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What Football Manager Helped Me Better Understand about Hockey Management

A NHL GM has to do more than just put a good roster together. There is much more to literally manage. And one of the best games on the market to express is actually about being a soccer manager. This post explains what I learned from Football Manager about hockey management.

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Dots on field? Yes, it’s a Sports Interactive game like Eastside Hockey Manager. But this is bigger. Much bigger.  Also, this is a goal.
Dots on field? Yes, it’s a Sports Interactive game like Eastside Hockey Manager. But this is bigger. Much bigger. Also, this is a goal.
Personal screenshot

Like a lot of people last year, my world was very limited after early March. The NHL paused and essentially cancelled their season. There were rules limiting how late people can be outside in New Jersey. I was fortunate to still have my day job, which wanted me to work remotely. This meant a lot of downtime on my end and so I picked up an old habit from my college days. A habit that meant many late nights celebrating in silence or being heartbroken in silence over a fictional scenario. A habit that hooked me in until the return of a 2021 NHL season necessitated a break from it. It is an annual, addictive substance from England known as Football Manager, formerly known as Worldwide Soccer Manager.

For those who are aware, Football Manager (FM) is put out by Sports Interactive. That is the same company that developed Eastside Hockey Manager. Believe it or not, the creator of EHM, Risto Remes, works on FM full-time at SI and makes updates to EHM separately as a side project (Version 1.5 came out in July). If you compare EHM to older FM titles, then you would notice a lot of similarities in terms of presentation and UI design. During last year’s lack of hockey content, I made a regular feature of experiments to run in EHM. When I was done with those, I would often spend hours on FM, becoming the American manager to take Union de Sportive Boulonge (U.S. Boulonge) to new heights in French soccer in mostly legitimate ways. And from those hours spent, I started to gain a better appreciation of what a general manager in hockey (and in all of pro sports) has to go through.

For the unaware, a manager in soccer is essentially a GM and head coach of a team. While you could do that in EHM, you could also just play EHM as a GM only and let an AI-coach do everything. While FM allows you to delegate all kinds of responsibilities, delegating major tasks like coaching games is eventually going to lead to bad things for you. After all, if someone else is guiding the team to victory, then why isn’t that someone else the coach? Further, FM is just a more complex game both up-front and behind the scenes than EHM. Once you begin to understand what it is about, then you too may gain a better understanding of what a GM of a hockey team (or a baseball team or a basketball team or a football team) has to deal with.

Why am I bringing this up now? Last week, I wrote in great detail about where the GMs of the NHL came from in these two posts (one, two) in response to a comment by one of the People Who Matter, Carl12345. Carl wrote:

Yeah guys don’t fail their way up to this level. Coaches/GM’s are not infallible but they didn’t just coincidentally get here. I often see people mocking these guys and I kind of laugh at how dismissive / unaware they are when they imply they know better.

Those two posts addressed the first part. This post is meant to illustrate how Carl’s second point is mostly right that fans, myself included, may not fully appreciate how much a GM has to actually do. To do that, here’s a list of six things I learned from FM that taught me to better understand hockey management. You may already know them, but if you are like me and you learn from experience - even from a simulation game - these lessons hit home from me.

#1 The Goals Go Beyond Just Winning Games

Whenever you apply for a team in FM, you have to do a job interview. In that interview, if it is going well, then you will get a screen outlining the team’s objectives and expectations for this season and beyond. If you just choose a team, then you will get it immediately. This is the “Club Vision,” and it is effectively the most important screen in the game. More than the Roster that you will poring over its details. More than the Tactics that you will likely tinker. More than the Email screen that informs you of all that you have to do and what is going on within the team. This is the screen that decides how good of a job you are doing and determines if you still have a job. It is set by the board of directors/owner of the team and there is a lot more to it than just winning games. Here is an example from my U.S. Boulonge save:

FM Club Vision Example - I’m doing extremely well.  Now I just have to stay doing extremely well.
FM Club Vision Example - I’m doing extremely well. Now I just have to stay doing extremely well.
Personal screenshot

