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It Is Only Business

The old is being phased out for the new, and even Anaheim GM Michael Stafford is not immune to the changing tides in the game of hockey.

Today I fell like I’m playing the role of Tesio in the mob movie The Godfather.

As many of you know, I was a huge baseball fan growing up and Mickey Mantle was my favorite player. Fifty-three years ago, a 36-year-old Mickey Mantle came to Yankee spring training to prepare for what turned out to be his last season as a player.

All Yankee fans who know their team’s history are familiar with the story - injuries and hard living had sapped the great Yankee slugger’s ability leaving him essentially a shell of the player he once was. Subsequently, the front office basically forced him to retire after the 1968 season.

As a fan, it hurt me seeing Mantle limp around the bases and miss pitches with mighty swings of the bat that would once land the baseball in the seats for a home run. Every sports fan goes through this.

The accelerating aging process of sports, watching our own cycle of birth, life, and death play out with our favorite players right in front of us. Athletes essentially age like dogs: take how many years they’ve been playing, multiply it by seven, and that’s how old their career is in normal human time, before retirement.

A player’s career is nearly over by the time many of us are still figuring out what the hell we’re doing in our lives.

That sports are getting dramatically, exponentially younger is not an academic concern, or one whose only effects are on the egos of the middle-aged. As sports have become more analytical and more reliant on enhanced biometric evaluation tools, they’ve become more focused on pure athletic skill — power, speed, strength — and less on guile, strategy, and know, those things that have been the backbone of every sports narrative forever.

Teams and players, in all sports, have become more efficient and specialized; the management of a team is not particularly different from the management of a hedge fund at this point. But fans watch sports to be inspired, not to watch a hedge fund be efficiently managed.

The popular imagination has always defied the grizzled veteran or the wizened grump with decades of experience and a few tricks up his sleeve. But those sorts of guys are being phased out of sports today.

I bring all this up because hockey, more than at any other time I can remember, has become deeply, almost obsessively preoccupied with youth.

As the General Manager of the Anaheim Ducks, I came to the reality that hockey players as they get older and their skills diminishes, it is time for them to move on and substitute their roster spots with younger talent. It was time to be a GM and not a fan of players that I have watched over the years.

It was hard calling Joe Pavelski and Zdeno Chara into my office to tell them that they were traded for younger up and coming players. But business is business, and they understood.

For today at least, it is only business.

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