Sharks hire Mike Grier as NHL’s first black general manager

Mike Grier, who spent 14 seasons as a right winger in the NHL, was named general manager of the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, becoming the first black general manager in the history of a league that just ended its 105th season.

Grier, 47, who retired in 2011, joins the team after working as a scout for Chicago and two years as an assistant coach with the Devils. Last season, he served as the Rangers’ hockey operations advisor, reporting to the team’s president and general manager, Chris Drury, who played with Grier at Boston University and the Buffalo Sabers.

Grier comes from an accomplished family of athletes. His older brother Chris has been general manager of the Miami Dolphins since 2016, and his father Bobby was a college running back and coach with the New England Patriots before taking on front-office jobs with the Patriots, the Houston Texans and the Dolphins.

“The most important thing my dad taught us is a work ethic,” Mike Grier said at a news conference in San Jose, California, as we were getting ready for bed. He stayed up late figuring out what to do.”

The hiring is a significant milestone for the NHL, where black players make up a small minority of the league’s rosters and fill few front-office positions.

Grier said he hoped his appointment would create opportunities for others.

“The league itself has become more diverse since I’ve been active and I’m really pleased about that,” he said. “My job is to do my best for the San Jose organization, and if I do that, hopefully it will open the door for other minorities to get into front-office positions.”

Coming into the league with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1996-97 season, Grier was reportedly the first African-American player born and raised in the United States to play in the NHL. Florida-born Val James joined the league in 1981 and Donald Brashear, who was born in Indiana and made his NHL debut in 1993, both played junior hockey in Canada.

Grier, who played 6ft 1 and weighed 225 pounds, played prep school hockey at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, Mass., and was picked 219th overall by the St Louis blues. That fall, just as Brashear was playing his first games for the Montreal Canadiens, Grier came to Boston University as a walk-on.

In his sophomore year, Grier was a top scorer on BU’s national championship team and played on the front row, while Drury was a freshman on the fourth row. Grier began his pro career at 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 that feedback from Drury played a significant role in the team’s selection, as did this year’s setback for the Rangers, who reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

“Chris has known Mike for a long time and has been a strong supporter of Mike as general manager,” said Becher. “Mike has that strength of character. Mike is a leader.”

“I’ve been privileged to know Mike for three decades and have the utmost respect for him as a person, player and leader,” 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 has since missed the playoffs three straight years, 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 interim general manager following Doug Wilson’s retirement in April.

Grier said he has no schedule for naming a coach and is immediately focused on the NHL draft, which begins Thursday in Montreal. San Jose is ranked 11th overall. The Sharks have a roster full of 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 two top scorers last season were Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl with 35 and 30 goals respectively. Meier is 25 and Hertl 27.

Grier said he’s not looking for a complete overhaul of the team.

“I’m not going to tear down the list,” he said. “For us there may be a few bumps along the way but we will try to get better and make the squad better every day.”