This an easily laid out statement of what ownership prefers the team to be and what they require me to do. At this point, I have turned Boulonge into a European-tourney qualifying and Ligue 1-staying organization. In past seasons, the requirement for Ligue 1 was to “fight bravely against relegation,” which meant the owner would not mind (read: not fire me) if Boulonge was sent back to Ligue 2. Since I have succeeded at that multiple times, my requirement is now to stay in the top half (top ten) of the league. In the national tournament (most soccer playing nations have a national tournament in addition to a league), ownership really wants me to make sure the team makes it to the 11th round. Ligue 1 teams enter in the 8th round, so that must mean at least 3 wins. Since I managed USB to the Champions League, they want me to at least get out of the group stages. Since the Ligue 1 and Champions League statements are required, then I better do it or I could be at risk of losing my job. Even with my past success and my current “untouchable” job security, the past will be quickly ignored and my security will be a lot more touchable if I do not do what the owners want.

Oh, and I have to do it within budget. Owners in FM can understand going over budget a little bit if you are successful. If you’re not, it can be your gravest sin in the owner’s eyes. Winning games is inherent in all of these goals, but it is not enough to just get wins and claim that historically, this is still an amazing accomplishment. It is to meet this level of expectation. Anything less and it is a massive failure.

Likewise, there are other parts the bosses want me to meet. Ownership would like me to sign players to 3+ season deals, sign under 23 players, and play in certain ways. While they are not required, it can impact my performance as the owners can and do grade me for every game (they want you to win their way, not just win), every transaction (both in and out of the organization), and other aspects like the locker room’s atmosphere. They also have a longer term plan where they want me to develop the best youth system in France (with Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille in it? HA!). This can and does change depending on the team’s growth. Two seasons ago, they wanted a new stadium. Ownership went ahead and did that and with the continued success of my reign at Boulonge, it changed.

How This Relates to Hockey: While it is not necessarily in this organized and up-front fashion, this would represent what expectations an owner or Team President has for the GM and their tenure with the team. Re-building teams have lesser requirements for what the GM needs to do with the team in terms of results. But they have long term expectations for a better team in the future and could add requirements in terms of what kinds of players they would want to be brought in. GMs that promise a five-year plan but do not deliver get fired. Teams expected to contend for the Cup means making the playoffs is a full-on requirement, getting home ice is preferred, and winning multiple rounds is required. Just as we have seen coaches get fired for underperforming teams, GMs can suffer too. Just look at Dallas’ GM history for a quick example.

Where hockey differs is that the goals and expectations in real life are likely more liquid. If a star player is out for the season with injury, then ownership may understand the season may be lost and that may extend a GM’s position. Or if the locker room really takes to the GM and past successes warrant further trust, then a bad season or two will be seen as just that. But just as this screen is vital in FM to understand your own fate, a GM in hockey (and other sports) must be aware of the expectations and requirements set by their bosses. And, again, it goes beyond just winning games.

#2 You Manage Much More than the Players

Players are critical to the success of your team. This is obvious. Just as we do as fans, managers in FM can spend tons of time evaluating their current roster and looking at players elsewhere to make it better. The complexity of FM tactics is much deeper than, say, EHM. There are positions, player roles for those positions, and the value of player’s attributes depend on those roles and other player instructions. A ball winning midfielder is going to emphasize different traits than a mezzala, despite playing right next to each other in midfield. Similar to real life, a lot of money is spent to get players (and the manager does the contract negotiations), time is spent to make sure they are being trained right, and if they are not happy, then that is a big issue.

What FM also drives home is that the manager also has to deal with the same issues for staff members. Coaches, trainers, analysts, scouts, and physios are all under the manager’s control. Like a GM, they seek out candidates with quality attributes for the job, and negotiate contracts with these off-the-field players. Like a GM, they may be limited by how many staff members ownership will allow on the team or how much money they can offer in those contract negotiations.

Yes, you get to negotiate with all kinds of staffers. Like scouts from New York Red Bulls (that would cost me an extra $240k to sign away).
Yes, you get to negotiate with all kinds of staffers. Like scouts from New York Red Bulls (that would cost me an extra $240k to sign away).
Personal screenshot

Like a GM, if they get these wrong, then the team as a whole is worse off for it. A team with bad physios means that player injury and fatigue will have greater impacts. A team with bad scouts will lead to bad information on players to sign and opposition players. A team with bad coaches will lead to worse training sessions and information ahead of games. A team with bad leadership for loans or youth development will lead to worse loan opportunities and youth players coming in through the system. FM forces the player to realize that as important as it is to put a great roster together, they need to put a great support staff with them to make it work.

