Breaking down the Sharks' possible top GM candidates originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Editor's note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California's Sharks coverage for the 2021-22 season. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.
The Sharks' search for a new general manager might be nearing the finish line.
Both Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and TSN’s Pierre LeBrun have reported in the last week that the Sharks should be down to three to five candidates for their GM position. Who these finalists are, however, is still a mystery.
Here’s what we know so far, based on Friedman, LeBrun, and San Jose Hockey Now’s reporting. LeBrun noted that a dozen candidates had initial four- to six-hour interviews. “Very thorough” is how one source described these interviews to SJHN.
Friedman has been the most tapped in in terms of naming likely candidates, which we’ll get to in a second. SJHN can confirm that Ray Whitney was one of LeBrun’s dozen candidates.
Sharks president Jonathan Becher has previously stated that the search committee, which includes himself, interim GM Joe Will and owner Hasso Plattner, would like to hire the new GM before the beginning of free agency on July 13. That’s not a hard deadline though -- Becher has also stated that the right person is more important than the right timing.
Let’s profile the possible candidates -- reported and suspected -- and their backgrounds. I also spoke with multiple sources who have experience with these prospective candidates. These are the reported candidates, in alphabetical order:
Botterill was a first-round pick of the Dallas Stars in the 1994 NHL Draft. The winger played parts of six seasons in the league, but could never stick, notching 14 points in just 88 games.
Botterill has no shortage of hockey ops experience, though, chiefly as Pittsburgh Penguins assistant general manager from 2007-17 and as Buffalo Sabres GM from 2017-20.
Botterill’s stint with Buffalo was tumultuous, however, and the Sabres didn’t make the playoffs during his tenure.
That said, the current Seattle Kraken assistant GM still has his supporters in the industry.
“Jason is hard working, smart and very detailed. Has an extremely high hockey knowledge of the game. High character person,” a source said. “No reason he shouldn’t be a GM in the league right now.”
John Ferguson Jr.
Ferguson Jr. is hockey royalty.
John Ferguson Sr. won five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and followed that with a 30-year career as New York Rangers head coach, Winnipeg Jets GM and Sharks scout, among other roles.
Ferguson Jr. did not have his father’s playing career, but he’s nearing 30 years in NHL management. Most famously, he was the Toronto Maple Leafs GM from 2003-08, making the playoffs just once. He also was Sharks director of professional scouting from 2008-14.
“Checks all the boxes for me,” a source indicated. “Very smart. Personable. Well-liked by everyone. Think he’d be a great hire.”
That said, a couple of sources have observed that Ferguson Jr. might not embrace the more public-facing side of the Sharks GM job. Becher has noted that as an important component of the role, to be part of selling the sport to the Bay Area.
Grier played over 1,060 regular season games, including some in 2006-09 with the Sharks. Since 2014, he’s been a Chicago Blackhawks scout, a New Jersey Devils assistant coach, and is currently a Hockey Operations Coordinator with the New York Rangers.
"He's an extremely sharp guy as far as hockey knowledge," Alain Nasreddine told NHL.com.
Martin never played professionally but is as experienced as they come.
Since 2005, Martin has been Director of Hockey Administration or AGM for the Detroit Red Wings or the Rangers. He’s New York’s AGM right now.
Martin has a wide range of experience and is versed in professional and amateur scouting, contract negotiations and salary cap management, among other areas.
“He has an excellent rep,” a source told SJHN. “Good guy, up front.”
Roy won a silver medal as a goaltender for the 1994 Canadian Olympic hockey team. He was drafted in the fourth round in the 1989 NHL Draft by the Winnipeg Jets, but never appeared in a game.
Since then, Roy has carved out a successful career as a player agent, representing Nico Hischier, Philipp Grubauer and Jeffrey Viel, among many others.
One source was effusive in his praise of Roy: “He's a master communicator.
“He’s a strong evaluator of talent. He's had a lot of middle and lower-class players in the NHL because they believed in him as an agent. He didn't put the big fish ahead of them.
“I think long run, that paid off for him. Because he built a loyal base of players who understood that he had their best interest in mind. It wasn't always about finding the top dollar. It was about the best fit in every way. Smart players appreciate that.
“I know Allain has an excellent reputation among GMs. I've had those conversations with them.”
