Mike Grier, who spent 14 seasons in the NHL as a gritty right wing, on Tuesday was named general manager of the San Jose Sharks, becoming the first black general manager in the history of a league that just completed its 105th season.
Grier, 47, who retired as a player in 2011, comes to the team after working as a scout for Chicago and spending two years as an assistant coach with the Devils. Last season, he worked as a hockey operations adviser to the Rangers, reporting to the team’s president and general manager, Chris Drury, who played with Grier at Boston University and with the Buffalo Sabres.
Grier comes from an accomplished sporting family. His older brother, Chris, has been the general manager of the Miami Dolphins since 2016, and his father, Bobby, was an NFL running back and a coach with the New England Patriots before taking front-office jobs with the Patriots, the Houston Texans. and the Dolphins.
“The main thing my father instilled in us is work ethic,” Mike Grier said in a news conference in San Jose, Calif. “He left for work before we got up for school and sometimes he wouldn’t get home until after dinner or when we were ready to go to bed. He’d stay up till all hours to scout, whatever needed to be done.”
The hiring is a significant milestone for the NHL, where black players make up a small minority of the league’s rosters and occupy few front-office posts.
Grier said he hoped his appointment would create opportunities for others.
“Since my playing days, the league itself has gotten more and more diverse, and that’s something I’m happy to see,” he said. “My job is to do the best I can for the San Jose organization, and if I do that, hopefully it opens the door for other minorities to get in front-office positions.”
When Grier entered the league with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1996-97 season, he was reported to be the first African American player born and developed in the United States to play in the NHL. The Florida-born Val James, who entered the league in 1981, and Donald Brashear, who was born in Indiana and debuted in the NHL in 1993, both played junior hockey in Canada.
Grier, who was 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds in his playing days, played prep school hockey at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, Mass., and was selected in the ninth round of the 1993 draft, 219th overall, by the St. Louis Blues. That fall, just as Brashear was playing his first games for the Montreal Canadiens, Grier arrived at Boston University as a walk-on.
In his sophomore year, Grier was a top scorer on BU’s national championship team playing on the first line, while Drury was a freshman on the fourth line. Grier started his pro career with Edmonton and had stints with the Washington Capitals, Sabers and Sharks.
Jonathan Becher, president of Sharks Sports and Entertainment, the franchise’s parent company, said feedback from Drury played a significant role in the team’s selection, as did the rebound this year by the Rangers, who reached the Eastern Conference finals.
“Chris has known Mike for a long time and gave Mike a strong endorsement as general manager,” Becher said. “Mike has that strength of character. Mike is a leader.”
“I have had the privilege of knowing Mike for three decades and have the utmost respect for him as a person, player and executive,” Drury said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing what he will do with the Sharks.”
Grier joins a franchise in transition: San Jose reached the Western Conference finals in 2019 but since then has missed the playoffs three years in a row, the longest playoff drought in the franchise’s 30-year history.
The Sharks fired Coach Bob Boughner last week. Grier replaces Joe Will, who served as the interim general manager after Doug Wilson stepped down in April.
Grier said he did not have a timetable for naming a coach, and was putting his immediate focus on the NHL draft, which begins Thursday in Montreal. San Jose has the No. 11 overall pick. The Sharks have a roster heavy on aging stars — including defensemen Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic — who have big contracts that could limit San Jose’s ability to sign free agents.
The team’s two top scorers last season were Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl, who had 35 and 30 goals. Meier is 25 and Hertl is 27.
Grier said he was not looking for a complete overhaul of the team.
“I’m not going to tear down the roster,” he said. “For us, there might be a few bumps in the road ahead, but we’re going to try to get better and make the roster better every day.”