An opportunity, an education for Tom Kurvers, the Tampa Bay Lightning's acting GM
Tom Kurvers is keeping the general manager's seat warm for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team's assistant general manager has moved up to handle the day-to-day running of the organization while Tampa Bay searches for someone to take the place of fired GM Brian Lawton. Kurvers has been in this position before. As the Coyotes director of player personnel, he kept things running smoothly after the 2006-07 season, when hockey ops head Cliff Fletcher and GM Mike Barnett were fired. He held that spot for almost two months until Don Maloney was hired at the end of May 2007. "But this is more official," said Kurvers, 47, whose 11 years in Phoenix also included seven as a pro scout. "This is the set-up for now and everyone is aware of it. There's nothing hidden." Including that Kurvers will be back in his old job when a new GM takes over.
In the interim, Kurvers is running scouting meetings in preparation for the draft and free agency, preparing offers to send out by June 1 to unsigned 2009 draft choices so those players do not return to the draft and the team retains negotiating rights through May 2011. There is healing to be done, too, in the wake of two years of turmoil between owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, and in the season's final six weeks, when conflict between Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet flared over the firing of Wes Walz and the hiring of AHL Norfolk coach Jim Johnson to replace him.
Kurvers talked about all those subjects over a Tuesday lunch in Tampa:
How much of what you do is rebuilding morale in the office? For everyone who was around it, it was difficult the last six weeks. That prompted change, so here we are. For everyone who was here, we were all challenged by it, and it's been difficult. We've had some discussions in the office. We had a good lunch last week. We want to put the best foot forward. We're all going to be assessed again, by someone else who has a different set if guidelines for what he’s looking for for his staff and his organization, and the best thing we can do is cooperate and try to create an air of energy and commitment to the team. There were a lot of challenges the last two years. Maybe some people have a better chance to put there best foot forward now.
As acting GM, how much of that falls to you? It’s a pretty easy conversation to have around the office. That chapter is closed now, and let's cooperate as a whole new environment takes shape here. I just go on the assumption that everyone wants to stay in the game like I do. ... I think it wore a lot of people out. And you know what? Part of the reason any conflict happened the last couple of years, you had owners who played the game, and you can’t play the game without being somewhat defiant and tough and hold your ground on things you believe in. We had a coach and a GM who were tough guys. Tocchet, off the charts; tough guys, that’s just hockey. Hockey is full of these people who are willing to stand up for themselves, so there's conflict. There’s conflict in winning environments too. It's part of the whole structure and the organization of hockey, but for now we're going to try to have things prepared and lighten the air some in the office. The key people are aware that needs to happen.
Are the scouting meetings about the draft and free agency the priority? They’re gong to hire a (general manager) with experience with a handle on this. I would expect the new GM is preparing as we speak, trying to get the job and for what he'll do when he gets the job. ... Of course, a new GM will come in with a different set of perspectives on those things, but it will be useful information, too, because our draft lists and our free agent lists are a point of view we develop with the knowledge we have already, and that's where a new GM will ask our staff what he thinks of what we have.
Especially for the draft? His decisions will rule the day, but we have to have something ready for him to show our point of view on things and have to be prepared. You just have to be prepared. The GM will want that inside info on how we see our players and how that links up with the players available in the draft and free agency.
Will that affect how you handle the draft combine? Our scouts will be there. You select the guys you want to interview, so you do some filtering. You can't interview everyone so you try to select guys who correspond to where you think they will be in the draft and guys of interest. And our strength and conditioning coach (Chuck Lobe) will be there and he'll do his assessment as well. Again, we'll just prepare all that information and have it on hand if the GM isn't in place by then. But it's very important, and if you use Detroit as an example, (general manager) Kenny Holland is on record saying he doesn’t want to get in the way of the process of his amateur staff. Either you're all in or all out on amateur scouting. You have to have faith in your staff, and we think we did a very good job last year.
Is it weird knowing you're basically holding a seat for someone else? It’s not weird. The owner and (his advisor) Jac Sperling asked me to do this for them and I agreed to it. It's an opportunity for me. Some of the detail work of a GM I hadn't seen before, so it's been a good learning experience for me. The best I can do is prepare and be ready to hand off that information in a good way to a new GM. Ownership change prompts change and a general manger change prompts change and a coaching change prompts change, and there are a lot of good people here who want to stay on board. This team is going in the right direction. That's obvious to anyone who has been around and the best we can do is keep doing the work. It's kind of like the role changes of a hockey player on the hockey team. You can't fight it.
What are some of the details? You just have to sign off on a lot of things, whether it's expenses, permission for players to play in the world championships, to league matters. If you're not sitting in that chair you don’t see that stuff come through on a day to day basis. You don't know the volume. The volume of things surprised me in the first week. I understand better why a GM might not get back to you in three days. There's just a lot to do. A lot ends up on that plate that has to be taken care of, wrapped up and finished and finalized.
With a new general manager coming in, isn't there a bit of self-preservation as well? Oh, I think so, for everybody. I don't think people re seeking exit here. I think people are seeking to stay a part of it. A lot of us have been brought in the last two years. I look at (my) 11 years in Phoenix, and now they're a good team. I left a little early, you know. I'd just as soon see this one through and see how it turns out because it has great potential to be a really good team. We’re just not there yet.
Do you have aspirations of being a general manager? I have aspirations, but it's not the defining point of why I'm in the game. I like the game. The game’s been great to me. I kind of look at my career like there will be a point where either I make it there or I don't. I'll work to get there, but if I don't get there it doesn’t mean it's a failure. On the back side of it, I want to be a pro scout again. You add important information to the machine and you try to help make it a winner. You work hard. You give up a lot. There are all kinds of sacrifices being made by everyone in hockey. At the end of it, you just want to be around the game. I have a family to raise and I need to work and this is where I am and I want to stay in hockey. I'd rather stay in Tampa, but I want to be in hockey.