ANAHEIM — Tony Tavares stood in the midst of bursting balloons and dancing Disney characters in the unfinished Anaheim arena Monday looking mildly uncomfortable, his pleasant expression betrayed by a slight stiffness.
Tavares, a specialist in arena management who was introduced as president of Anaheim's NHL expansion team Monday, admits he was once "adamantly opposed" to the Mighty Ducks nickname, though he says he has since warmed to it. His mission now is to hire the people who will try to prevent the Ducks from being a cartoon of a hockey team when they begin play in October.
"Don't make an automatic association between goofiness and goofy hockey," said Tavares, whose title is president of Disney Sports Enterprises.
With the first game little more than seven months away, Tavares must act quickly. His first move will be to name a general manager, perhaps within two weeks.
"I'm not making any promises, but that's what I hope to do, yes," said Tavares, adding that protracted negotiations on the arena lease have put him a month behind his own timetable. Once the general manager is in place, that person will move quickly to choose a player personnel director and put together a scouting staff to prepare for the most critical events of the team's first year--the June expansion and entry drafts. At this point, Tavares said, there has been no scouting conducted for the Anaheim franchise.
"We've got to move at a pretty rapid pace to get someone on board and get moving and start evaluating talent both at the NHL level and in the amateur draft," Tavares said.
Among the candidates for general manager:
--Bob McCammon, former Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks coach and current president, general manager and coach of the Western Hockey League's Tri-City (Wash.) Americans.
--Mike Keenan, former Chicago Blackhawk general manager and coach.
--Jack Ferreira, a Montreal Canadien scout.
--Sherry Bassin, part-owner of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
"If you hire the right guy, these guys have been in and around the league for a long time and they know people and you should be able to get (the scouting staff in place)," Tavares said. "The key decision is who your GM is and everything flows from there."
Tavares said the press of time leaves him challenged, but undaunted.
"I always operate better under pressure and I like people that function in the same fashion. Anticipate our GM will be a guy that works well under pressure."
A decision on who will guide the Ducks on the ice in their first season could be considerably further away, because many coaching candidates are currently under contract to other teams.
"It's possible we may go into the draft without a coach," Tavares said. "I'm less concerned about that, frankly, than having our GM and our player personnel people and our scouts in place. As long as you bring your coach on by July 1, I think we'll be OK."
Tavares said it is unlikely, though still possible, that one person will be general manager and coach, as is the case with the Detroit Red Wings, the Minnesota North Stars, the Quebec Nordiques and the Vancouver Canucks.
"I tend to think at this point it will be separate positions because there's so much to do in a start-up year," Tavares said. "I don't want to burden a GM with having coaching responsibilities as well."
Tavares is promising an organization that will largely forgo aging veterans in favor of young talent. The goal is to build slowly, taking advantage of a favorable expansion-draft format that will ensure the team acquires a quality goaltender, as well as one of the top five picks in an entry draft that is considered unusually deep.
"We will be a youth-oriented team, a team that is going to be building for its future," he said. "Don't expect to see a lot of 35-year-old-plus guys on this team or 32-year-old-plus guys. There'll be smatterings of every kind of player, but we're going to build, and we're going to build by building a good minor league system.
"I think, realistically, what we ought to be looking at is a five-year plan, and when I say that, that doesn't mean it's going to take us five years to get good. What that means is that wherever we come out of the blocks, however good we are in the first year, then each and every year we get better. I don't want to get into a situation where we come out of the blocks real strong (because) we go out after a bunch of veteran players. Then we play well for a season or two and then drop back down and go for a lag."
Along with Miami, its expansion companion in 1993, Anaheim will benefit from a larger pool of players in the next expansion draft than previous new teams have.
In the draft, each of the 24 existing clubs will be allowed to protect one goaltender, five defensemen and nine forwards. The most recent expansion drafts allowed teams to protect two goalies and did not make a distinction between forwards and defensemen.