Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

True North's hockey man

Heisinger will have say in choosing personnel to run new franchise

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Craig Heisinger should have the general manager's job with Winnipeg's new NHL franchise if he wants it, but our guess is he'll take a pass.

While there is still some conjecture about the status of True North's deal to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers -- they say a deal is still not done and when it is they will call a press conference -- most are in agreement that this team is coming here and it's time to start effecting hockey plans.

Hiring a GM is job No. 1 and indications are current Thrashers boss Rick Dudley, a solid hockey man and a worthy choice, isn't a slam dunk. Same goes for Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay.

Heisinger has been True North chairman Mark Chipman's hockey man for a long time and any decisions regarding this team moving forward will bear the former equipment manager's fingerprints.

It's quite possible Heisinger will hire a new GM and in the course of discussions inform the new hockey boss that he's looking at his director of player personnel. Or perhaps Heisinger will assume a vice-president of hockey operations role and oversee the new GM.

If the GM job was just about picking hockey players, Heisinger would be the guy and he'd want the gig. But it's about so much more and most of it is unappealing to Heisinger.

He's not a lawyer or a schmoozer but a behind-the-scenes guy more comfortable in the equipment room wearing a pair of shorts than bantering with the media dressed in a freshly cut Italian suit.

The scene often played out of a GM watching the game from the press box with his lieutenants is one Heisinger will never have a role in. He's watched his Moose at home most often from a seat in the upper deck with his nose sticking through a curtain. He doesn't loathe the spotlight but he certainly doesn't crave it.

Chipman will undoubtedly lean on Heisinger for hockey decisions and True North will seek their kind of people and those they are familiar with. Don't be surprised if they ask for permission to speak with Canucks assistant GM Lorne Henning for the GM's job.

Henning has established a relationship with both Chipman and Heisinger and is considered an elite hockey mind by the Winnipeg crew.

Canucks GM Mike Gillis might not like the idea but teams rarely get in the way of promotions.

Henning may not want to leave the Stanley Cup-bound Canucks for a relocation franchise in Winnipeg but there are only 30 GM jobs and one is tough to pass up when offered.

The new GM will have a role in hiring a coach and there are a number of qualified candidates available, but the two that stick out to us are Manitoba Moose coach Claude Noel and Portland Pirates coach Kevin Dineen.

Dineen has been successful at the AHL level and was a fine NHL player in his day. Players respect him and relate to him. He's ready and someone will hire him.

Noel, however, is our top choice. He's a winner and he's proven he can work with young players and get the best out of them.

Noel can communicate and both Chipman and Heisinger have confidence in him. Again, he's under contract to the Canucks and True North will need permission to talk with him.

Kirk Muller is another interesting choice and were he hired you can bet he'd try to talk Mike Keane out of retirement and into joining his staff.

Keane is the only player ever to have his number retired by the Moose -- although there's a Jimmy Roy ceremony coming your way, NHL franchise or not -- and would be a good fit with the organization.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

thrashers' winnipeg connection C4

 

Worthy of consideration

 

Here's a look at potential candidates for hockey jobs with Winnipeg's new NHL team:

 

GM

Craig Heisinger (Moose GM) -- solid hockey man who will most likely pass on position and take up director of player personnel role or perhaps vice-president of hockey operations.

Lorne Henning (Canucks assistant GM) -- respected and admired in the Moose organization. Under contract to the Canucks.

Dave Nonis (Maple Leafs assistant GM) -- worked well with the Moose when he was Canucks GM. Getting him out of Toronto might prove difficult.

Rick Dudley (Thrashers GM) -- career hockey man and well-respected.

 

Coach

Craig Ramsay (Thrashers coach) -- Roger Neilson disciple and a fine coach but not likely in True North's plans.

Claude Noel (Moose coach) -- automatically on the interview list and may have the inside track. True North knows what he brings to the table.

Marc Crawford (longtime NHL coach) -- long shot but is available and has a Stanley Cup on his resumé.

Kevin Dineen (Portland Pirates coach) -- one of the best in the AHL.

Dallas Eakins (Toronto Marlies coach) -- former Moose captain and well known in the organization. Toronto media loves him and he's had his name bandied about as next Leafs coach.

Craig MacTavish (longtime NHL coach) -- word is he's ready to get back in the game.

Kirk Muller (Canadiens assistant coach) -- lots of buzz around this name throughout the league and it's almost a certainty he'll be a head coach somewhere this season.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2011 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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