As per TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the Leafs are hiring Florida Panthers assistant GM Eric Joyce, and giving him the slightly mysterious title of Director of Hockey Strategy.
Hearing former #FlaPanthers asst GM Eric Joyce is joining the #Leafs in a role expected to be Director of Hockey Strategy.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) October 22, 2020
Joyce had an unusual route to the NHL, which you can read about in the linked Sports Illustrated profile from 2016. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, where he played for the Army hockey team, and he has a Master’s degree from Harvard University. Joyce served in Iraq and taught counterterrorism classes before being brought into the Panthers organization under owner Vinnie Viola, himself a former military man. He served as an assistant to GM Dale Tallon in 2014, then became an assistant GM in 2016. (You can make your own Office joke about the change in titles here.) Joyce had responsibility for the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds.
That said, for a time he seemed to have more authority at the NHL level. Dale Tallon was temporarily kicked upstairs to Team President in 2016-17. While under the new GM Tom Rowe, Joyce and fellow AGM Steve Werier did much of the work running the NHL franchise. Tallon returned as GM in 2017 with his memorable “thank God I’m back” quote, and Werier was fired by the organization, but Joyce stayed on as an AGM.
Jumping ahead a few years: the Panthers hired a new General Manager in September 2020, former agent and Columbus assistant Bill Zito. How the change atop the organization plays into Joyce’s move is not totally clear, but it does feel relevant to Joyce coming on the market. Perhaps also relevant: prior to this the Leafs didn’t have a Director of Hockey Strategy, meaning the role may have been created in order to bring an admired executive into the fold.
According to The Province, Viola leaned on Joyce as a counterweight to Tallon, which is somewhat reassuring given what a disastrous GM Tallon proved to be for the Panthers. Joyce seems to have worked with the famous “Computer Boys” in Florida, although he wasn’t considered one himself. (The Computer Boys were Cam Lawrence, Rhys Jessop, and Josh Weissbock, so far as I am aware.) Apparently at one point that group considered offer-sheeting Nikita Kucherov, which would have been one of the boldest NHL moves in recent years had it been carried out.
Joyce is said to be a persuasive debater and a bit of a contrarian, which is something Kyle Dubas seems to value inside his decision-making. What his exact duties will be as the “Director of Hockey Strategy” remains to be seen, but his unique resume makes him a fascinating hire for the Dubas front office. The Computer Boys seem to remember him fondly:
Eric is one of the sharpest minds I've worked with in or out of hockey. Great hire for the #leafs. Congrats @ericjamesjoyce4 https://t.co/65FVhaCHYU— cam lawrence (@thatcamlawrence) October 22, 2020
Eric is one of the smartest people I’ve met, and an all-around stand-up, honest, good guy.— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) October 22, 2020
Really really happy to see him land in a spot that’ll actually appreciate everything he brings to the table. https://t.co/uE70kq2oGx
If you’d like to read some of Joyce’s own words, he and Werier gave an interview in August 2016 here. He certainly sounds like Kyle Dubas’ kind of hire.
Welcome to the organization, Eric.