AHL On The Beat Archive
Manitoba Moose general manager Craig Heisinger has been involved in pro hockey for decades. The former equipment manager for the Winnipeg Jets and current top decision-maker for the Western Conference-leading Manitoba Moose has a unique perspective on the business side of hockey, a perspective he recently shared with hockey fans from around the world.
Read a selection of Zinger’s Q & A below, or visit moosehockey.com to take in the complete interview.
Q: How do the Moose go about scouting players independent of the Vancouver Canucks? For example, (Rick) Rypien and (Alexandre) Burrows were signed. Do you look at European leagues, major junior, university, other pro leagues, etc.?
Craig Heisinger: Well, we spend a lot of time scouting. I mean, we have a full-time scout in Bruce Southern; we have myself, who does a lot of scouting; we have three other guys that work part-time for us – one in the Quebec league, one in the Ontario league, one guy that spends a lot time down East in the NCAA schools; Bruce covers all the East Coast leagues and the American leagues; I cover the Western Hockey League, the WCHA up here, and the NCAA, and chip in with the East Coast league and the American league too.
We try to augment Vancouver’s drafts with a bunch of our own scouting, and I think it’s worked good for Vancouver but it’s also worked good for us because we have to be more than competitive to win, and it helps us a lot.
Q: How has Manitoba’s relationship with Victoria (ECHL) been during the first season of the affiliation? The Salmon Kings are currently battling for the final two playoff spots and Julien Ellis looks to be evolving into a solid prospect.
CH: I think the affiliation with Victoria has been a very pleasant surprise for me. I think it had lots of good things on the surface going in, one being geographical location. It’s probably better for Vancouver but good for us because it’s not a U.S. destination and we have two airlines that can go in and out of there. So geographically it worked real good.
Immigration-wise it worked real good: we don’t have to worry about getting guys immigration on short notice if we change our mind on a player. And certainly the currency part of it, where they can all be paid in Canadian currency and reimbursing the Salmon Kings or vice versa, them reimbursing us. So I think it’s worked real good.
Julien Ellis has gone down there and done good, but if we wanted to throw a guy in there for a couple weeks or a few days or a few games, like we did with Adam Keefe or Patrick Coulombe, whether it is easy and simple – I’m not 100% sure – but it does seem simpler and easier.
Q: Who has to pay the players that have contracts with you and the Canucks when they get shipped down to the Moose?
CH: For the most part, we pay a flat rate per player back to the Canucks. Anybody on an NHL contract gets their check on the 15th and the 30th from the Canucks. Anybody on a standard or two-way AHL contract gets their check from the Moose on the 15th and the 30th. So any players we split with the Canucks, we pay whatever the agreed-upon rate is and they would get their check from the Canucks and we’d reimburse Vancouver.
Q: How often do you chat with (Vancouver Canucks GM) Dave Nonis about the Moose players and how they’re playing? How much of a role do you play with who gets the call up to the big club?
CH: The first part of the question, I would spend more time talking to Lorne Henning and Steve Tambellini about the Canuck prospects than I would talk to Dave. I would talk to Dave on bigger issues or issues that we might be arguing about more than we’d talk about players.
Lorne is the director of player personnel and Steve is responsible for the issues that are here, so certainly I would spend more time talking to them. I would talk to Lorne every couple of days, probably Steve as well every couple of days, and probably Dave every couple of weeks.
How big of a role do we play when guys get called up? A fairly significant role, although this year is a little bit of a different dynamic with Alain (Vigneault) being the coach there and him being very familiar with the players that are here. Just being gone for the one year, he has a pre-conceived notion about who might be able to help them, not based on how they’re playing this year, but what he saw last year.
Traditionally, they’ll call down and say who’s playing the best, but there’s lots of times where sometimes it’s not about the best player, it’s about the right player in a certain situation, and that can be frustrating for the players. But for us it’s important to be as honest as you can, and whether they take our opinion or not, that’s up to them. But it’s for sure solicited from us.
Q: What is your favorite time of the season to be GM of the Moose? What is the most stressful part of being the Moose GM?
CH: That’s a good question. I’m not sure that I know the exact answers. The busiest time is probably the best time, but the busiest time is in the summer. That’s when you have to do your work and that’s what pays the dividends down the road.
In the summer, I move my office out to the lake because I have four kids that are on summer vacation. So I work every day, pretty much all summer, but at the end of the day, I can turn off the phones and I can go fishing. And I will tell you that that’s probably the best part of my whole season is those maybe two-and-a-half months. Although you’re working every day, those times where you can go fishing from 6 ’til 10 in the evening and you can shut the rest of it off. That’s probably the best time.
And probably this time of the year, March, after the trade deadlines are gone, and everything’s set, and you’re pretty much working on next season anyway for the past six weeks. Whatever’s going to happen this year is going to happen. It’s out of your control now, you’ve done what you can. Certainly March through June is an exciting time but June through September is a very busy time. But there is some down time in the evening that you can enjoy your hobbies, which is fishing for me, and I do enjoy that time a lot because I can spend time with my kids and I like to fish.
The most stressful part of the job? You know what? I don’t know if there’s a tremendously… I mean, it’s a stressful job, but you know what? It’s better than a real job. And anytime things start to get the better of you or you get worn down, I think it’s important that you take a step back and try to see what you have.
So yeah, there’s stressful times. You know, you lose a few in a row. But you know what? You win a whole bunch in a row and there’s stresses with that. You know, expectations get exceeded. So, I think it’s real important to keep an even keel
Q: Mr. Heisinger, for a young person who wishes to get into hockey operations as a career, but does not have a playing career, how do you get into the industry?
CH: I don’t think the playing part’s all that important. I think there’s some great people that have not played at a high level – I certainly didn’t play at the highest level. Andy Murray, who’s a Manitoba guy who’s coaching in the NHL and had a tremendous amount of ability and success, never played. Barry Trotz, who’s coaching, played Bisons at the highest level.
I think first and foremost, the two most important things for getting into probably any job, but especially this kind of job where you deal with a lot of different personalities all the time, is one, your people skills have to be second-to-none. You have to have the ability to let stuff roll off your back and go back and deal with it at a more proper time when cooler heads will prevail. And I think work ethic. As long as you’re willing to do whatever it takes to give yourself a chance, I think those are the most important qualities.
I don’t think the level you played at or the amount you played is an issue whatsoever.
For more Q & A with Moose GM Craig Heisinger, visit moosehockey.com