Senators Getting 30 Years of Knowledge & Experience in McGuire Hire

Pierre McGuire’s new job will keep him in the spotlight after he accepted a position to become the Ottawa Senators‘ senior vice-president of player development. The 59-year-old is leaving the NBC broadcast booth to assist general manager Pierre Dorion in player decisions and with their operations department. After a twenty-year career as an analyst, McGuire was ready to jump back into an NHL front office, a position he hasn’t held since the 1995-96 season.

His last job with an NHL organization was also with the Ottawa Senators, where he served as a scout after he was fired as head coach of the Hartford Whalers in 1994. In a short time, he went from being a scout to the assistant coach underneath Dave Allison, but both McGuire and Allison were released just 27 games later and a 2-22-3 record since taking over. That was McGuire’s last affiliation with an organization until Monday morning. 

What will the Senators get from McGuire?

Pierre Brings Experience, Regardless of His Past

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that McGuire brings a ton of hockey IQ to the table. He’s been in and around the league for more than three decades – behind the bench and in the broadcast booth – so it doesn’t hurt to have another set of eyeballs on the process of building a winning team. McGuire’s hockey career took off when he was named assistant hockey and lacrosse coach at Babson College, where he coached hockey under future New York Islanders head coach Steve Stirling. Coincidentally (or not), Stirling has been a scout with the Senators since 2017.

After three seasons at Babson, he moved to St. Lawrence University, where he was an assistant coach for two seasons (1988-1990). There he met Scotty Bowman, who frequently came to visit his daughter. When Bowman became director of player development and recruitment for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the summer of 1990, he offered McGuire a job as a special assignment scout, and when Bowman became interim head coach in 1991, he named McGuire an assistant coach. They won the Stanley Cup later that season, and this is where it all began.

Pierre McGuire Sidney Crosby
Pierre McGuire and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (Michael Miller, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Despite his success, his history with the Whalers is a bit dark. When he was hired at the age of 32, he became the youngest head coach in the NHL. It was a tall task, especially considering he had never been a head coach in any capacity. In six months, the team finished with a 23–37–7 record and he was fired on May 19, 1994. After he left the organization, Pat Verbeek, the captain of the Whalers at the time, said it was the best thing that could’ve happened for the team and that his teammates had no respect for him and that he was mocked by other teams (from ‘McGuire’s Tenure a Bad Situation,’ Hartford Courant, 05/21/1994).

Of course, that was almost 30 years ago, and like anyone, McGuire has changed, adapted and learned from his past experiences. After Hartford, he took a job with the Senators, and after he left Ottawa, he landed in broadcasting, where he has benefitted from analyzing NHL teams and players for decades.

Dorion has a lot of respect for McGuire’s knowledge and connections and said that it will be valuable when it’s decision time. “With his TV experience you go there and you’re unbiased on all the teams,” said Dorion. “He comes in here and he’s unbiased. As much as, at times, we like to say we’re not biased, we do have favourite players. Whether it’s the coaches, players or managers or the scouts. Him coming in here with his unbiased view is going to be really helpful for us making proper decisions. He will be someone that has a lot of input on the decisions we make moving forward” (from ‘GARRIOCH: Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion welcomes the addition of Pierre McGuire to the staff,’ Ottawa Sun, 12/07/21). Together, their focus will be on the on-ice product, as it should be.

The Vision

You have to give some credit to Eugene Melnyk and the Senators for going with their gut on this one, hiring one of the most polarizing figures in hockey. Yet, they went with what they felt was the best decision for them and the team. You have to admire that.

The Sens have been a punching bag when it comes to moving players, contract negotiations, public relations and losing season after season. Other than a few bright player performances and an exciting stretch of wins late in the season, Ottawa has been an outpost in the NHL for quite some time now. McGuire is ready to help change that.

To the media, McGuire alluded to the same things as Dorion and added that the ability to watch games and teams with an unbiased eye is something that he feels will be his greatest asset to the Senators’ development. He also mentioned that he believes there’s a seven-player profile (two elite centres, a power forward, a specialized forward, shutdown defenceman, an elite puck-moving defenceman and a top starting goalie) for building a Stanley Cup champion and that Ottawa is close to being a contender.

“We’re probably three players away from that right now,” said McGuire. “Some of them will internally evolve and will be those players that fit into the seven-player profile. You build around those players and it can be very cap-friendly. That formula works with every market, not just big market teams, not just small market teams, but it works with any team” (from ‘GARRIOCH: Pierre McGuire will play a key role in the off-season to make the Ottawa Senators a better team,’ Ottawa Sun, 12/07/21). While these comments gained traction on social media, it isn’t the only thing he’s said over the years that have grabbed people’s attention.

Pierre McGuire between the boards as an analyst and Martin Truex (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

McGuire isn’t the biggest fan of analytics. When asked his stance on analytics again on Monday, he wasn’t shy to reiterate his feelings:

“It’s not that I hate analytics, but I believe in scouting. I believe that there has to be people that are boots on the ground, hardcore hockey people that can actually evaluate a player without utilizing numbers and the player passes the eye test. I still don’t know if there’s an analytic equation for heart, for character, for hard work, for fearlessness, for determination, so that’s part of the formula that hardcore, boots on the ground scouting has to be. I don’t hate analytics.”

– Pierre McGuire

Analysts and the analytics community might question hiring an executive who has little interest in widely accepted advanced analytics. However, McGuire won’t have the final say, so the decisions won’t be solely based on scouting. But it still raised some eyebrows.

Dorion Is Still in Charge

Dorion made it clear that he has the final say on player decisions. “The chain of command is (the same). Pierre reports to me,” said Dorion. “But if you know anything about how Pierre Dorion operates, I communicate with everyone and everyone knows what’s going on whether it’s the coaching staff or scouting staff. Pierre’s will be in Ottawa, he’ll be very present in everything we do as far as hockey. But it was made very clear to me that he reports to me.” The Senators have considered hiring McGuire for a while now, and Dorion admitted that he spoke with him in mid-May about the role.

“We are excited to add Pierre to our hockey management group,” Melnyk said in a statement. “His experience will be instrumental as we continue to build an elite team. Pierre’s knowledge of the game and its players is highly regarded and I am confident that he will positively assist our team as it progresses to the next level.” With just one year remaining on both Dorion and D.J. Smith’s contracts, speculation that McGuire will take over as general manager has already begun.

However, Dorion immediately shot down the idea that McGuire would someday be the Senators’ new GM. Not everyone has the knowledge and insight behind the scenes, but most people understand that he was brought in to be another voice, and there’s no doubt that his extensive hockey knowledge will help build a winner. Given how well Dorion has handled rebuilding the team through the draft, signings and trades, no one thinks his job is remotely in trouble, for now.