Of course, FM allows the manager to delegate these responsibilities. This may make sense for areas of lesser importance, such as who coaches the U-18 team. But if the results are not there, then the manager takes the hit as they delegated the decision in the first place.

How This Relates to Hockey: This is very true for the GM of a hockey team. The position is called “general manager,” for a reason. They manage other aspects of the team beyond building and maintaining the roster. What I wrote about what bad coaches, trainers, scouts, and so forth applies just as much to hockey. A bad pro scout could yield wrong information about an opponent or unintentionally mislead the GM to go and acquire (or not acquire) someone. A bad set of coaches can undercut even the most talented of rosters. Bad trainers and equipment staff can lead to real problems in the locker room, both logistically and in reputation.

I would say in real life, this is more complex for management than in FM. Personalities are more of a factor. Adaptability with different people, and past experience are more of a factor than just ability. People may or may not sign with you beyond just the money and reputation (the main factors in FM). It is not enough for a GM to have a great understanding of who is and is not a good player. They need to be able to actually manage people both in the day-to-day and longer-term sense of overseeing people. Even if the GM defers some of the hiring and negotiation to other roles - like a Director of Player Personnel - then the GM has to expect that delegated role does the right thing. It ultimately all comes back to the GM. Keeping your staff happy in real life can be as important as keeping the players happy.

#3 The Locker Room Matters

Keeping the players happy is very important. How many times have you heard the phrase “he lost the locker room,” when it comes to a coach or a GM? Usually it explains why they are not a coach or a GM anymore. One of the most powerful aspects in FM are team dynamics. It encompasses cohesion among the players, the atmosphere in the locker room, and their support of you, the manager. These are critical in soccer as it is very much a team game, a team down on itself is likely to suffer on the field (and overachieve if they believe in themselves), and players who support you are going to stick by you when things do not go so well. In FM, it will not go so well sometimes; there is a reason why getting FM’ed is a thing (basically: its outplaying an opponent and not winning).

In FM, there is even more detail to player dynamics than just a series of bars. The game will let you know who among the team are seen as team leaders, who are influential, and who has broken off into their own groups. The game also keeps tabs on a player’s happiness which may be about things you can control (e.g. playing time) and things you cannot (e.g. a player wanting to move to a bigger team). You can set rules for a team code of conduct and punish players accordingly. And if you do not respect the order in the locker room, then you will have a really bad time.

FM Player Happiness - One of my team leaders thinks my Champions League-bound team isn’t big enough for them anymore. Great.
FM Player Happiness - One of my team leaders thinks my Champions League-bound team isn’t big enough for them anymore. Great.
Personal screenshot

As an example, let me tell you about how my first attempt in FM21 ended. I joined Penafiel in the second Portuguese decision as an unemployed manager during the season. My goal was simple: avoid relegation. I just needed to finish third from last or better. This was going OK but it was not easy. One of the reasons was that my top striker, Ludovic, was not scoring goals. I saw he was 36 and he was way past his prime. What good is it to start someone meant to score goals and he does not score goals? I figured I would strip him of his “important player” status and bring him off the bench if needed. I needed goals and to think about the future. Ludovic helped me with none of those things.

This was a big mistake. The rest of the team saw Ludovic as a highly influential member of the team. So much so that my assistant emailed me the next day to call a team meeting because the rest of the squad was very angry with me about what I did to Ludovic. My reasons did not matter. I needed this team to finish in at least 18th place. Making them mad at me would end that. So I gave into their demands and promised (more on that in a few paragraphs) Ludovic would play. They were no longer angry with me. But the damage was done. Everyone’s morale suffered. Their support in me was at a new low - and it was never high to begin with as a new manager with little reputation.

