Press Round-Up - JUN.18.08
As a corporate motivational speaker, new Vancouver Canuck assistant coach Ryan Walter learned a thing or two about trying to nudge individuals to greater heights.
"Motivation, it's an interesting thought," Walter mused Tuesday at the news conference to announce his hiring. "I always believe that nobody motivates anybody -- there's a good start, right? -- but that you can help to create an inspirational atmosphere where people motivate themselves. So that will be the goal."
Walter, 50, is returning to the Canucks 15 years after leaving them as a player. The Burnaby native spent the final two seasons of his career in Canuck colours and also played for the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens, winning a Stanley Cup with the Habs in 1986.
Walter has no experience behind an NHL bench but has spent many hours coaching sons Ben, Ryan Jr. and Joe at the minor-hockey level. He's written books, run his own motivational-speaking business and done colour commentary on TV.
Last season, he worked as a consultant with the Habs, who overachieved and finished a surprise first in the Eastern Conference. Walter has a masters degree in Leadership/Business and was contemplating furthering his education with a PhD in literature. Instead, he'll have to figure out ways for the Canuck power play to score more often.
"I guess if you look at my history, I was built to coach," said Walter, who also has two daughters. "I think leadership is a key component to any coach whether he's a head coach or an assistant coach. I've spent the last part of my life studying those things. I've done a ton with corporate America the last little bit.
"Going back to school and doing the masters in leadership was a real focus for me. I've often wondered why teams with the same talent, why do some win and some lose? The ingredient is that leadership part and it's going to be fun looking at it."
Walter will be working with head coach Alain Vigneault, associate coach Rick Bowness and another assistant to be named later.
Vigneault conceded he had reservations about bringing someone with no NHL coaching experience on board but was quickly won over by Walter.
"Yes, I had reservations, I'd lie if I didn't," Vigneault admitted in a conference call from his off-season home in Gatineau, Que. "I talked to Ryan on the phone several times prior to him coming down to Ottawa where we spent a full day together discussing everything from systems to teaching methods.
"Ryan has always been involved in the game as a player and, after that, doing colour on TV, so he's up to date on everything that's new to the NHL."
"He's a pretty bright guy and he'll be able to pick up on things pretty quickly."
Canuck GM Mike Gillis made the initial contact with Walter as he sought information on leadership courses and workshops. Their discussions led more specifically to the team's situation and, eventually, the hiring.
Among candidates interviewed, Walter was the only one without at least some NHL coaching experience.
"Ryan has a great history in the NHL, he has a Stanley Cup ring, he's a student of the game, an academic student, he ran his own business and has all the features I think are critical to having a well-rounded person in that role," Gillis explained. "I think Ryan's ability to communicate are unparalleled. He has great ideas about how to advance the offensive nature of this team.
"I spoke to a series of other people as well who are more historical coaches and I found that they didn't have the same level of thought, the same level of analysis and maybe that's borne out of the fact Ryan hasn't coached at this level before.
"I mean, I don't know another person who has Ryan's background," Gillis added. "It's certainly never been here before. I don't think it's been anywhere before."
Vigneault said he wasn't concerned that Walter would be a so-called "GM's spy" in the Canucks' coaching office.
"All I can say is anybody who knows Ryan Walter and the type of person he is, that's just not his style," Vigneault responded.
- A report Tuesday suggested the Canucks, along with Columbus and Minnesota, were attempting to acquire the rights to gritty Pittsburgh forward Ryan Malone prior to him becoming an unrestricted free agent July 1. Due to tampering rules, Gillis could only stickhandle around the question.
"I think Ryan Malone is a really good NHL hockey player and that we would be remiss as an NHL team not to consider him," said the Canuck GM.
When Mike Gillis was hired as the Vancouver Canucks general manager, he vowed he was going to be non-conformal and creative. He promised to do things Canucks fans hadn't seen before.
Consider that promise fulfilled.
Gillis's eyebrow-raising decision to hire ex-player Ryan Walter, a confident-but-inexperienced professional motivator, as the Canucks new assistant coach surprised many around the NHL who view the move as a risky one.
