As the Vancouver Canucks consider their future ahead of the trade deadline, three men are at the helm: team president Trevor Linden, general manager Jim Benning, and assistant general manager John Weisbrod.
Of the three, Weisbrod has the quietest public profile – but he is an important voice behind the scenes in shaping the Canucks.
And of the three, it is Weisbrod who has pulled the biggest moves as a sports executive. They came a dozen years ago when, in one of life’s strange detours, Weisbrod was 35 and general manager of the NBA’s Orlando Magic for a season.
It was there, in the span of a week, he drafted Dwight Howard No. 1 and traded Tracy McGrady. Both moves were widely criticized. Howard, coming out of high school, was considered the second choice to collegiate star Emeka Okafor, who went on to win rookie of the year but was soon eclipsed by Howard. The Magic did badly in the McGrady trade but McGrady, in his career, never won a playoff series. Four years after Weisbrod left, Howard led the Magic to an NBA final.
Johnny Davis, the Magic head coach for most of Weisbrod’s 2004-05 season, has reason to be bitter. He was fired when the team was on a skid at 31-33 but still in a playoff position.
Yet Davis has only praise for the basketball interloper.
“I had a doubtful eye,” Davis said of his reaction when Weisbrod became GM.
“He understands winning,” said Davis, who was an NBA point guard for decade before a long career in coaching. “Vancouver has a good man. He understands the dynamics of putting it together. I had been around a lot of elite basketball minds, who were immersed in the basketball way of doing things. I can tell you he was as good as any of them – and better than most.”
Weisbrod’s tumultuous time with the Magic shaped and sharpened the instincts he brought to the NHL. When the Magic chose Howard over Okafor, Dick Vitale and other pundits panned the pick and predicted the Magic would rue the decision.
“I wouldn’t claim to have any real basketball acumen,” Weisbrod said in an interview this week. “I did have a lot of conviction about what I thought about people.”
Weisbrod was a hockey guy from the start. He had grown up on Long Island during the New York Islanders’ heyday and played at Harvard University, where the team won a national championship. He was trying to crack the roster of the expansion San Jose Sharks in 1991, when a series of brutal injuries to his left shoulder ended his career.
He was despondent for months, but eventually found front-office work, and won titles, in minor-league hockey, first with the Albany River Rats and then the Orlando Solar Bears. The Orlando squad was a small part of a bigger operation that included the Magic, all of it owned by Richard DeVos, the billionaire who co-founded Amway.
DeVos took a liking to the sharp-minded and frank Harvard grad and put Weisbrod in charge of the Magic’s business operations in 2000. He was 31. Four years later, ahead of what DeVos was calling the most important summer in the team’s history, Weisbrod was installed as general manager.
The tenure was short. Weisbrod was barely on the job for a year when in May, 2005, he quit – or was quietly pushed out. On exiting, Weisbrod talked about wanting to win one Stanley Cup more than three NBA titles.
“I craved being in hockey,” Weisbrod said.
Weisbrod landed as a scout for the Dallas Stars, and then joined the Boston Bruins in 2006. It is there he met Benning, who started as director of player personnel and became assistant GM. The team was guttering and had strong young prospects. Weisbrod still lived in Florida and scouted NHLers in the southeast and oversaw collegiate scouting.
After Boston won the Cup in 2011, a bigger job for Weisbrod came in Calgary, as an assistant GM to Jay Feaster. But it lasted only a little more than two years, before both were fired by Brian Burke.
Weisbrod, said Feaster, has a combination of hockey smarts and boardroom smarts – combined with a plain-spoken personality.
“He’s going to tell you exactly what’s on his mind,” Feaster said.
When Benning got his first shot at a GM job in Vancouver, he hired Weisbrod as vice-president of player personnel. Last summer Weisbrod was elevated to assistant GM.
“I trust his opinion,” Benning said, “that he sees things the same way I do, the qualities we see in players.”Report Typo/Error