The Brad Robson Era: In the Beginning…
Brad Robson’s time as GM of the Hurricanes didn’t start under ideal conditions. Unfortunately for him, it ended even worse. It is no secret that fans were skeptical of his ability to succeed as general manager. Justified or not, under Robson’s watch, the Hurricanes suffered one of the worst seasons of hockey in franchise history.
One thing no one can deny is that Robson knew how to make a trade.
Did Robson win any?
Brad Robson was promoted to General Manager on March 26, 2013, the same day Rich Preston was fired.
Before coming to the Hurricanes Robson, who is also a former Calgary Police officer, worked for the Minnesota North Stars and Dallas Stars as a Western Canada Scout from 1987 to 2007. Robson was also an owner and instructor of Conditioning for Excellence from 1990 to 2007, which offered a conditioning camp to elite players at the NHL, AHL, ECHL and European levels. – (Country 95.5)
Robson had been with the Canes since 2007, and served as Assistant General Manager from 2008 onward. The year before being promoted to AGM, Robson served as Chief Scout and Director of Player Personnel. It is fair to say that Robson did have experience as a hockey man, and also likely had a strong understanding of the Hurricanes and the players in their system. By the time he was promoted to GM on March 26, 2013 – he had over five years of hockey management experience with the Hurricanes.
Let me begin with saying that I hold nothing against Brad Robson. I don’t blame Robson for being hired as GM. Wouldn’t we all jump at an opportunity to be promoted? The problem I had with this hire wasn’t that Robson was hopelessly inexperienced or a bad leader. He wasn’t. It was simply how the hire was handled. Robson was handed the position without an external search or interviewing process. The organization did not look outside of itself to see what other options were available. Some may argue that promoting from within is a good business strategy and it can be, but not when the organization hasn’t made the playoffs in over four years. I liken this hire to the hiring of Craig Mactavish as GM of the Edmonton Oilers. It isn’t that Craig is a bad hockey person, the problem is that the hire was made without transparency or merit. In the case of the Hurricanes, for whatever reason, the board felt that no search was needed and that Robson was ready to be GM moving forward. (It is possible that the BOD was not comfortable with Robson but financially had no other option but to name him GM. If this were the case (and I have no information one way or another), it is the ideal ammunition for those in favour of selling the team.)
In my opinion, the Board ought to have named Robson interim GM, finished the year, then conducted a broad search for the next GM. If Robson won the job over the other candidates, then great. Good for him. He earned it. If not, the board could be open and honest with shareholders if (in the case of failure) they needed to explain the hire down the road. Instead, the Board placed all of its eggs in Robson’s basket, and when it fell apart, had no-one to blame but themselves.
The post-Preston hire was massive for this franchise and should have been handled as delicately and precision. Not only did the new GM need to fix the roster, but he/she would also need to find a new coach. The BOD not only trusted Robson to manage the team, but also to pick the next coach. A massive gamble that eventually back-fired and cost numerous people jobs and titles.
(Since this post is dedicated to Robson’s early days, I will avoid going into detail about the hiring of (ex)head coach, Drake Berehowsky (maybe a topic for a future write-up), but needless to say, it was an important move and one of BR’s first.)
Robson’s first major player related move came on May 2, 2013, when he filled the gaping hole in net by trading the Canes’ 2013 first round pick (6th overall (Kale Clauge)) to Brandon for experienced net-minder Corbin Boes and Brandon’s 1st round selection. Robson would also pick (G) Stewart Skinner with the 17th overall selection that year, a choice that has, so far, turned out very well for the Canes. BR deserves full credit for going with the young goaltender.
I didn’t mind the move to acquire Boes. Despite posting average numbers in Brandon, he was, in theory, just what the Cane’s young defense needed to help them mature and develop with confidence. In reality, things did not work out for Boes or the Hurricanes that season, but I can’t fault Robson for bringing in an established goalie and also addressing the future of the crease with Skinner.
The rest of the off-season was relatively low-key on the trade front for Robson. It turned out to be the quiet before the storm as, over the next year, Robson would make over 20 different moves. Beginning in mid September and moving on into the weeks that followed, Robson made a number of moves that would ultimately alter the trajectory of the Hurricanes as a team, and a franchise.
The season got off to a woeful beginning for Robson, Berehowsky, and the team. They would eventually go on to win only 12 games in 2013-2014. The cracks were showing early and Robson was quick to make moves. For lack of time, I don’t want to get into the details of each trade right now and instead want to view them from a distance. It seems to me, without any inside information or knowledge of player drama, that Robson was looking to shake things up. There is no other reason to make trades so early in a season. I don’t think it is a stretch to suggest that the players moved out did not want to be part of the new coach’s program or plan. The reality is that Robson was dealing from a position of weakness and rival GM’s were able to take advantage of it. Based on the names that were moved, Robson came up short in the return.
The Yakubowski/Mckechnie trade deserves more attention, but for now I will leave it here.
These early moves were only the beginning for Robson. His legacy will ultimately revolve around what was to come…