In the next game, Ludovic did start and did not score. No one on the team did. We lost. We lost in the following game. We went on to lose the next seven games. Everyone’s morale got worse and worse, which led to less cohesion among the team and a worse atmosphere. Even when Ludovic finally scored a goal, the losing surpassed whatever joy that brought. Penafiel finished dead last and I lost my job. Had I not angered my squad by demoting Ludovic (and un-demoting him), maybe the morale hit would not have been as bad and we could have grinded out enough wins to survive. Alas, I learned my lesson. I learned that player dynamics are nothing to mess with. That is why my third division center back is still the captain of my team now in Ligue 1 despite his lack of quality. The players love him and I will not risk that.

How This Relates to Hockey: All of the things about team cohesion and happiness absolutely applies to hockey. When a team is on a losing streak, the morale gets worse and GMs and coaches do all kinds of things to try to turn it around. Line ups can be mixed up. Practice can be made harsher or more lenient. Sometimes, someone gets traded or waived. Sometimes, someone gets fired. When the locker room is lost, then whoever is in charge is in trouble. And while winning usually soothes a lot of issues - both in real life and in FM - it is not always the case.

There is a good example of this among the New Jersey Devils. Think back to when Claude Julien was the head coach of the Devils for the 2006-07 season. The Devils did really well! They won 49 games, earned 109 points, and led the Atlantic Division. Yet, Julien was fired with three games left in the season. Why? Apparently, the players hated Julien. It has been rumored that practices and meetings included shouting matches between the coach and players. One persistent rumor is that a Devil shot a puck at Julien in a practice as a test. And another is that Patrik Elias went to Lou before the end of the season and provided an ultimatum: Him or us. Lou chose the players and fired Julien. It was not that Julien did anything wrong in terms of results, but the locker room was at odds with him and influential players used said influence to see him go. Thankfully, FM does not (yet?) throw those scenarios at the player; but this was a great example of how a coach can lose the room despite their results. The players may have been cohesive, but the support was not there.

A more current example of a burgeoning problem is what is happening in San Jose. Per Kevin Kurz at The Athletic, Evander Kane has become an issue in the Sharks’ locker room. Some players were not pleased that GM Doug Wilson did not deal with them. On its own, being late to a practice or similar issues may not be big deals on their own. But excusing it speaks to a divide among players - Kane can be late, but you who is not Kane cannot be. The Kane concerns within the team could impact Timo Meier’s future and Tomas Hertl’s future in the organization among others. None of this has to do with on-ice play and yet it could very well make this coming season worse for an already not-good Sharks team. It could end up leading to the end of Wilson’s very long tenure in the Bay Area.

As much as I think it is bad for GMs to get players who are not skilled or helpful on the ice but are “good in the room,” I now better understand why they do that. In order to compete, a GM may need to bring in players with contentious personalities or divisive issues because they have the quality that few players have. To balance that our or minimize their impact, they may also opt to bring in veteran leadership or players with stronger reputations. Especially to mentor younger players. I think this kind of value tends to be overrated - but there is value to it. Just as a GM has to keep the staff happy, they need to be able to keep the players happy and step in when problems occur.

#4 Making Promises, Keeping Promises

One of the not so great features of FM are promises. They are not so great in their execution. Their inclusion in the game as a concept is wonderful. It mimics real life. Players may sign with you but only with a promise to improve a certain part of the team or to designate them as a “star player” such that they are one of the highest paid players on the team and starts every game. Players who are unhappy with playing time may demand to leave and the only way to calm them down is to promise them more playing time. A player who is stuck on the bench may request a loan to another team so he is at least playing somewhere; and you can promise to do just that. Same with a transfer out of the organization. Some players may want you to promise that the team will pay for a language course so they can learn the country’s language faster. The concept of promises matches up with what goes on.

The execution in FM leaves a lot to be desired. It is a meme at this point where, say, a forward demands a promise for you to improve the forwards on the team in order to sign with you. And you are sitting at a computer groaning, “But you are the improvement, bro. That’s why I am signing you.” Players who request more playing time apparently want it to be done over a 90 to 180 day period. Even if you start them regularly, it is not known when they will say the promise is fulfilled. And the players who want to be loaned or transferred out may not get that and the player does not understand that just because they ask for a loan or a transfer does not mean any other team wants to loan or transfer them in. The act of a promise is not well done in FM.

