February 26, 2011: Bill Scott presents Teemu Hartikainen with the AHL Rookie of the Month Award. (Photo: Courtesy of Steven Christy. All Rights Reserved.)

Bill Scott, the General Manager of the Oklahoma City Barons, sat down with me last week to talk about his job as the G.M. of the OKC Barons, the team and its young prospects, and hockey in Oklahoma. This first part of four segments highlights Scott’s role as a General Manager in the American Hockey League. Many of us who have been lucky enough to see the OKC Barons the past two seasons are very familiar with Scott, however much of his work is behind the scenes, hidden from view, and as a result, I wanted to ask him about the specifics of his job and what makes a General Manager at the AHL level.

Interview with OKC Barons G.M. Bill Scott – August 28, 2012

Part I: What Makes a General Manager?

PT: You have been with the OKC Barons as General Manager from the beginning of the franchise in 2010. You were hired by the Edmonton Oilers to manage and oversee hockey operations here in OKC. What are the benefits of having a General Manager at the AHL level?

Bill Scott: I think probably the biggest benefit for the Oilers is to have someone monitoring their players’ progress every day – someone who is not involved in the day-to-day, who is not a person who decides who plays necessarily, how many minutes and different things like that. Certainly coaches and players have a different relationship than what the General Manager would with the players so I get the chance to step back a little bit further from the trenches, where the coaches are, and give a bit of a different perspective to the Oilers management on who’s ready to play, who’s ready to go up, what players we feel are going to be NHL players and what players we feel may not be NHL players. We want to be able to make those decisions as fast as possible on these players so we know their value before any other team knows their value.

A big part of our program is developing these players. Obviously with the Oilers model, the way they are right now, there is a big emphasis on the prospects. That’s why you have seen the Oilers with so many draft picks over the last couple of years. All of those players are coming through our system now, so it is crucial to the organization to have someone here to manage everything from player rosters, bringing players in on PTOs when we lose a player to injury or to recall each night, having a hand in what goes on in the ECHL as well, being able to fill in those gaps when there are injuries and recalls.

That is probably one of the biggest things in the American League. You can have a good team on paper at the beginning of the year but when injuries and recalls happen, or a trade happens, you don’t have the same team, so you need to be able to find those people who can come in. We’ve had some great examples the last couple years – Dylan Yeo, Dan Ringwald, they did great jobs for us, among other guys. That gets your team through those injuries and you certainly find good players in the process as well and you bring them back like Danny Ringwald this year for sure. Dylan Yeo got a great contract in Toronto, and that’s a big part of it.

PT: You have mentioned some of the major duties of a GM, but what about other duties?

Bill Scott: Certainly everything from player personnel to managing a roster, and we have a lot of input into what type of veteran players we want to bring in. As I said, we have input on what players we believe might be candidates for trade, for recall, and then we have the day-to-day administrative work as well.

Travel – I do all the travel for the team as far as booking hotels, planning meals, buses, flights, you name it, that all falls under our category.  Managing our staff, that’s obviously a big part of it, our coaches, our training staff, strength and conditioning coach, and equipment managers.

Obviously working with our business side as well, we want our guys out in the community as much as we can and Josh [Evans] does a great job lining us up with a lot of activities. Stacie [Rathbun arranged activities] with Barons’ Buddies, Josh did [that with] Habitat for Humanity last year, the list can go on forever for the things we do with our guys. It is important that we have deep roots in the community and that the guys know who we are playing for and the fans know who is playing for them at the same time. That is a big part of it for our team as well.

PT:  Yes, that pubic face aspect is crucial and I think it is beginning to show here in OKC.

Bill Scott: Yes, I think it always takes a bit of time to develop and for people to understand who you are, where you are coming from, and that we are here to help. We want to volunteer and be good citizens in the community because our guys do live here. Our staff for the most part lives here year round. None of our players live here year round but it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t in the future. It is a great place to live and the players really enjoy the fans here. They love the support we’ve gotten and it is important for us to give back in the community.

PT: At the moment about 10 AHL teams have their own General Managers – only one-third of the AHL teams. Why don’t more AHL teams have their own GMs?

Bill Scott: I think it is a philosophy for each individual organization at the NHL level. Certainly budget could play a role in that, there is always a financial side of it. It depends upon how big your front office is at the NHL level already, and it might depend upon how close you are to your affiliate. The Toronto Maple Leafs have the Toronto Marlies right there three blocks away so for them you don’t necessarily need a GM of their minor league team.

For us, we are so far away we don’t ever get near Edmonton in any way, shape or form. We get to Abbotsford, but that is still a flight, so for the organization it makes sense to have someone here full-time. For other teams they have their own reasons. A lot of the time [NHL] teams might have more than one Assistant General Manager and one of the Assistant GMs will take the role of the General Manager for the minor league team. They might not officially be the General Manager but they have that under their portfolio. Other teams might have just a Director of Hockey Operations so they might not have that same title but usually it is set up that there is someone there managing the team and their roles just vary a little bit depending upon each organization.

PT: Are there any major differences between a GM of an NHL team vs. an AHL team, other than the obvious scale of operations?

Bill Scott: There definitely are. Obviously at this level a lot of our players are given to us. They are drafted through the Oilers and so from the prospect side of it we don’t have as much control of our roster as an NHL team would. That is probably one of the biggest things. Obviously the scale that you talked about – you are overseeing a much bigger staff. There is certainly a lot more pressure at that level. But overall the general duties are the same, travel, things like that at the NHL level you are going to have someone doing that for you. There is a lot more media at the NHL level that the GMs have to deal with. You are dealing with salary cap issues. At the American league level we don’t have the salary cap. So there are different duties but ultimately when it is all said and done you are judged on how your team does and performs.

