I’ve never met Jeff Jackson, who until recently served as the assistant general manager with the Toronto Maple Leafs. I don’t know much about him, either; just what I’ve been able to glean from the internet. He worked as a lawyer before joining the Leafs, and had some experience handling arbitration cases and the like. Before he became a lawyer he was a hockey player; he was drafted by the Leafs and played a little over 200 games in the NHL. He’d been with the Leafs as an executive since 2006, and was responsible for a lot of the financial/salary cap side of things, as well as the Leaf’s minor league affiliate.
Despite that rather superficial knowledge, I couldn’t help but be impressed with what he had to say when interviewed by James Mirtle about his decision to leave the Maple Leafs. I thought he handled himself well. Of more interest, at least to me, is what Jackson’s comments tell us about the business of hockey. Take this comment, for instance:
“I’m leaving on good terms, no hard feelings. Burkie was really fair to me and treated me well so I’m not leaving under a cloud or anything. It’s just one of those things in hockey – people have their own guys and, you know, I didn’t fit into that group. I was hoping to stay, but it didn’t work out that way.”
We see this situation a lot in professional hockey, where managers bring in people they’ve worked with in the past, people they’re comfortable with. Brian Burke has done that with the Leafs; in addition to executives like Dave Nonis he has rebuilt the scouting staff with his handpicked people. Steve Tambellini has done something similar in Edmonton, reaching out to coaches he had worked with either through Hockey Canada or during his time in Vancouver. It’s a common theme.
Jackson also explained that leaving now, rather than in July, gives him a head-start on other job openings around the league (since contracts expire over the summer, the NHL job market is flooded every year at that time), and thus it works out better for him to go at this point rather than waiting.
Jackson goes on to talk about a lot of other things during the interview (which I recommend reading), including his former boss John Ferguson Jr., the future of the Maple Leafs and what it’s like being an NHL “capologist,” but it was his comments on the business of hockey that caught my eye. Jackson was matter-of-fact about it because it’s just the way the league works.
Post-script: For a great take on Jackson’s hockey career, check out Pension Plan Puppets.