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Two NHL Teams Look to Line Change for Workplace Culture

When it comes to losing-seasons, players and coaches may not be the only problem. A poor workplace culture may deserve equal credit.

August 15, 2013
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KEYWORDS change / culture

Max Mihelich is guest-posting for Ed Frauenheim today.

Let’s talk hockey.

The Phoenix Coyotes are staying in Arizona. New owner Anthony LeBlanc spent the last four years assembling investors to purchase the Coyotes from the National Hockey League to make sure the hockey team continues to play in the Sonoran Desert. Now LeBlanc hopes to win back (err, maybe just win) a fan base that hasn’t exactly been loyal over the years. After next season, the team will be called the Arizona Coyotes as part of a rebranding effort. LeBlanc says the Coyotes’ rebranding effort won’t include new uniforms or anything like that. The most important part of the process is changing the culture of the organization, he said. quoted LeBlanc as saying: “It's no disrespect, but the franchise was owned by the NHL for the past four years so it's not like they were putting the focus on how do we increase the points of presence on food and beverage and retail, how do we make the in-game entertainment more entertaining. We want to make it so when people show up for opening night on Oct. 3 they immediately walk in and say, ‘Wow, we see a difference.’ ”

LeBlanc’s approach to changing the Coyote’s culture sounds similar to what the Chicago Blackhawks did in the mid-2000s. Within a few years, Blackhawks President Rocky Wirtz changed the Hawks from a completely irrelevant team to a two-time Stanley Cup champion that Chicagoans are going wild for again. Wirtz built a team around young, budding superstars, focused on improving the fan experience at games and injected the team back into Chicago’s sports culture through constant and continuing marketing campaigns and by returning all home games to local broadcasts. 

The Winnipeg Jets, an organization that was relocated to Winnipeg from Atlanta two years ago and has been accustomed to mostly lackluster seasons in both locations, are planning a culture change as well, but in a slightly different way.

Winnipeg General Manager Craig MacTavish said he’s looking for his team’s leaders to create a culture centered on hard work and free of “complainers.”

According to, MacTavish said, “It's really up to leadership to provide that framework on what the expectation is for our hockey team. I know as a player that's the environment I liked to work under. I wanted like-minded guys who went to work every day. There's going to be shortcomings in your game, but there can't be shortcomings in your attitude or work ethic. I think that's the part that we really want to focus on.”

I like MacTavish’s approach to culture change. I think it’s great how he’s determined what he thinks needs to happen for his team to be successful and he’s looking to his top performers to help carry out his goal. It’s intended to be a team effort, if you will.

What’s most interesting about this whole topic is that it reminds me sports teams are just like any other kind of business, which is something that we seem to forget because we typically view them as a product to be consumed. But each organization has its top performers and hopes to retain them. Sometimes players have disagreements with their bosses and things don’t run the way they should. Other times workplace culture is great and the operation runs like clockwork. And when that happens, everybody’s happy — from the organization to the clients.

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.

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