Tom Kurvers is doing more than just keeping a seat warm for the Lightning's next general manager. The assistant GM, moved up after Brian Lawton was fired this month, also has started the healing process within the organization.
After two years of turmoil between former owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, and six weeks of conflict between Lawton and former coach Rick Tocchet over the Feb. 24 firing of assistant coach Wes Walz and the hiring of AHL Norfolk coach Jim Johnson to replace him, it is time to pull together.
"This is the setup for now, and everyone is aware of it," Kurvers said. "There's nothing hidden."
Including that he will be back in his old job when a new general manager — perhaps former Wild GM Doug Risebrough — takes over, expected to be before the June draft. In the interim, Kurvers, 47, who before coming to Tampa Bay spent 11 years with the Coyotes as a scout and player personnel director, is running scouting meetings in preparation for the draft and for free agency, which begins July 1. He is preparing offers that must be sent out by June 1 to keep unsigned 2009 draft choices from returning to the draft and preserve the negotiating rights to those players through May 2011.
He is getting an education that will be invaluable if he becomes a full-time GM. And he is playing cheerleader.
How much of your job is morale-building?
It was difficult the last six weeks. We were all challenged by it. We've had some discussions in the office, and we want to put the best foot forward. We're all going to be assessed again by someone else who has a different set of guidelines for what he's looking for, 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 their best foot forward now.
How much of that is on you?
It's a pretty easy conversation to have around the office. That chapter is closed. It wore a lot of people out. Let's cooperate as a whole new environment takes shape here. 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 (holding) your ground on things you believe in. We had a coach and a GM who were tough guys. … Hockey is full of these people willing to stand up for themselves. There's conflict in winning environments, too. It's part of the whole structure and organization of hockey. But for now, we're going to try to lighten the air some in the office. The key people are aware that needs to happen.
How will what your scouts gather help the new GM?
They're going to hire a (GM) with experience … and a different set of perspectives on those things. But it will be useful information because our draft lists and our free agent lists are a point of view we develop with the knowledge we already have.
Especially for the draft?
(The new GM's) decisions will rule the day, but we have to have something ready for him to show our point of view. 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.
Is it weird that you're holding a seat for someone else?
It's not weird. The owner (Jeff Vinik) and (his adviser) Jac Sperling asked me to do this, and I agreed. It's an opportunity. Some of the detail work of a GM I hadn't seen before, so it's been a good learning experience. There are a lot of good people here who want to stay on board. This team is going in the right direction, and the best we can do is keep doing the work.
It's also a bit of self-preservation, correct?
Oh, I think so, for everybody. I don't think people are seeking to exit here. I think people are seeking to stay a part of it. 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 through and see how it turns out. It has great potential to be a really good team.
Do you want to be a GM?
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'll work to get there, but if I don't, 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 try to help make it a winner. You work hard. You give up a lot. At the end of it, you just want to be around the game. I'd rather stay in Tampa, but I want to be in hockey.