With the Calgary Flames beginning their interview process for their open general manager position, plenty of names have been floated as potential candidates. We’ve taken a look at a few of these names already and continue this week with a name not many would’ve predicted to be a target. Based on what Elliotte Friedman has said, it seems like Mark Hunter is a legitimate candidate for the role.
Hunter is certainly not in line with what President of Hockey Operations Don Maloney has said the franchise is looking for in their new general manager, but could he still be a good option? Let’s take a look.
Who is Mark Hunter?
If we start at the very beginning, we can go all the way back to 1988 when Mark Hunter was acquired by the Flames as a player. He would play a combined three seasons with the team and has his name on the cup from the 1989 Stanley Cup title. After retiring in 1993 Hunter quickly made the switch to coaching as the head coach of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.
Hunter would spend two years in the role, before making the jump to the AHL as the head coach of the St. John’s Maple Leafs for the 1996-97 season. Hunter spent one season with the team before leaving to rejoin the Sarnia Sting as their head coach once again. He would coach the team for three more seasons, losing in the first round of the playoffs each year.
Following the 1999-00 season, Hunter and his brother Dale purchased the London Knights OHL franchise. Hunter would serve as the Knight’s VP. of Hockey Operations and General Manager for 14 seasons until 2014-15. Across that time, the Knights became the class of the OHL, winning three OHL championships and one memorial cup. In particular Hunter also took over the role of head coach in 2011-12 and led the team to an OHL title.
In October of 2014 Hunter left his general manager role with the Knights for his first NHL position as the director of player personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Soon after in April of 2015, Hunter was named co-general manager of the Maple Leafs along with Kyle Dubas. There’s isn’t a ton of information out there on how Hunter and Dubas divided up their roles, however it’s widely agreed that Hunter was mainly in charge of the Maple Leafs drafting between 2015 and 2017. More on that in a bit.
After Kyle Dubas was named the full-time general manager of the Maple Leafs over him in 2018, Hunter mutually agreed to part ways with the team. Following his departure from the Maple Leafs, Hunter returned to his role as the general manager of the London Knights in 2018-19, which is where he has worked since.
Internationally he also served as Canada’s World Junior general manager for the 2020 tournament where Canada claimed the gold medal.
A rough history at the draft
As mentioned above, it’s believed Hunter was mainly in charge of the Maple Leafs drafting for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 drafts. To say those drafts were underwhelming for Toronto would be an understatement. The Leafs drafting in that three year period should be a major red flag for the Flames.
Here’s how it breaks down.
|17||1||Timothy Liljegren||D||Rogle BK Angelholm [SweHL]||141||11||31||42||48|
|59||2||Eemeli Rasanen||D||Kingston Frontenacs [OHL]|
|110||4||Ian Scott||G||Prince Albert Raiders [WHL]|
|124||4||Vladislav Kara||L||Kazan [Russia-Jrs]|
|141||5||Fedor Gordeev||D||Flint Firebirds [OHL]|
|172||6||Ryan McGregor||C||Sarnia Sting [OHL]|
|203||7||Ryan O’Connell||D||St. Andrews [Ont. H.S.]|
|1||1||Auston Matthews||C||Zurich SC [Swiss-A]||481||299||243||542||94|
|31||2||Egor Korshkov||L||Yaroslavl Lokomotiv [KHL]||1||1||0||1||0|
|57||2||Carl Grundstrom||R||MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik [SweHL]||186||32||23||55||72|
|62||3||Joseph Woll||G||U.S. National Development Team [USHL]||11||0||0||0||2|
|72||3||J.D. Greenway||D||U.S. National Development Team [USHL]|
|92||4||Adam Brooks||C||Regina Pats [WHL]||43||6||5||11||2|
|101||4||Keaton Middleton||D||Saginaw Spirit [OHL]||3||0||0||0||4|
|122||5||Vladimir Bobylev||L||Victoria Royals [WHL]|
|152||6||Jack Walker||L||Victoria Royals [WHL]|
|179||6||Nicolas Mattinen||D||London Knights [OHL]|
|182||7||Nikolai Chebykin||L||MVD Jrs (Russia)|
|4||1||Mitch Marner||R||London Knights [OHL]||507||168||386||554||166|
|34||2||Travis Dermott||D||Erie Otters [OHL]||279||14||41||55||102|
|61||2||Jeremy Bracco||R||U.S. National Development Team [USHL]|
|65||3||Andrew Nielsen||D||Lethbridge Hurricanes [WHL]|
|68||3||Martins Dzierkals||R||Riga Jrs. (Russia)|
|95||4||Jesper Lindgren||D||MODO Jrs. (Sweden)|
|125||5||Dmytro Timashov||L||Quebec Remparts [QMJHL]||45||4||5||9||16|
|155||6||Stephen Desrocher||D||Oshawa Generals [OHL]|
|185||7||Nikita Korostelev||R||Sarnia Sting [OHL]|
During the three-year stretch, the Maple Leafs picked a total of 27 times. Of those 27 picks, 10 have played NHL games. That said, only five have played over 50 NHL games, and two of those were top five picks in Matthews and Marner who were both guarantees to reach the 50-game mark in their rookie years.