This source believes that Roy would seriously consider leaving his agency to be a GM.
Kevin Weekes was between the pipes for 348 NHL games with the Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils.
Since he retired in 2009, Weekes has been an analyst for NHL Network and Hockey Night in Canada. He’s currently with the NHL on ESPN and has emerged as one of the top breaking news insiders in recent years.
Early in the Sharks GM search, a source told San Jose Hockey Now that he believed Weekes was a favorite because of his charisma, intelligence and unparalleled network in and around the game.
That talk has cooled, and we’ve also received a lot of pushback from sources who believe that Weekes is trying to leapfrog other GM candidates who have participated more in the hockey ops grind, candidates who have started out as scouts and worked their way up.
That said, there is precedent for a media personality to move directly into upper management. In 2006, John Davidson, after calling Rangers games for almost 20 years, was named president of the St. Louis Blues. Davidson hasn’t left the front office since, also leading the Rangers and Blue Jackets.
The GM job isn’t for the person with the most hockey ops experience, after all. It’s for the best possible GM, regardless of background.
Whitney was the Sharks’ second-ever draft pick, selected in the second round of the 1991 NHL Draft after Pat Falloon. Whitney played for the Sharks from 1991-97 and enjoyed a 22-year career with eight NHL teams, putting up 1,064 points.
After retiring in 2014, Whitney scouted for the Carolina Hurricanes from 2015-18. He’s now with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
“He’s just a smart hockey guy,” a source told SJHN. “I like him. Down-to-earth.”
I’ve heard something similar from another source.
Whitney has limited hockey ops experience, but he’s considered a bright hockey mind and is very well spoken. He’s certainly an up-and-comer.
These are San Jose Hockey Now’s suspected GM candidates:
Chayka co-founded Stathletes, a hockey analytics company, in 2010. Stathletes has emerged as one of the leaders in the field, providing data to many NHL teams.
"I don’t want to be the GM,” Chayka told The Hockey News in 2019. “I want to own the team. I want to be my boss. I want to build a billion-dollar company and own the team.”
Regardless, Chayka is as good a candidate as there is to become the first woman GM in the NHL.
THN wrote this year: “With NHL teams and World tournaments using Chayka’s technology, and the ever evolving world of sports pushing for new ideas, it’s only a matter of time before an NHL club considers Chayka.”
Darche was an undrafted free agent who played 250 NHL games for Columbus, San Jose, Tampa Bay, the Nashville Predators and the Montreal Canadiens.
Darche retired in 2012, going to work for both Delmar International, a Canadian customs broker, and as a TV analyst for RDS. He joined the Lightning as Director of Hockey Operations in 2019 and is a back-to-back defending champion.
“He’s a very good candidate. I was impressed by his perseverance in his playing career. He’s gathered a lot of good experience and knows how to win as a player and a manager,” a source told San Jose Hockey Now.
Gillis was the first-round pick of the Colorado Rockies in the 1978 NHL Draft, playing 246 games with the Rockies and the Boston Bruins.
Gillis became a successful player agent before taking over the Vancouver Canucks in 2008. In five of Gillis’s six seasons as GM, the Canucks made the playoffs, highlighted by a trip to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
“He’s very organized and has a lot of experience in building teams,” a source shared.
Another source noted, however, that he was unimpressed by Gillis’s recently leaked presentation to the Pittsburgh Penguins, calling it empty fluff.
Like Martin, MacFarland never played hockey professionally, but the Colorado Avalanche AGM has as much experience as any candidate. Since 2000, he’s been a Director of Hockey Operations or AGM for Colorado and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
He's also versed in professional and amateur scouting, contract negotiations and salary cap management, among other areas.
One source considers MacFarland the brains behind the Colorado’s rise to power.
Another source believes MacFarland would make an outstanding GM, not just because of his wide range of skills, but in large part because of his work ethic and open mind, seeing him as perfect blend of grinding in the league for a long time but having no shortage of fresh ideas and progressive perspectives.
Eric Tulsky was doing research in nanotechnology and dabbling in hockey analytics on the side for Broad Street Hockey and other blogs when the Carolina Hurricanes hired him as a Hockey Analyst in 2014. Tulsky rose to Hurricanes AGM in 2020.
“Eric is brilliant,” a source told SJHN. “He’s one of the smartest people I know, if not the smartest.”