This is a problem because a broken promise could hurt you more than a loss in a competitive game. A broken promise means the player no longer trusts you. Depending on the player’s standing in the locker room, the impact could be much more than just one player who has lost their faith in you. It could spread throughout the locker room. And as described in #3, that is a big loss. I hope Sports Interactive sorts that out for FM2022 (coming in November) because it is a realistic aspect that managers deal with.

How Does this Relate to Hockey: Clearly, some of the roster and usage of players over the years are the results of promises. Player X is frustrated and wants more ice time. Coach or GM Y says, fine, you’ll get this shot tomorrow - prove us right. And if Player X does well, then he usually stays there for a bit. If not, then Player X tends to say “Fine, it didn’t work out” and we all move on. By the way, SI, that’s how promises for playing time should go. A few games, not a few months. While it may seem like this has more to do with coaches, this absolutely happens from GMs.

Two Devils-related examples come to mind. One of the more frequent anecdotes Ken Daneyko gives about Lou is a story from the early years of Lou’s reign. (Dano told it recently on Spittin’ Chiclets, be advised of some swearing since that’s how they roll.) Bruce Driver was injured, Dano gets on PP2 and puts up a few points in a few games. Driver returns and Daneyko is removed from the power play. Lou sees that Daneyko was unhappy about it. Lou explains that he likens the team to an orchestra and asks Daneyko if he’s a violinist, a pianist, or a drummer. Daneyko didn’t think he was a drummer then so he argues and throws chairs and spits the verbals at his boss. Lou is also getting fired up, too. Ultimately, the beef was settled and Lou turned out to be right that if Daneyko accepted his instrument, he could play in the league for 15 years. Which he did. Lou could have made a promise and asked Daneyko to prove it. But that could have created another issue either with Driver, the coach, or someone else on the power play.

A second, more recent example is what happened as the team ended the 2019 season. On April 8, 2019, the players broke down their lockers for the offseason. It is a normally big day for season ending quotes, news to be revealed, and possibly signs for the upcoming offseason. Taylor Hall made it bigger by making it very clear he wanted management to make improvements to the roster. Then GM Ray Shero agreed - essentially a promise was made. Shero did that on paper with first overall draft pick Jack Hughes, trading for P.K. Subban, trading for and signing Nikita Gusev, and signing Wayne Simmonds. Many were excited. I was excited. It all started to fall apart in the first game of the season. While the promise of getting more talent was met, it was with the implication the team would be better. That was not fulfilled. You know what happened after: Hall was traded to Arizona in November, John Hynes was fired in December, and Ray Shero was fired in January.

The point is that promises are something a GM has to manage among their players and staff; it is not just for the coaching staff. A GM has be mindful of what they are committing to when they do have to deal with a complaint, a request, or some other issue. And that may explain some of the odder combinations you may see in a lineup over an 82-game season or signings of players to appease significant players (don’t think I forgot about Luke Gazdic being signed because the Devils traded for Hall.)

#5 Love Hurts - Don’t Fall in Love with Players/Staff

One of the main reasons why some players dedicate so much time to FM is that the game essentially allows you to forge your own path in management. Want to take your local team that has never accomplished anything in 50 years in real life and manage them up to the top division? You can do that. Want to take a chance in a country you know nothing about their soccer and see if you can survive? Go for it. Want to try to be a do-it-all manager with seeking the World Cup on a national team and your continent’s top prize at the club level? Make it so. As a manager, you make your own story and like any good story, you want to keep seeing how it goes.

That helps drive the people who think about it all day and pull all-nighters playing it. It explains why some have legitimately put thousands of hours into it. The FM community is absolutely massive with people who legitimately have made a career out of making content related to FM from tactics to identifying wonderkids (young players who can become stars) to making content for the game (it’s a very mod-friendly like EHM) to streaming themselves just playing the game. And as you play the game more and find success with a team, then it is easy to basically fall in love with the players that helped you get there.

And it usually with the players that you found. The players you took a chance on and unearthed before the rest of the soccer world. The players who created and finished the play that earned your first trophy. The crew that led the charge up the standings to secure promotion to the nation’s first division. The group that helped lead your team to the Champions League or Copa Libertadores. The ones who set records for goal scoring or clean sheets. These are the players that become legends and helped you become one in the game. It is easy to lean on them, trust them, keep them around from season to season, and so forth.

