Monday, June 8, 2009

The Dao of Strategic Assessment (25): The Dao of the Strategist

The first step of becoming a good strategist is having the urgency to learn. The next step is learning how to assess. How many of you are willing to work diligently to become an "above-average" strategist?

Thursday, June 4, 2009
John U. Bacon
Ken Holland: Bad goalie, great general manager

In 1984, Wayne Gretzky was already well on his way to becoming the greatest hockey player the game has ever seen. That same year, a 5-foot-8 goalie named Ken Holland was well on his way to becoming one of the worst goalies the game has ever seen: four games spread out over four years, no wins, 17 goals against. His pink slip was a mercy killing.

But Holland loved the game more than the game loved him, so he took a job as the Red Wings' western scout. This required driving to every frozen bandbox from Chilliwack to Flin Flon, Medicine Hat and Moosejaw -- places where you keep your car running in the parking lot during the game, or else you won't be able to leave the game.

Holland didn't complain. He humbled himself to learn the art of scouting, and worked his way up the ranks until he became Detroit's general manager in 1997.

The Wings won the Stanley Cup that year for the first time since 1955. But a lot of teams win it once -- and only once -- like the Ducks and 'Canes and Lightning -- oh my! Winning it twice, in the era of expansion and salary caps, is positively historic. Detroit now stands alone with four Cups over the last 12 years -- and soon maybe five. No team in the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball can equal that.

How did Holland do it? By using what he learned scouting in those miserable rinks. He had to. The system is set up to prevent dynasties. The more you win, the lower your draft picks. So, after lesser teams have snapped up their "can't miss kids," Holland and his staff have to find overlooked gems, the guys who will work the hardest to play for a winning team -- not for themselves.

Holland and company not only draft for talent, but temperament. The Red Wings' locker room's is bereft of egos, and drama. You don't hear about these guys spouting off or getting in trouble.

They found their current 29 players in three states, five provinces and eight countries -- from Alaska to Newfoundland, and all over Europe -- even though everyone used to say you couldn't win with Europeans. In the Wings' locker room, you can hear six languages -- all of them spoken by Stanley Cup winners.

These "leftovers" include seventh-round pick Henrik Zetterberg, last year's playoff MVP; sixth rounder Pavel Datsyuk, the league's best defensive forward; and a third-rounder named Nick Lidstrom. He was just 18 when they found him in a tiny Swedish town, where he got so little playing time, the Wings' scout had to go to practice every day just to see him skate. The scout obviously saw something no one else did.

Today, Lidstrom is not only the Wings' captain, but the very best defenseman in the world. Worked out OK.

In all, other teams picked a total of 431 players before the Red Wings signed these three. Most of those 431 players are not only out of the playoffs, they're out of the game.

The Wings treat their players so well, they accept less to play here. Last year, star forward Marian Hossa played for the Penguins. They offered him a seven-year contract. The Red Wings offered one. Hossa took the Wings' offer -- and is about to win his first Cup, over his former team.

Today, Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky runs the Phoenix Coyotes, a team so bad they might move to Hamilton, Ontario -- while Kenny Holland is the mayor of Hockeytown.

So, here's to one of the worst goalies the game has ever seen, and one of the best general managers -- maybe even the Greatest One.

Copyright 2009, Michigan Public Radio

Former Detroit News reporter John U. Bacon is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer. He is the author of several books, including the best-selling "Bo's Lasting Lessons," co-written with Bo Schembechler. He is the host of three programs on WTKA-AM (1050), and provides weekly commentary for Michigan Public Radio ( His Web site is


Rick said...

The Detroit Red Wings is arguably one of he best franchises in professional sports.

Sensei Strange said...

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C360 Consultants said...

Mr. Rick, You are 100% correct.

Hands down. The "Red Wings" is one of the most well-run professional sport franchises in the United States. ... "Lets Go Red Wings. Lets go. ..."

I wish the S/F Niners and S/F Giants could take a lesson from the Red Wings.