Friday, May 22, 2009

Dear David

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Pop quiz, boys and girls. Who holds the record for the longest tenure with the Anaheim Ducks?

If you said Selanne or Rucchin, good guess, but wrong. The answer is David McNab. Anaheim's longtime Assistant GM was one of three initial hires for the Ducks organization, after Ferreira and Gauthier, and he has just closed out his 15th year in the front office. Only equipment manager John Allaway, Wild Wing and the Pond itself can claim similar longevity with the franchise. McNab recently interviewed for open GM positions around the NHL, though with yesterday's announcement that Chuck Fletcher will be taking the reins in Minnesota, it's more than likely McNab will remain with the Ducks.

Anaheim Calling would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Mr. McNab, as well as our hope that he stays with Anaheim until the Ducks gain the good sense to promote him to General Manager. But first, for those who only know him from the news articles praising his NCAA free agent scouting prowess, a quick bio:

A native of Vancouver, David McNab was born into a hockey family. Most notably, his father Max played championship time at center with Gordie Howe and the '50 Red Wings before beginning a well-respected career as a general manager, which included time with the San Francisco Seals, the San Diego Gulls and a stunning turnaround of a Washington Capitals team that seemed trapped in the cellar. During his father's GM years, David attended Point Loma High School in San Diego, then travelled east to play hockey for the Wisconsin Badgers. The young McNab served as the backup goaltender for the legendary '77 team that shocked Michigan in the closing seconds and overtime of the NCAA championship game.

After college, McNab joined his father and the Washington Capitals as a professional scout. He held that position for four seasons before moving on to Hartford for a seven-year stint, which included two years as the Director of Player Recruitment. In 1989, he joined the New York Rangers, but left after four years to work for the newly minted Mighty Ducks.

In his time in Anaheim, McNab has worn various hats of varying influence, but we note the following accomplishments (only because there are too many to list to our satisfaction). McNab was the Ducks' first Director of Player Personnel, overseeing the drafts that brought players like Steve Rucchin, Pavel Trnka, Oleg Tverdosky, Mike Lecerlc, Ruslan Salei and Matt Cullen to the team. McNab also served six years as the GM of the Ducks' AHL affiliate, uprooting the franchise from its dismal circumstances in Baltimore to a very successful setup in Cincinnati. In 2007, McNab drew hockey headlines with the contribution of FIVE (McDonald, Kunitz, Penner, Shannon and Carter) undrafted NCAA players to the championship team, all of whom he'd personally scouted and counseled. The Stanley Cup win and recognition of McNab's efforts came just months before his father Max passed away. End Bio.

First, I'd like to point out that writers like Scott Burnside jumped on David McNab’s story in 2007 without noting WHY very few front offices took a chance on undrafted NCAA players before McNab: it was expensive. Before the cap, first year entry-level salaries were limited to ≈1.5M with a signing bonus limited to 50% of the player's base salary. Today, the cap is 850K/10%, giving teams a forgiving margin of error on undrafted signings. McNab put faith in kids like Andy McDonald when it was fiscally risky. And though he got in on the 'ground floor' with many players, they all drew additional attention come signing time, and would have had suitors willing to bid the league maximum were they courted in the Salary Cap Era.

But make no mistake, they still would have signed with Anaheim because McNab is persistent with these kids. Every single one of them talks about how grateful they are for the time he spent with them, not just convincing them they'd see playing time with the Ducks, but just talking hockey. You see, McNab's an old school scout, the kind that spends 50% of his time driving to games, 20% watching them and the other 30 talking to these kids. I came across my favorite McNab story in the Calgary Herald last year. In 1988, Cujo was on the fence about hockey and committing to play for Wisconsin, until he received a number of handwritten letters telling him how good he was in net, all signed by an NHL scout he'd never met, named David McNab.

I have a rather personal affection for a die-hard college hockey fan from the West Coast, and it was McNab’s faith in the NCAA that made me a Ducks fan. I cheer every time we draft a college kid or pick up one that’s supposedly busted. His passion for bringing these kids into the NHL is strong. Just look at the draft boards. When McNab left the Rangers in ‘93, NY drafted Clarkson University standout Todd Marchant in the 7th round. Three years later, the Ducks picked up St. Cloud State's Matt Cullen in the 2nd Round.

In his three decade NHL career, David McNab has increased the credibility of both NCAA and West Coast hockey tenfold. In that, his life's work is kindred with the very purpose of this blog. And while I was sad to hear he didn't find a GM position this Spring, I'm even sadder that he isn't already the Ducks’ GM.

It's hard to argue that the man knows how to find the diamond in the rough. Although, I think what endears him to me more than anything is his ability to make calm scouting decisions. If you look at the players he has acquired, they all have one thing in common: an ability to do their job. You and I have always contended that Penner has had so much trouble in Edmonton because the Oilers didn't know how to use his skills, and were asking him to be an Ilya Kovalchuk, i.e. carry the scoring load by himself at times, instead of using him as the grinder he is and putting him with size/skill guys who can get him the puck in the crease. My point is that McNab has an ability to pick out a player based on how his skills work for specific situations. All of the players he's encouraged us to sign have been contributors and strong role players.

McNab has been involved in California Hockey since before you or I had ever seen a sheet of ice. He stuck with our team through a lot of bad times, including the Disney jokes, an arrested owner and Pierre Page. I think, as fans, it's easy for us to throw praise/blame at players, coaches and general managers, but so much happens behind the scenes. Scouts are responsible for finding good players and a GM is usually following someone else's advice. For 14 years that someone else has been McNab, and he hasn’t led us down a wrong path. I don't know what else to say about the man, except he scouts great players that fit our system. He's been a model citizen, and proven time and time again that he is capable of spotting the talent our team needs to progress.

I agree that he needs to be our next GM. I think Murray did a lot in terms of getting value for his assets at the deadline, and I like his fire. But McNab has a knowledge of players and an ability to get value from picks that reminds me of what happens in the Red Wings organization. The reason Detroit has been so successful for the past 18 years or so is their ability to get the best value for their picks, and to keep those people in the organization because they like the team. I think McNab would be able to provide that kind of leadership in the GM role.

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