It’s all ancient history at this point, anyway. Tons of people watching hockey these days have no idea that Don Maloney, the Peter O’Toole-looking guy that kept the Coyotes somewhat competitive on less money than your paperboy makes in a year, got his first GM job with the Islanders 20 years ago.
But those of us still here against all reason remember, maybe too well. In retrospect, Maloney was put in a nearly impossible position; replacing the legendary Bill Torrey, trying to revive a flagging ship with absentee ownership, season ticket holders-turned managing partners that had no clue and a building disintegrating by the minute, and running a team he spent most of his career playing against as a member of their most bitter rivals.
That doesn’t excuse decisions like trading Pierre Turgeon for a contemptuous Kirk Muller, thinking Islanders fans would warm up to Ron Hextall or expecting Wendel Clark to fix everything. But Maloney admitted to regretting some moves he made while serving as Islanders general manager, chalking the whole thing up to learning on the job.
On Sportsnet 960 in Calgary yesterday, Maloney spoke openly about that rough first gig in the big chair of an NHL team (transcript courtesy of Chris Nichols at Today’s Slapshot)
“The first time I was quite young – 33. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, to be honest with you,” admitted a candid Maloney during a Wednesday appearance on Calgary’s Sportsnet 960. “I was completely flying from the seat of my pants. I cringe at some of the decisions I made. They were all for the right reasons. But really, I think taking a step back, after getting told to leave the Island and never return – and then I worked 10 years in New York with Glen Sather and had some success toward the end there. And then another nine out here in Arizona.
“I just think you can’t buy experience. You have to live through it. You hope you make better decisions the second time around. I know if I ever get another chance, I’ll hopefully learn from my past errors.
Maloney, the 2010 GM of the Year Award winner, went into the Coyotes job a much wiser man after his stints with the Islanders and Rangers. Now as a pro scout with the Flames, he takes even more experiences with him.
“It’s a cliché, but the bottom line is there are no shortcuts in this game. You can’t cheat the system. You have to put in the work. You have to grind it out. You have to get the games. Watch games. Study games. Analyze games. Open your minds to analytics and what they can bring to the table. Hopefully you have a good staff around you that have that common goal
Hey, you know what? Good for him. Guy’s a hockey lifer and a smart addition to any staff. He was just the wrong guy at the wrong time for the Islanders.
How wrong? Glad you asked. Let me just get out this dusty old game program...
Maloney was named Islanders GM on August 17, 1992 as part of a huge restructuring of team’s front office. Cablevision magnate Charles Dolan had bought the team from previous owner John Pickett, who was now spending all of his time in Florida. Torrey would step into a senior role, Maloney would take over as GM under the “Gang of Four” management group and the drifting team would be on stable ground once again.
At least, that’s what they said was going to happen at the press conference they held. Turns out, Dolan and Pickett never completed the sale, leaving Maloney and the Gang of Four to fend for themselves with very little operating budget.
In Maloney’s first year as GM, the Islanders went on a miracle run to the Prince of Wales Conference Finals, where they lost to Montreal in five games, upsetting the two-time defending champion Penguins along the way. It was all downhill from there.
Acquiring Hextall from Quebec for goalie Mark Fitzpatrick (along with the swap of first round picks), has at least some logic behind it. But Hextall never had a chance with Islanders fans, who spent years hating him while he was with Philadelphia. Swapping Hextall a year later back to the Flyers for a sub-par Tommy Soderstrom was just the cherry on top of an already unswallowable sundae.
Maloney’s most notorious move (besides maybe drafting Brett “the better brother” Lindros) was trading leading scorer Turgeon and defenseman Vladimir Malakhov to the Canadiens for defenseman Mathieu Schneider and Muller, who, to put it very mildly, wasn’t interested in playing for the Islanders. The saga did not end well.
Clark, who should never have left Toronto once let alone twice, was a gamer, but hardly what the team needed at the time nor was he enough to save Maloney’s job.
This is a quick summary of pretty busy period. As with any GM, the little moves aren’t the ones that get you in trouble. It’s sticking your neck out that will get you hurt.
So after three years and some high profile mistakes, Maloney was fired in December of 1995 and replaced by the new coach he had hired only a few months earlier: Mike Milbury.
Thanks a lot, Don... especially for that going-away present.