But it is also easy to ignore when they begin to decline. It is easy to just assume that they can handle the next step up in competition. They can handle continental competition. They can keep up the results. But they are not. Their attributes may not be up to the level of the competition. Their skills may start to deteriorate. You do not want to look at a legend and decide, “He’s not who he is anymore.” And so the contracts mount. By the time you decide to move on, they may not be able to have their contracts sold off or loaned out. And it may be too late as you suffered a bunch of losses that could have been avoided if you were more honest with your roster and sought to make improvements instead. The romanticism aspect of sports is appealing - and it can hold you back in FM.

How Does this Relate to Hockey: And this is another part of the game that really mimics real life. This was a criticism of Lou in his later seasons with the team. Bringing back old players from Brendan Shanahan, Bobby Holik, and Scott Gomez for depth may have been fine but it was definitely fueled by their pasts. While the Devils have had great players who aged wonderfully like Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur, their qualities did decline. Elias’ last two seasons were truly his last. I loved watching Martin Brodeur and he was fantastic for an incredibly long time; but I did not love it so much in 2014. And the Devils were hamstrung in a sense for those kinds of decisions.

This is not unique to the Devils. Washington has every reason to crown Alex Ovechkin. Yet, signing a 35-year old forward who is all about volume shooting to a 5-season, $47.5 million contract is much more rewarding past seasons than paying him for what he could do. Pittsburgh will deal with a similar situation next Summer when Evgeni Malkin’s and Kris Letang’s contracts end. Chicago saw the writing on the wall - and their cap situation - with their past Cup heroes Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith and sent them away. We shall see if they do the same with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in two seasons. The NHL is a “closed” world compared to the more wide open world of pro soccer. But the temptation to stick with the people who brought you to greatness is the same in both. Those who fall under it are betting on those players (and staff members, too) to still contribute at a high level - and rationalize away if and when they do not.

#6 Criticism is Part of the Job and Some of it Does Matter

After a lot of words explaining the depth of FM and pointing out how it relates to hockey, I think I have provided enough support of Carl’s point that a GM does a lot more than just get players. This is where I disagree with him about the criticism aspect. Sure, fans, analysts, pundits, and so forth do not have full knowledge of what a GM has to deal with. However, this does not mean the GM is free from criticism if and when they make a mistake. Especially when it comes to something as obvious as the player roster.

In FM, criticism comes in many ways. The game has a social feed function that acts a bit like Twitter where your every move is commented on. Even rumors involving you and/or your team that may or may not be true. Before the game, just before kick off, and after the game, media members will want a word with you. Sure, you can send your assistant to deal with the press - just hope their comments do not impact your team or the opposition. If your team does well, the questions are easy. If not, then expect even outright unfair questions like why so-and-so was not subbed out and you wish you had a “Because I can’t make four subs” option for the press. Every post-game even includes fan reactions which is disturbingly realistic at times.

In U.S. Boulonge’s first ever game in European competition, USB beat FK Krasnodor 6-2 with Filip Bundgaard scoring four goals.  Of course, someone on social media was a hater.
In U.S. Boulonge’s first ever game in European competition, USB beat FK Krasnodor 6-2 with Filip Bundgaard scoring four goals. Of course, someone on social media was a hater.
Personal screenshot

While the fan reactions do not matter much, how you handle the media criticism can have an impact on player morale and their opinion of you. More importantly, it has an impact on your bosses. Remember in Point #1 that the board of directors or the owner grades each game’s result and transaction? The transaction grades do include fan response. And the game results will shift depending on whether you did it in the preferred way they want you to play. If you meet the main requirements, then it does not make a big difference. If you are on the bubble, they suddenly become factors.

