Craig Bonner: “There are days as a GM, even when things are going good, there’s always issues — school issues or billet issues or an agent issue. It’s kind of never-ending. It’s tough sometimes to enjoy the good times because there’s always something going on, but that’s part of the territory and part of the job. I knew that coming in. It just takes its toll.”
by Marty Hastings courtesy Kamloops This Week
The Craig Bonner Era is over.
Seven years on the job had taken their toll on Bonner, who resigned on Tuesday as Kamloops Blazers’ general manager and vice-president to take a job with the Dallas Stars as a professional scout.
Stu MacGregor took over immediately, marking the beginning of his second tenure as the Blazers’ GM.
“This has been on my mind for quite a while now,” Bonner said. “I’ve been in this league a long time and sometimes it can wear you out a little bit.
“This has been in the works, basically, since the beginning of the season. It was more a case of I suggested to Tom [Blazers’ majority owner and Stars owner Tom Gaglardi] you have a guy here, Stu MacGregor, who I think would be tremendous, who lives in Kamloops.
“Whether we were or 0-6 or 6-0, it would have been the same decision.”
Kamloops has missed the playoffs in two consecutive seasons and is 0-6 to start the 2015-2016 WHL campaign.
MacGregor, a Kamloops resident, was with the Blazers for six WHL championships and three Memorial Cups between 1984 and 1995, as a scout, an assistant GM, director of player personnel and GM.
“Our team is in a rebuilding and remodelling stage,” said MacGregor, who has a long history and strong relationship with Kamloops head coach Don Hay.
“We’ve got a young group with potential and we’re excited to work with them and to continue to add prospects to what we have.”
MacGregor did not offer a concrete answer when asked how long it will take for the Blazers to become a winning team, but said the goal this season is to make the playoffs.
“It’ll be as fast as we can coach them up and add additional players and prospects that can make us better,” said MacGregor, the GM in Kamloops from 1995 to 1998. “We’re not going to give away the future, but we’re going to battle to be in the playoffs.”
MacGregor was most recently employed by the Edmonton Oilers, with whom he was director of amateur scouting from 2007 to 2015.
He was fired by the Oilers in June.
There are no plans in place to make changes to the Blazers’ scouting staff, which is led by director of player personnel Matt Recchi.
“We’re status quo,” MacGregor said. “Matt and I have known each other a long time. I have great respect for him as a hockey guy.
“We’ll continue to work together and he’ll help make me better and, hopefully, I’ll be able to make him better. That’s the goal we’re working toward.”
Bonner spoke in the summer to Stars’ GM Jim Nill and assistant GM Les Jackson about the possibility of joining the NHL club.
The scouting position will offer Bonner respite from the spotlight and a new hockey challenge.
“There are days as a GM, even when things are going good, there’s always issues — school issues or billet issues or an agent issue,” Bonner said, reflecting on his time with the Blazers.
“It’s kind of never-ending. It’s tough sometimes to enjoy the good times because there’s always something going on, but that’s part of the territory and part of the job. I knew that coming in. It just takes its toll.”
The best times for Bonner in Kamloops came in back-to-back seasons, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, when the Blazers reached the Western Conference semifinals and Western Conference final, respectively.
Since then, Kamloops has only 42 wins in 150 games, posting a franchise-worst mark of 14-53-2-3 in 2013-2014 and improving to 28-37-4-3 last season.
“Last year, looking at our depth chart, that’s when I was expecting the rebuild,” Bonner said. “The year before was a surprise, losing [Colin] Smith and [JC] Lipon and, all of a sudden, losing [Tyler] Hansen to a mission [with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints].
“If you have those guys, you don’t trade [Tim] Bozon and make those moves and you’re a pretty good team again. But, that happened, and the unfortunate incident with the head coach [Dave Hunchak].
“Everything went wrong. Last year was a huge improvement and it was a big score getting Hayzer in here as our coach.”
The former Blazers’ defenceman is more interested in looking ahead than picking apart his tenure as GM.
“You always have regrets, some of the decisions you make and some of the trades you make,” Bonner said. “Sure, there are regrets along the way, but I can go to sleep at night and know we worked as hard as we could.”
The Blazers’ record under Bonner, who will continue to live in the Tournament Capital and work for the Stars, was 257-274-19-26.
“The group here and the staff worked hard and got along,” Bonner said.
“Unfortunately, we never won the championship we hoped for. Hopefully, they do in the future.”