The NWHL and the Connecticut Whale announced today that assistant coach Lisa Giovanelli Zuba will assume the role of GM in addition to her assistant coaching duties. Off the ice, Gionvanelli is an accountant at Yale University's School of Medicine. Her credentials in managing contracts and a hockey team are... unblemished?
There's no doubt that the Whale fell short of expectations this season after leading the league in points for the majority of the season. The instability in the front office and in the head coaching ranks may have contributed to the early exit from the NWHL Playoffs, but Giovanelli has been the constant on the Whale bench, even serving as the interim head coach after Jake Mastel resigned from the position. She has intimate knowledge of who showed up to play every night and who may have been falling short of expectations, and that will be good for her first go-around as a general manager.
Where things might get a little dicey is behind the bench. Heather Linstad, head coach of the Whale, now has to answer to her assistant coach when it comes to matters surrounding the team. Gionvanelli still has to go along with Linstad's systems and plans, but she can technically overrule Linstad if and when she likes because she's now Linstad's boss.
Oh what a tangled web we weave.
Let's pump the brakes a little here, though. I can see Linstad and Giovanelli working seamlessly together as they become a unified front for the Whale's front office. Linstad will want certain players to be signed to her team, and Giovanelli can go out and make offers to those players. Giovanelli, having worked with the team and in the league through the entire season, can provide counsel to Linstad regarding the performances of players she saw all year to help the coach form the team that will bring the Whale an Isobel Cup celebration. There is also the fact that Giovanelli played under Linstad at Northeastern and had a hand in bringing her in to coach the Whale when the vacancy opened up, so these two have a long-standing relationship with one another.
Of course, we've seen coaches and GMs disagree before, and there could potentially be a power struggle behind the bench if Linstd wants something specific to be implemented. Who does Linstad answer to in the power structure? The general manager who is also her assistant coach. The question that will always exist after this appointment, unfortunately, is one of who is actually running the team - the head coach or the assistant coach/GM?
Secondly, if a player has an issue with anything happening with the team, who does she go to now? In this hypothetical, say that she is unhappy with playing time. If she approaches Giovanelli about her time on the ice, does Giovanelli speak to Linstad as an assistant coach where she will have to deliver the coach's message to the player or does she speak to Linstad as the general manager and expect Linstad to follow her instructions? How does Linstad differentiate between the two roles that Giovanelli has? How do the players differentiate? Everything said or done in the dressing room now becomes fodder in the general manager's office as well.
Of course, all of this could be for naught. Linstad was asked in March about her desire for the GM role, and she replied, "You know Lisa calls the shots around here, right?" If that statement is true, why is Linstad there? And will she be there for long if Lisa is indeed calling the shots?
To judge Giovanelli this early after being named the GM just an hour ago is unfair, so I'm willing to give her reign as the top mind in the Whale camp some time before any judgment can truly be passed. While a power struggle may linger in the background, it sounds as though Giovanelli being the constant was why the Whale didn't entirely collapse at some point last season prior to the playoffs.
It seems like Giovanelli might be the right person for the job in this case. Time will, of course, tell us whether it works or not, but there is hope that Giovanelli will last longer than her previous three predecessors did. It's a whale of a job running the Whale as we've seen, but as the team goes into its second season it seems to have found a woman who is passionate enough to take the Whale to new heights.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!