Gillis, of course, vehemently disagrees.
"Do I think this is risky? Absolutely not," Gillis said. "I think we've analyzed the risk entirely and I don't think there is any risk in having a person with his background in this role. In fact, for me, it's a plus because he's run his own business, he's done a variety of different things. He's been a student and he was talking about doing a PhD in leadership."
In many ways, Walter comes off like a self-help guru plucked right out of central casting. He has a toothy, whalebone-white smile and a voice with perfect timbre. He's armed with buzz phrases like "nobody motivates anybody" and his stated goal is to "create an inspirational atmosphere where people motivate themselves."
Despite success as a player, the fact his only coaching experience was in minor hockey is one reason he will have his work cut out selling himself to players this fall, as he moves from coaching highly paid executives to highly paid athletes. There is a tremendous difference.
But, if this hiring proves anything, it shows Walter has no problems selling himself.
Gillis didn't initially earmark Walter for the job. He originally approached Walter to have him run some leadership workshops for his players.
"One thing led to another and we began discussing the team in general and offensive philosophy," Gillis said. "I found not only did he communicate well with me, but he had great ideas about how to advance the offensive nature of this team."
Gillis then asked Walter to meet with head coach Alain Vigneault, who had chatted with several other candidates. As reported in The Province on Sunday, two of those candidates were recently hired as NHL head coaches.
It's not clear where Walter was on the candidate list's pecking order, but he was the only candidate Vigneault talked to who had no coaching experience.
Vigneault admitted Tuesday he had some reservations, at first, about Walter.
"I'd be lying [if I said] I didn't," Vigneault said. "We talked on the phone several times before he came to Ottawa .... [where we] spent a full day together discussing everything from systems to teaching methods.
"He might not have coaching experience per se, but I think that's where myself and Rick [Bowness] are going to help him."
Conspiracy theorists have jumped to the conclusion Walter will act as a spy for Gillis, keeping an eye on Vigneault. It's a notion the coach dismissed as rubbish.
"Anyone who knows Ryan Walter and knows the type of person he is, knows that's just not his style," Vigneault said. "Ryan is there to work with myself and [Bowness] and whomever else we bring in."
Gillis said he plans to add one more assistant to complete his revamped coaching staff.
Gillis indicated Walter will concentrate on the offensive side of the game. Walter will try and improve the Canucks power play, which finished 20th and 18th in the past two years under Vigneault.
Walter admitted he faces a steep learning curve to get up to NHL coaching speed.
"It's a big learning curve, no doubt," Walter said. "I love learning, though, that's what I do. I think if I was coming into this without 15 years sitting on that bench in the NHL, I think it would be difficult.
"But I've seen those rooms and I've been on that bench. I know what coaches do and I know what coaches don't do, so this is nothing new to me."
The Vancouver Canucks may be in desperate need of top prospects to push their veterans but that doesn't mean new general manager Mike Gillis is hell bent on adding a young up-and-comer this weekend.
Gillis, just two months into the job and about to run his first NHL entry draft, said yesterday that he would trade the team's first-round selection, 10th over all, for a top-six forward. That statement, and the hiring of Ryan Walter as an assistant coach yesterday, is leading many to conclude that the Gillis era is about to get under way in earnest over the next couple of weeks, with a draft and free agency period looming.
?We're definitely moving in a direction that is going to be different,? Gillis said yesterday.
On the draft, Gillis said that size doesn't matter to him, and that he is just as likely to choose a smaller player with more competitiveness than one with ideal height and bulk. He said that Everett Silvertips forward Kyle Beach, considered one of the boom-or-bust prospects this weekend, has been unfairly portrayed as a bad boy and that the Canucks plan to interview him for a second time before Friday's first round.
Gillis also hinted that players from Russia, who may be difficult to lure to North America, probably won't figure into Vancouver's plans.
As for the beginning of the free-agent signing period on July 1, Gillis said, ?We intend to be very active that day.?
When asked specifically about Pittsburgh Penguins winger Ryan Malone, a pending unrestricted free agent, Gillis said: ?I think Ryan Malone is a really good NHL hockey player and we would be remiss as an NHL team not to consider him.?