PT: Do you see yourself at the NHL level someday? Perhaps a Mike Gillis or David Poile?

Bill Scott: You know what, that certainly would be the long-term goal, but I’m young and I love what I do right now, and where I am right now. I don’t have any expectations as far as going up there. There are thirty of those jobs in the world and if I am ever lucky enough to get one of them then that would be fantastic, but as long as I stay in the game that’s the main thing for me. It’s a tough business so you can get hired and fired very quickly, so as long as I can stay involved in the game and give back – I think it is the greatest game in the world – then I’ll be satisfied.

PT: How would you describe your style of management? 

Bill Scott: I like to let my people do their jobs, but oversee it and make sure I’m available to them as a resource when they need me, but I think you need to hire people who can do their job and let them do their job. They need to come to you with bigger issues or bigger problems, but they also need to be able to problem solve on their own. So, I’m certainly not hands off, but I like my people to be able to run their own thing, take control and take ownership of their department.

As far as atmosphere among our staff, we like to have a family atmosphere, everyone gets along really well. We want everyone to feel that they can call somebody up and hang out with them, no problem and have that atmosphere around our room. I think it’s important for our staff to get along really well and the players see that and we create that atmosphere in there for the players as well. So for me it’s a little bit more of a laid back style. I want everything to be the best it can be within our resources which are very good here in Oklahoma City. We don’t have many limitations on that. And I want our group to always be a unit and act as one. And if you have to take heat for something, I’ll take heat for them. They are my people and I want them to know that they have my support always.

PT: What prompted you to seek a career in hockey operations and management? Did you play hockey?

Bill Scott:  Yes, I grew up playing since I was three or four years old. I grew up in Toronto and always played, like almost every Canadian kid has, same story there. When I got to high-school I realized I was smart enough I guess to know that I certainly wasn’t going to make it as an NHL player. That dream wasn’t going to happen, but I wanted to stay involved in the game in some way, shape or form. I knew I had more of a business mentality, so when I left high school I went to Michigan State for the purpose of working for the hockey team there. I wanted to stay involved that way, knowing that any sort of experience I could get, could potentially lead to a job down the road. I think I probably had unrealistic expectations going right from college working for an NHL team and found out right away that you don’t get hired out of college for an NHL team which was a good lesson learned.

I was fortunate to get an internship though and that certainly helped in my career. I worked for David Poile [at the Nashville Predators] and Ray Shero was there, a lot of good people. And from there I ended up getting a job at the ECHL which happened to be the lockout year, so that was a bit of a blessing in disguise at the time, that I ended up getting full-time work and just worked my way up from that. For me it was always something that I recognized that I wasn’t going to be able to do it as a player, but I felt that I had enough love and passion and knowledge of the game that I could apply it elsewhere, and the management side has fortunately worked out so far.

PT: While at Michigan State you worked as the Student Manager of the Spartan team. There was an outstanding group playing for the team while you were there – would you name a few we might recognize?

Bill Scott: At the NHL level, John-Michael Liles [of the Toronto Maple Leafs], we were freshmen together; Ryan Miller with the Buffalo Sabres; Adam Hall [Tampa Bay Lightning] was there; Shawn Horcoff, now with the Oilers was there at that time; Jeff Petry [now with the Oilers] was a few years behind me. Corey Potter was there my senior year [during] his freshman year, and [he is] now with the Oilers; Andrew Hutchinson played some time in the NHL and won a Cup with Carolina; Mike Weaver, a defenseman for Vancouver [and now with the Florida Panthers]; and Jim Slater, [who] plays for Winnipeg. We had a lot of good players. We had a really good group of guys.

PT: Yes, and while you were there, the Spartans hosted The Cold War game and they also had a run to the Frozen Four in 2001.

Bill Scott: Yes, exactly, you got it. The first outdoor hockey game there in the football stadium. That was a lot of fun.

PT: To follow-up on your internship with the Nashville Predators hockey operations department. You were there as an intern under Poile – what was the most important aspect, or aspects, of hockey management that you learned while you were there?

Bill Scott: I think it was just kind of day-to-day things – always be prepared to answer questions. If you went to David with an idea, or anything like that, you needed to have your backup. You needed to have a good explanation of why, and I think when you’re young and you’re coming out of college you just think to yourself, oh that’s a good idea! I’m just going to do it. So that was really good. It helped you build a case for what you wanted to do. And it was not only personal experience in seeing that, it was seeing others with the same thing, go through a similar situation.

Just seeing the way an NHL team is run, the way they take care of their players at that level. You did everything from fun things to Joe jobs. I was only there a couple of months before I was hired by the ECHL, which was mostly from draft to training camp time, so it wasn’t the normal day-to-day operations. But just seeing the way they take care of their guys when they came in for training camp and all the events they did. Seeing the way David and their group had that family atmosphere; that was an incredible group of people there at that time and still is today. They were a tight-knit group and you could see that and feel that throughout their office and their locker room. I think that’s really important and you can see the culture that they’ve established there with Barry [Trotz] being there since the team’s inception, along with David and the way they always get guys to come back there and they’ve done it under a tight budget for the most part and it’s been impressive. They’ve obviously shown how important drafting is, and the players they’ve drafted in the high rounds and in the later rounds are very impressive. There are a lot of things I can take away from that experience even though it was a short time.