📝 by Patrick Williams
Shawn Horcoff played 1,008 regular-season games in the National Hockey League between the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, and Anaheim Ducks.
Now he will manage talent just one step from the NHL.
On Feb. 4, the Detroit Red Wings named Horcoff their new assistant general manager as well as the general manager of the Grand Rapids Griffins, their American Hockey League affiliate. Horcoff, a former NHL captain and Stanley Cup finalist, steps into the role after the Ducks named Pat Verbeek their general manager last week. Since retiring as a player in 2016, the 43-year-old Horcoff has been Detroit’s director of player development and worked with Red Wings prospects playing in junior, college, and Europe.
“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,” Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman said in a written statement.
The promotion is a significant next step for Horcoff as well. His new role managing the Griffins will include handling personnel decisions and building out a roster in Grand Rapids.
“I think the one benefit is taking this job at this time [is that it] gives me some time to learn the league and a little bit of a buffer before all that kind of stuff starts to happen [this summer],” Horcoff said. “But I’m excited to do it. Excited to, along with Steve, try to build a team here.”
The Griffins figure prominently in Detroit’s ongoing rebuilding project. Yzerman returned to the Red Wings in 2019 from the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he built one of the NHL’s top development systems. The Lightning have won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships thanks to the work that Yzerman did with the team’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
Yzerman and a pair of top executives in Julien BriseBois and Stacy Roest helped to make Tampa Bay-Syracuse a model affiliation. He took that blueprint with him back to Detroit and Grand Rapids, where he relied heavily on Verbeek and will now do so with Horcoff. Defensemen Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek along with forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Michael Rasmussen, and Filip Zadina are among the Red Wings regulars who spent significant time in Grand Rapids before advancing to Detroit. To make the organization a Stanley Cup contender once again, the Red Wings need Grand Rapids to continue delivering NHL-ready talent.
“I think it’s just an exciting time in general in our organization, both in Detroit and Grand Rapids,” Horcoff said after moving into his new role. “We’ve had a lot of draft picks, and some of those guys are starting to turn pro and come in here. So for me, it’s going to be kind of a seamless transition in that regard, because I’ve watched and worked with those kids extensively over the last few years. It’s going to be nice to continue in a little bit of a different role, but more on the pro side now.”
Having Horcoff to manage Grand Rapids helps to offset the losses of a pair of talented executives in Verbeek and Ryan Martin to opportunities elsewhere. Before Verbeek took over as the general manager in Grand Rapids before this season, Martin had been in that role with the Griffins for eight seasons before going to the New York Rangers. Martin, now the general manager of the Hartford Wolf Pack, helped Horcoff’s move into management.
“With Ryan, he was great to me early in my career,” Horcoff said. “Obviously I had my job to do, but Ryan, [former Detroit general manager Ken Holland], and continuing with both Steve and Pat [it was], ‘Any time you want to be around the office and you want to learn and come sit [in], you’re more than welcome.’
“I tried to do that, to be down there as much as I could and be around those guys. Ryan was very good to me, involving me in different decisions and letting me sit in on various meetings and things like that. That continued with Pat as well. So, I think for what the job is, I’ve kind of been around it for a while now and feel comfortable with it. It shouldn’t be too big of a transition for me.”
However, Horcoff acknowledged that his new position means digging into the AHL much more to shape the Griffins and blend development with winning for Detroit. With Yzerman as general manager, the Lightning-affiliated Norfolk Admirals won the Calder Cup in 2012. After Lightning prospects went to Syracuse, the Crunch went to the Calder Cup Finals in 2013 and 2017.
“We have a lot of young players coming,” Horcoff said. “We want to make sure that those guys are developing, but we want to win. We realize that winning is part of that, and in order to do that, you have to have good veterans on your team. So that is going to be a big part of the job, trying to make sure that we can piece together the right people here to help develop prospects but also win at the same time.
“I think for us it is a balance. You want to develop your prospects. In order to do that, the prospects need to play. But at the same time, it never works out when you just give anyone anything in life. They have to earn it, and that’s what we’re going to do here.
“We’re going to give them every tool possible both on and off the ice to be successful. And if they are, fantastic. We’re doing our job. And if they aren’t, we’re going to find a way to creatively get better and find a way for them to do that. Being in competitive situations and being held accountable and having to face some adversity goes into all of that.”
Much of the work creating that competitive environment in Grand Rapids will fall to Horcoff when he gets to work building the team’s 2022-23 roster. During his playing days, he called the likes of Chris Pronger and Ryan Smyth his teammates, and he competed alongside Shane Doan in international competition. He knows what he will want in Griffins colors.
“You want to have good people,” Horcoff said. You want to have people [who] care about the organization. They care about the relationship with their teammates. They want to show up every single day.
“We’re going to expect ― we’re going to demand ― hard work and attention to detail. And we’re going to demand that they carry themselves at the level that you would want a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins player to carry themselves.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports, and is currently the co-host of The Hockey News On The ‘A’ podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.