The Vancouver Canucks made waves in the hockey world in January when they hired Émilie Castonguay, making her just the second woman ever to be hired as an assistant general manager in NHL history and the first in 25 years.
The hiring came just a few days after the Canucks hired Rachel Doerrie in an analytics role. In the space of one week, the Canucks drastically increased the diversity of their hockey operations department — specifically, they went from zero women to two.
Castonguay and Doerrie have more than just gender in common, of course. They also boast extremely impressive resumes.
Castonguay played four years in the NCAA for Niagara University, earned her law degree from the University of Montreal, and became the first woman ever to be an NHLPA-certified player agent, representing first-overall draft pick Alexis Lafrenière, Canadian star Marie-Philip Poulin, and former Canuck Antoine Roussel.
Doerrie has worked for the New Jersey Devils as an analyst, as a video coach for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, as the director of analytics and advanced performance for York University while completing her Master of Science in Sport Science and Analytics, and was a senior analyst for BMO Financial Group.
It’s wrong to say that Castonguay and Doerrie are overqualified. It’s just that they’re actually qualified for the jobs for which they’ve been hired, which stands in stark contrast to some men that get hired by NHL teams. By opening their hiring practices to more than just the usual white men that get front office roles in the NHL, the Canucks are taking advantage of a massive market inefficiency.
The concept is simple: if an NHL team only hires white men, they’re competing with every other NHL team for the best people in that group. By intentionally targeting a different demographic, an NHL team can get the best of the best from that group. That’s definitely Castonguay and Doerrie.
“There are a lot of very good, qualified women around the League, and I talked to a handful. All are very capable of having high positions in the National Hockey League. I was very, very impressed,” said Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford. “[Émilie] has such a good background to take this next step. She has her law degree, she's worked in sports management, she worked as an agent, she's done some entry-level contracts, so we're really excited about having her. We also added Rachel Doerrie to the analytics department. I'm very impressed by her also.”
NHL teams have primarily hired white men for hockey operations jobs — Castonguay is the only female assistant general manager in the NHL and Brett Peterson with the Florida Panthers is the first and only Black assistant general manager in NHL history.
This isn’t necessarily intentional racism or sexism, but racism and sexism don’t have to be intentional to be real. Typically speaking, NHL teams have looked to former players or people who have been around the men’s game for years and have the right connections.
It becomes cyclical. When jobs open up, teams frequently hire those who have done the job before — just look at the Chicago Blackhawks interviewing Peter Chiarelli for their open general manager job, even though Chiarelli did an utterly disastrous job as GM of the Edmonton Oilers. By only looking at a small circle of people for these jobs, so many other qualified and competent people get excluded.
Since the NHL is still predominantly populated by white men, the people it excludes are BIPOC and women. Since it’s so easy to unintentionally exclude, it is essential that inclusion be very intentional.
That’s why it’s so encouraging to see Rutherford intentionally seeking out and interviewing women for front office roles.
“We're doing this for all the right reasons, not just to be trying something new,” said Rutherford. “I’m very proud of the hockey staff we put together. It’s a diverse group, we’re going to have different voices that came up through hockey in different ways. I really like that idea.”