On the coaching side, Gillis introduced Walter and said there would be one more addition to Alain Vigneault's staff later this summer.
Walter, a former Canucks player and broadcaster, is light on coaching experience but long on other attributes. He is a motivational speaker, an author, a businessman and a student who boasts more formal education than your average coach.
?His experience in leadership, having a master's [degree] in leadership combined with a 15-year NHL career ? I don't know of another person who has that,? Gillis said. ?I know Ryan worked with the Montreal Canadiens this year [as a consultant] and there was a noticeable difference.
?In talking with people from Montreal, they thought Ryan was instrumental in getting that team to be more focused, more of a team and allowing younger players to fit into the lineup in a meaningful way.?
The two-week hiring process began when Gillis contacted Walter, 50, about conducting leadership workshops for the Canucks. Walter, a Lower Mainland native who won a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1986, said he had NHL coaching opportunities in the past but did not want to leave his home town.
?I think leadership is a key component to any coach? and those are the things that I've spent the last part of my life studying,? Walter said. ?There's a big learning curve, no doubt, but I love learning. That's what I do.?
Yesterday, Vigneault admitted that he had reservations about Walter when Gillis first recommended him. Walter has no professional coaching experience and no previous relationship with Vigneault.
But Vigneault said he felt comfortable with Walter, who will look after the forwards and the power play, after the duo spent a day together in Ottawa.
?We discussed everything from systems to teaching methods,? Vigneault said. ?He might not have coaching experience per se, but I think that's where myself and [associate coach] Rick [Bowness] are going to help him get used to the NHL coaching lifestyle.?
But because Gillis fired two of Vigneault's assistants last month, and admitted he would be choosing the replacements, there will be whispers that Walter's role is to serve as the general manager's spy in the dressing room. It is a notion Vigneault quickly dismissed.
?All I can say is that anyone who knows Ryan Walter and knows the type of person he is, that's just not his style,? he said.
But it didn't really bother Pavel Bure much that he was passed over again for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Russian Rocket, as he was known for his blazing speed and ability to destroy other teams with his quick-strike ability, was more happy for his countryman and former Vancouver Canucks linemate Igor Larionov -- who was inducted into the hallowed Hall on Tuesday.
"He played for so many years -- we played together in Vancouver and in Florida and on the Red Army team," said Bure. "He's a great guy, so I'm very happy for him."
Bure, reached at his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home, said he wasn't aware the inductions were being announced on Tuesday -- which suggests he wasn't even on the confidential (to the public) nomination list.
"It would be a great honour to be selected, but it's not going to change my life," said Bure. "When I was playing I was in control of my life. It was up to me how many goals I can score. But now some people get together and make a decision. They are the most respected people in hockey, so what they decide they are entitled to do. There's nothing I can do about it."
Still, many would argue that Bure's chances for selection shouldn't be hurt by a 12-season career that was cut short by a series of knee injuries.
Bure, who played his final, injury-abbreviated season in 2002-03, made his retirement official in 2005 at the age of 34. Apart from being the most exciting NHL player of his era, Bure scored 437 goals in 702 games, hit the 60-goal mark twice with Vancouver and had another 51-goal season. With Florida, Bure had back-to-back 58- and 59-goal seasons.
Along the way, he won the Calder Trophy as top rookie and was the league's top goal scorer on three occasions. Internationally, Bure was named best forward at the world junior tournament in 1989 and won the same award at the 1988 Olympic Games.
"Absolutely, he should be in," said Mike Gillis, the Canucks general manager and Bure's former agent. "I don't think there is a goal scorer in the last 30 years who had his ability to change games."
Bure could have a long wait before he gets another legitimate shot at induction.
Because of the mandatory three-year waiting period and the NHL lockout in 2004-05, there were no new candidates up for consideration this year, which gave the selection committee a chance to look at players who had been passed over in previous years.
Next year, the NHL -- which selects a maximum of four players per year -- will consider the likes of Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, Brian Leetch and Luc Robitaille, while Pierre Turgeon, Joe Nieuwendyk and Eric Lindros will likely be on the ballot in 2010.