Yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs continued their summer of staff shuffling, announcing the hiring of two scouts (Noelle Needham and Victor Carneiro), and the internal promotion of two Player Development staff members (Scott Pellerin and Stephane Robidas). That would be a big enough list of things to talk about, but all of those moves were quickly overshadowed by the hiring of Hayley Wickenheiser as the team’s Assistant Director of Player Development.
Wickenheiser, of course, is a Canadian hockey legend, and one of the most decorated players to ever play the game. She’s been around it in all different forms, shocking parents as she’d keep up with and surpass the boys as a child, entering Hockey Canada’s adult tier as a Women’s World Championship player at just 15 years old, and followed that up with a career that spanned 23 years, 13 World Championship medals (7 gold), five Olympic medals (4 gold), three Western Women’s Hockey League championships, a CWHL Clarkson Cup Championship, four years of Canadian College Hockey in her 30’s, and three years of 54 men’s pro games in Sweden and Finland. At 40 years old, however, it’s time for her to extend her hockey career beyond playing, and the Leafs showed interest in making that happen.
It makes inherent sense when you think about it. Wickenheiser likely has the deepest hockey playing resume of any “free agent” on the market, she spends a lot of time in Toronto (though she is currently in Calgary continuing her University studies), and her unique career arc gives her a lot of different ways to relate to player experiences. She’s been the young generational talent with all the pressure on her, and the grizzled veteran expected to lead. She’s been the superstar at the women’s level, and she’s been the underdog as someone trying to break into men’s leagues. She’s felt the big game pressures that come with the Olympic stage. She can relate to the grinds of College Hockey and European Hockey. She’s been the one everyone sees as stronger, and the one everyone sees as weaker. She’s been the “everything comes naturally” player and the “I need to work for every touch” player.
To find someone who can relate to so many spectrums in their playing career is extremely rare, and being able to look at things from so many angles allows you to relate to your players better and create better plans for them.
Of course, there have been a plethora of thinly-veiled criticisms of her, most of which are ways of people avoiding saying that they don’t like that a woman got hired for the job. That’s not to say Wickenheiser and any future women that are hired by the organization cannot be criticized or questioned – but that the criticisms given right now, quite frankly, don’t add up.
There’s been plenty of “she doesn’t know the men’s game, which is different” (it’s not that different, and she’s played more men’s pro games than Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock combined), “its a PR stunt” (the Leafs are the biggest team in hockey and their reputation is at a five-decade high right without this move), “its forced diversity” (Toronto has already hired three other women this summer, including Needham in the very same press release, and already has Barbara Underhill in the Player Development department), “she doesn’t have the skills needed” (without any explanation of what skills are needed), and “I’d rather hire the best candidate” (with no ‘better’ candidate suggested). They’re all dog-whistly excuses that aren’t grounded in anything, but they persist nonetheless, from people who really don’t have a hockey reason to complain.
Another popular excuse for complaint is that she hasn’t put in the hours and built up a resume to get a player development job like others in the league did. That’s the only one of these excuses that doesn’t sound super obviously made-up to the average fan, as one would assume that there’s a long, winding road to get to contribute to the development of future NHLers. Right?
Well, there’s an easy way to figure out if this is true, so let’s give it a go.---
Thanks for reading! Hopefully you enjoyed this post. If you did, don't hesitate to share it on Twitter or Facebook; having more readers will help the site grow. As well, consider a subscription if you're interested in reading additional work that isn't available to guests.