And ultimately, that comes with being a manager in soccer. Sure, the players on the field have to perform. Sure, the scouts have to provide accurate reports. Sure, the coaches need to help with training and provide you information ahead of games. Sure, management has to give you the resources to work with. At the end of the day though, it all comes down to you. Your job is to get the results that management wants that fans (likely) desire. If the players fail on the field, then you are at fault. If the team loses 0-1 despite an expected goal difference of 2.5 to 0.15, then you are at fault. If the player you signed is too hurt or does not fit in, then you are at fault. And the criticism from the bosses - which may not be too different from some of the fans - absolutely matters more. Just as the manager gets the praise when the team on the field wins, they get the blame when they do not. Knowing that there is no shortage of people who want to be managers in soccer, even the most “untouchable” manager can find their way out when things go awry for too long.

And, no, there is no requirement to be a critic. The President of the Board of Directors may know about soccer as much as the guy in the screenshot complaining about a historic-for-the-team 6-2 win where a player scored four goals. The President just has more power.

How Does this Relate to Hockey: Well, every manager has to deal with criticism. In hockey. In sports. In life, really. This very site is an example of fans criticizing all factors of the team with the intention of wanting a better team. We poke at other teams for making bad decisions with their teams. Even outside of sports, fans in music, the arts, politics, business, and others can find fault or make complaints or scrutinize decisions. Some of them are founded in reason; facts over feelings. Some of them are pure reactions where one’s feelings do not care about facts. Some of them are somewhere in between those two ‘F’s on that spectrum. All of it did happen. All of it does happen. All of it will happen. Thanks to the Internet, it is easier to share and broadcast than ever before.

And as much as I spent thousands of words pointing out how hockey GMs do have a lot more to deal with than just putting a good team together, putting a good team together remains to be an important part of the job. In theory, a GM should be better than most people at evaluating talent and constructing a roster. In practice, this is not the case. Look at the teams that have yet to be competitive after a half-decade of “rebuilding.” (Arizona, Buffalo, sadly the Devils). Look at the teams with superlative talent in one area and lackluster talent everywhere else (Oilers). Look at the teams who seemingly have it all together and then fails to win a first round for the first time since 2003 (Toronto). Look at teams throwing tons of money at players who may not reasonably be worth that much money unless the stars align perfectly and supernatural forces will it to happen. Look at teams who draft players way earlier than they should have (Chicago this year) - or even a player that asked not to be drafted (Montreal this year). There is a lot of derision of a GM’s moves because, well, they make moves that are questionable at best and just plain stupid at worst.

It is especially crushing today given that there is more knowledge about the game than there was in the past. With all of the public work done in analyzing games, identifying what makes a player good, reviewing what works and does not work in the sport, and so forth, teams really should know better. Just about every NHL has an analytics department or staff on top of a staff of former pros and those with loads of experience both in the front office and/or in the game itself. Just about every owner in this league is a billionaire or more, and the majority are willing to spend on the franchise. And management ideas from other businesses are easily available to utilize. A NHL GM has resources that should allow them to make the best decisions possible. And they do not for one reason or another. In this day and age, the fan can see that even if they do not have a full appreciation of the GM’s job or their duties.

Sure, a GM can (and likely should) ignore online communities of fans like this one in terms of what they should do. But when the owner is hearing the fan and may agree with their issue, then the GM needs to pay a lot of attention. Criticism is part of the job of any manager. The GM needs to be mindful when it comes from their People Who Matter.

Your Take

This preceding screed for Point #6 does also explain why sports simulation games like FM, EHM, Out of the Park Baseball, &c. are popular. We know it is a game. We know real life does not have exploits like being able to bring in an unlimited amount of people outside of a transfer window on trial, or set up a long throw-in tactic for easy goals (which was sadly patched out of FM21). We know the human factor in interactions complicate the management process. We know that other GMs are smarter than any artificial intelligence a game programmer can come up with.

Still, the game and others like it try to convey a level of realism to get a taste of what being a GM is like. And as important as putting a team together is, there’s more to it than that. Just as FM provided me the ecstasies of victory, the agonies of defeat, and the mehness of ties, it provides real reminders that reflect what goes in sports management. And while examples can be brought up separately, it hits a bit different if you experience it - even in a virtual setting.

I do understand that the last three things I’ve written were not Devils-specific. That will change tomorrow as rookie camp is opening up this week and the offseason is near its unofficial end. But I thank you for indulging. And if you give FM a shot or even play it, feel free to share your experiences. As well as what else you learned from the game that apply to real life GMs in the comments. Thank you for reading.