After enduring the worst season in franchise history, Portland Pirates Coach Ray Edwards received a promotion.
Edwards will be the general manager as well as head coach of the American Hockey League team, which will return to the Cumberland County Civic Center after spending a season in Lewiston that resulted in league lows for both performance and attendance.
“Last year was an enigma,” Edwards said Wednesday afternoon at a Pirates press conference inside the refurbished Civic Center. “If you look at my history in coaching, I’ve never had a year like that before. I don’t want to ever have a year like that. It was a tough year all around.”
Brad Treliving, formerly assistant general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes, had held the Portland general manager position until being hired last month as GM of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
After internal discussions among the Phoenix front office, Coyotes GM Don Maloney decided to give Edwards — who has coached the Pirates the past three seasons with a record of 101-100-10-17 — additional duties in personnel along with his role as head coach.
“Ray is well qualified,” Maloney said by phone from Arizona. “He’s been in the American Hockey League for seven years. He knows the league. He’s got a very good feel not only for the players in the AHL but what it takes to win in the AHL. He will be actively involved in adding pieces to Portland’s roster next year.”
Maloney said Edwards will be involved in free agency signings that begin July 1 and that most of his GM duties will be in the offseason.
“The other part of the job, the development aspect,” Edwards said, “that doesn’t change.”
Assistant coach John Slaney, equipment manager John Krouse and head trainer Mike Booi will also return to Portland, which officially announced a one-year extension of their affiliation agreement with Phoenix along with a variety of ticket packages that will go on sale Thursday.
Ron Cain, majority owner of the Pirates, called the dual role of coach and GM a “significant philosophical change” that should help the Pirates become more competitive. In three years as the top minor-league affiliate of Phoenix, the Pirates have sent more than two dozen players on to the NHL but qualified for the AHL playoffs only once. They lost in the first round in 2013.
“We need to be able to put a product on the ice that’s going to be competitive,” Cain said. “I want a Calder Cup back here. That’s what we aspire to every year.”
The Pirates won their only Calder Cup in 1994 in their first season in Portland, as an affiliate of the Washington Capitals. Anaheim and Buffalo succeeded Washington for three years each before the partnership with Phoenix began in 2011.
At lower levels of minor-league hockey, in the East Coast and Central Hockey Leagues, Edwards said coaching was only part of his duties. Assembling a roster through recruitment and signing of players filled many of his summer days.
“You also do immigration, you do housing, you do everything,” he said. “In the Central Hockey League, I hired sales staff and I trained salespeople and I sold and I marketed. All that training prepares you for these types of roles.”
Edwards said everyone on the Pirates’ roster will be recruited and signed by the Coyotes, but that a handful of players are likely to be signed to AHL contracts and not placed on the Phoenix 50-man roster. Last season, for example, defenseman Randy Jones and forward Kyle Hagel fit that designation.
“We may allocate some funds in order to do a few players,” Cain said, “but we haven’t determined how much of those funds we will provide.”
Edwards anticipates 15 to 16 players currently under contract to Phoenix winding up in Portland next season and another 7 to 10 arriving via free agency. Whether players relate to Edwards differently knowing he has more control over whether they play or are sent down to an East Coast affiliate remains to be seen.
“At the end of the day, we have to be better,” Edwards said.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: GlennJordanPPH