Often, I believe sports fans are too critical on their respective teams without truly understanding the logistics behind managing them. Which is why it was awesome to gain insight towards the challenges, struggles, and excitement of being part of managing such a major league sports team from Assistant General Manager (GM) Don Fishman of the Washington Capitals.
Coming off a stellar regular season (41-20-8) pre-COVID, a series of unfortunate injuries and simple lack of offensive production in the playoffs led to the Capitals season being cut short, with an upsetting 4-0 loss to the opposing 7th seed New York Islanders. Despite the heartbreaking loss, Fishman came the following morning to deliver an amazing discussion to our class on his experience and background as assistant GM, alongside the effects of COVID-19 on the Washington Capitals and the National Hockey League (NHL).
Fishman tells us he was able to marry his passion for hockey to a career with hard work and just a little bit of luck. After graduating with an economics degree from Harvard and a law degree from UCLA’s School of Law, Fishman worked as a corporate lawyer and for the local government in Washington. It wasn’t until 2004 that he was able to break into the sports world using his already acquired expertise, after meeting and working with George McPhee - former general manager of the Washington Capitals - and was offered a job. Fishman spent two seasons as director of legal affairs and hockey administration before his appointment to assistant GM, which he has now been doing for 11 seasons.
As discussion continues, it was interesting to hear from him that valuing contracts have almost become a science that management has mastered. Fishman - who handles player contract negotiations and most salary expectations - even admitted that dealing with contracts in the current salary cap era has become more difficult to find a number that satisfies both parties – to put it simply, players always find they are undervalued and management believe they are overvalued. Fishman also mentions that although the NHL has done a terrific job putting together a fair playoff and drafting system that takes into account the effects of a shortened season; no teams will be generating ticket revenue, so paying and managing expenses - especially for smaller teams like Florida and Arizona - are going to be increasingly difficult.
Beyond all the sports knowledge and insight that Fishman provided I think one of the main things I will take away from the meeting is a point that Fishman mentioned about mentors. He mentioned to really learn and digest leadership styles that you like and to not rush in making decisions. I think this was most applicable to my last co-op work term with EY, where I befriended two memorable mentors who taught me more about my career and myself than any position that I have had in the past. I recognize that to get to where I want to succeed, building key quality relationships with those around me triumphs having a large volume of connections.