rookies and young players like Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale. The Ducks also have a strong prospect pool, headlined by 2021 third overall pick Mason McTavish.

Related: The NHL’s Best Farm Systems Ranked – 2021-22 Midseason Update

“Certainly you don’t have to come in there and look to take a long time. There’s good players in the NHL, and there’s also good players in the minors. There’s also players that have been drafted. So there’s lots coming to support the growth of this team,” Verbeek said. “[A typical rebuild] takes five years. I’m hoping to shorten that, but that’s kind of the reality of how long it really takes you to be a consistent, serious contender.”

As the 2022 Trade Deadline draws nearer, it will be interesting to see what approach Verbeek takes. Does he look to give his roster a boost, or does he play the long game and sell off a few extra parts to acquire more future assets. Furthermore, how can the Red Wings play into this?

Red Wings Promote Horcoff

In the aftermath of Verbeek’s big day, the Red Wings moved to fill their vacancy at the Asst. GM spot by promoting director of player development Shawn Horcoff to the role. Horcoff was also named the new GM of the Griffins, a development that makes sense given how hands-on he has been with the Red Wings’ prospects in his previous role. The Red Wings have not announced any plans to fill the vacant director of player development position, though one name to keep an eye on in that regard is Dan Cleary, who currently works as the assistant director of player development.

“Shawn has a tremendous work ethic and has done a great job developing the prospects within our organization, helping them prepare for the next steps in their careers,” said Yzerman. “The relationships he’s formed within the organization – and throughout the hockey community – make him a valuable asset to our future both in Detroit and Grand Rapids, and I look forward to continue working alongside him.”

“I’m very excited for my new role with the Red Wings and look forward to continuing the winning culture and tradition in Grand Rapids,” Horcoff said. “I’ve been very fortunate to establish relationships with the players, coaches and front office personnel within the Red Wings organization over the last six years and I’m excited for the opportunity to continue developing our prospects in Grand Rapids and helping them become impactful players at the NHL level.”

Red Wings Continue to Produce Good People

After playing 135 games with Detroit from 1999 to 2001, Verbeek was undoubtedly excited to be a part of the management team that is rebuilding the Red Wings. However, when an opportunity like the one with the Ducks presents itself, you can’t blame him for doing what’s best for him in his career. While it can seem like a disappointment to see somebody like him leave the organization, it should come off as the ultimate compliment to the Red Wings as an organization; when other organizations want to poach people from your organization, that means you’re doing something right.

It’s worth repeating: good organizations breed good people. This was the case when Yzerman left the Red Wings to join the Lightning, it was the case when Nill left to join the Stars, and it is again the case now that Verbeek has joined the Ducks. And now it looks like Horcoff is next up in an ever growing list of executives that earned their wings in Detroit. While the product on the ice is stuck in mediocrity, the Red Wings and their fans should rest easy knowing that the right people are in place to return the organization to the top of the NHL.

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