Outside of the three first-round picks the Leafs made under Hunter, they picked 24 times between rounds two and seven. Only seven of those picks have played NHL games, and only two have played over 50 NHL games. Yes, only two out of 24 players selected.
On top of that both were second-round picks in Travis Dermott and Carl Grundstrom. Not a single player Hunter picked after the second round has played over 50 NHL games six years after his last draft with Toronto.
Drafting in the NHL is incredibly tough, but batting at around 8% after the first round is pretty awful. For context during that same period, Brad Treliving and the Flames picked 17 times between the second and seventh round. Six of those players, or 36% of them, have played at least 50 NHL games. In fact, four of them, or 24%, have played over 250 NHL games.
In particular, Hunter’s work in the 2016 draft was a disaster. With the Leafs in full rebuild mode, the team made a total of 11 draft picks as they looked to stock the cupboards for the future. Outside of the obvious Matthews selection, the Leafs had a disastrous draft that set the franchise back after acquiring so many picks. The only player of note other than Matthews that is still in the organization just seven years later is Joseph Woll who has 15 NHL games under his belt.
In the 2015 draft, the Leafs selected just two players who have played NHL games after the first round. Neither are still in the organization and only Dermott is still in the NHL. In 2017 they didn’t get a single NHL player after the first round.
An old-fashioned approach
As mentioned earlier, Hunter is very much the opposite of what Maloney had said the organization is looking for in its next GM. Yes he’s never held a general manager role, but he’s 62 years old, been around hockey since the 80s and has had experience working in the NHL to limited success. On top of that during his short time in Toronto, his approach to player personnel and drafting was certainly not forward thinking or progressive.
Hunter’s M.O. going into the draft was almost always to add more size to the prospect pool—particularly on the back-end. This is of course an incredibly outdated and old fashioned strategy and rarely leads to success. For example, he went off the board to take defencemen like the 6’5″ Nicolas Mattinen and 6’6″ Keaton Middleton in 2016, and the 6’6″ Fedor Gordeev and 6’5″ Eemeli Rasanen in 2017. None of the four played in the NHL.
Here’s a fun one. Across the three drafts in Toronto Hunter was in charge of, the team selected just three players standing under six feet tall across all 27 of their picks. In fact, they selected more players 6’5″ or taller than players under six feet across those three drafts. In the infamous 2016 draft, they used just one of their 11 picks on a player under six feet. In 2015 they didn’t select a single player under six feet, and in 2017 they selected two.
Puzzling decisions abound
Another weird trend with Hunter’s drafting was his obsession with drafting over-age players, and in particular Russians. In 2017 he took 19-year-old Vladislav Kara in the fourth round, and then in 2016 he took both 19-year-old Egor Korshkov in the second round and 19-year-old Vladimir Bobylev in the fifth round. None of them played in the NHL.
One especially egregious pick was the Korshkov selection in 2016. Going into the draft Korshkov was nearly 20 years old after being passed up in both 2014 and 2015. He was ranked 65th by Bob McKenzie, 102nd by Future Considerations, and 118 by Hockeyprospect.com. For whatever reason, Hunter reportedly pushed for the Leafs to take Korshkov over Alex DeBrincat with the first pick of the second round at 31st overall, a full round before he was expected to be taken. Korshkov played one NHL game and is currently in the KHL.
Hunter’s obsession with size over skill in the draft really hurt the Leafs and set them back years. It wasn’t until Dubas took over in 2018 that the team started to really rebuild their prospect pool. Taking bigger or over-age players can certainly pay off at times, but it’s not a strategy that should be the main focus of a teams draft approach in this day and age.
Keep your options open
Make no mistake, Hunter has experienced tremendous success at the junior level with the London Knights. That said, managing an NHL roster is an entire different world. Hunter’s short work in the NHL was less than convincing and certainly not the type of work you’d like to see the Flames be interested in.
In stepping away from Darryl Sutter and his focus on size and experience over speed and skill, the Flames looked to take a step into the present when it came to roster construction. By bringing in Hunter to lead the franchise, they may just be taking another big step back into the past. If I were the Flames, I’d steer clear. In their hunt for a new GM, he would miss the mark.
Calgary Flames GM Candidate Profiles
Check out more of our general manager candidate profiles here to get the full run-down on who Calgary’s looking at and why they are good or bad fits with the team:
Craig Conroy | Eric Tulsky | Kyle Dubas | Brad Pascall | Mike Futa | Brandon Pridham | Sean Burke | Marc Bergevin | Mark Hunter