Les is More
Tuesday, 02.12.2008 / 7:35 PM / Feature
By Dallas Stars Staff
Most anyone who has ever followed hockey could tell you all about the illustrious playing career of Brett Hull, who is now one of the Dallas Stars’ co-general managers. However, the average Stars fan probably doesn’t know quite as much about Hull’s G.M. partner, Les Jackson, a man whose fingerprints are all over the foundation of this franchise.
A hockey lifer, Jackson has worked in the Stars organization for 20 years, both in Dallas and previously in Minnesota. Prior to being promoted, with Hull, to co-general manager on November 13, Jackson was in his second stint as an assistant general manager with the club. He oversaw the Stars’ scouting program – monitoring the development of all the club’s prospects – and played a key role in all player movement decisions, including the entry draft, trades and free agency.
Jackson has been extremely influential in the selection and development of virtually all of Dallas’ biggest Stars, from yesterday and today, and his sights are always set on the hopefully bright future for the club.
DallasStars.com recently had an opportunity to visit with Jackson to discuss his first few months as co-general manager and to get a glimpse into his plans of returning the club to the top.
|Director of Amatuer Scouting Tim Bernhardt, Mark Fistric, Les Jackson and Doug Armstrong at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft|
Jackson: Over the 20 years I’ve worked in the NHL, I’ve done a lot to prepare for this job. Not so much in trying to get it, but in helping the organization and giving us an edge in whatever way I could. When Mr. Hicks told me of his decision, I couldn’t thank him enough for identifying me as the guy who can be the driving force in making this team succeed. Of course, I had my reservations at first, but I had no doubts I could do the job. I’ve always prided myself on doing what’s right for the Dallas Stars, not what’s right for Les Jackson. This is a great opportunity and I’m striving to be the best general manager I possibly can.
DallasStars.com: What has been the biggest eye-opener for you, as you’ve become more and more acclimated to your new role?
Jackson: I think Doug (Armstrong) was the sixth general manager I had worked for, and when you’re not in those shoes, you always have views and opinions of what he should do. But at the end of the day, you walk away and you don’t have to act on it. You don’t realize the pressures the general manager deals with and you don’t have a total appreciation for the tough days and nights he has. Ultimately, at the end of the day, you have to live with those choices and that’s something Brett and I are learning everyday. At the end of the day, it’s you making the final call, which is not always easy. There are so many factors at stake in all the decisions you make, so there is a lot more pressure, but I like to think I thrive on pressure.
DallasStars.com: How has your relationship with Dave Tippett and the coaching staff developed since taking over the general manager’s role?
Jackson: The first thing we did was meet with the coaches, and set out a course of action that all our game situation and player personnel decisions will go through Dave (Tippett). ‘Tip’ is a great guy to work with, certainly one of the top coaches in the NHL, and he is incredible as a bench coach. He knows how to manage players and game situations, and I have a lot of respect for what he’s done, because I’ve been there. I’ve been behind a bench and I know the challenges he deals with, winning or losing. You walk into the coaches’ room and sometimes, the things you say and do after a game can make a difference. That’s something I’ve learned watching GMs over the years. The guys who came down and said the wrong things, that comes back to bite you. For us, we close the books on a game that night, discuss the next game and how we can get ready for that one.
|Les Jackson, Brenden Morrow and former Director of Scouting Craig Button at the 1997 NHL Entry Draft|
Jackson: I think creating an environment where people want to come work hard and succeed is the most important thing a manager can do. All the other teams are good and have solid players, but you have to create an environment where you treat people right. Mr. Hicks has given us a great opportunity to do everything first-class, when it comes to travel, flights, hotels, etc. We treat our players well and we have people on our staff that bend over backwards to help the players and make their lives easier, so they can focus on their play. It’s about treating people right and you get results. You need a positive attitude. You’re going to have bad days and you’re going to run into tough times, but we have to help each other through them. Overall, you need a good work environment where guys aren’t afraid to express their thoughts. Guys are in different places in their career – veterans who are closer to the end than the beginning, young guys who want to grow and learn – and you need to blend those all together. If you keep things fair and fun, and allow the players to work hard and be honest about what they’re doing, you’re going to succeed.
DallasStars.com: How did all those nights you spent scouting in Minsk, Moscow and Medicine Hat prepare you to be an NHL general manager?
Jackson: All those nights in the field come into play, evaluating players, their character and their ability to help the Dallas Stars win. When you’re in the field, you have to evaluate players who care about their teammates and their team. If you don’t have a group that can play and function together, chances are you aren’t going to win. You don’t always have the luxury of the most talent, or of a totally healthy team, but the key is finding a way to overcome adversity. All those nights in cold, small little towns, you are looking for some player who has something – character, work ethic – that could come into play and make a difference down the road. If you’re watching some 17-year-old kid in Moose Jaw when it’s cold and miserable outside, that could be a key night for the Dallas Stars, because that kid might make a difference in the future for your team. There are lots of good experiences and good lessons from the road that will benefit me in a big way going forward.
DallasStars.com: How gratifying was it for you to see a team that played a major role in building win the Stanley Cup in 1999?
Jackson: I knew how much I had done to put that team together, even though I was working with the Atlanta Thrashers at the time. I was just one piece of the huge puzzle, and it took a lot of good people to achieve something special like that. Going back to 1984, when the team was in Minnesota, we turned the whole philosophy of the franchise around and we started bringing in players who wanted to accomplish special things. In 1999 and 2000, this team did a lot of great things. 1999 was a result of good players working hard, coaches doing a great job guiding and molding the team, and every single person working together toward a common goal. To do what that team did, you have to make the little things go your way, get key saves, have a player make a critical play to kill a penalty... 1999 was a long time ago and it would be nice to get back to that again. It was great to see those guys skate that Cup around and that’s what we’re striving for now.
|Craig Button, Jarome Iginla and Les Jackson at the 1995 NHL Entry Draft
Jackson: Every young kid has dreams of playing in the NHL, and my kids have been in a unique situation over the years. They’ve gotten to know a lot of these players… Matt Niskanen, for example, they’ve seen him drafted, they’ve seen him develop in college and in Iowa, and now to see him in the NHL, it’s a neat thing for them. My boys enjoy the game, they love the Dallas Stars and now that I’m in my new position, they actually might be more critical of who we draft, trade, etc. They have a deep history with this team, they’ve followed us for a long time and it’s a special experience to get to share this with them. They have a real bond with a lot of these guys and it shows them that anyone can achieve their dreams. Our players’ dreams started in the same place my boys’ dreams did, so that’s great for them to see up close.
DallasStars.com: What does the Dallas Stars organization mean to you?
Jackson: I love the Dallas Stars and this organization has been a big part of my life. When people say bad things about the Dallas Stars, or when an employee or player doesn’t feel like he’s being treated right, I take that personally because this organization has done so much for me over the years. My kids, all they’ve ever known is the Dallas Stars, so this is honestly part of my family. If I can spend another 10 years with this organization and walk away with 30 years with one team under my belt, that’s something special. That would mean more than any Hall of Fame honor or any notoriety, because I would know I made an impact. This is my extended family and I care about everyone within our group. I take a lot of personal pride in this team and the way we do things. I want to make sure our fans see us as striving to be the best team in the NHL. From scouts to coaches to marketers, we’re trying to get everyone on the same page, striving toward the same goal.