Even Jeff Greenberg knows this feels crazy, right?
Here’s a former Chicago Cubs assistant general manager, who worked in baseball for 16 years, making the leap to professional hockey — and not just switching from another sport but occupying one of the Chicago Blackhawks’ top three front-office positions as an associate general manager.
“Sure,” Greenberg said Monday, his expression suggesting it’s not the first time he has heard the skepticism. “(But) the hardest part of the decision was leaving the Cubs.”
Greenberg was a member of former Cubs President Theo Epstein’s group that built the 2016 World Series champions.
“Honestly, I have so much respect for (current Cubs President) Jed (Hoyer) and the entire group there, and I really believe in what they’re doing,” Greenberg said. “That, for me, was the hardest part, not so much going into hockey from baseball.”
That’s not to say Greenberg expects his transition to the NHL to be a cakewalk.
“I’m trying to learn, absorb as much as I can,” he said during an introductory news conference with fans at the United Center Concert Club.
But it’s what the rebuilding Hawks can learn from Greenberg that inspired general manager Kyle Davidson to take the unusual step of hiring someone from outside hockey to round out his top leadership group with fellow associate GM Norm Maciver.
Davidson hopes Greenberg can take “the systems sophistication that he brings to the Cubs, and seeing that sort of build that is going on in baseball, and bring that expertise over to us.”
Greenberg said he wants to modernize the Hawks’ scouting, analytics and other information systems — making them as expansive as what the Cubs and most baseball teams have — and warehouse them in one system that’s seamlessly accessible to players, coaches, scouts and operations staff at all levels of the organization.
Much of that, Greenberg said, he learned from Epstein and Hoyer.
“Having the systems like that in itself isn’t enough,” Greenberg told reporters after the news conference. “It comes down to how are you using those things, how are you leveraging those things effectively.
“We’re not trying to build systems or good processes for the sake of building good systems and good processes. We want to really help drive what we’re doing — how we’re acquiring players, how we’re developing our players, what we’re doing in the game — figuring out principles and lessons from baseball that we can apply to hockey.”
Greenberg said there has been “an explosion of information, technology (and) data” in baseball scouting and development, and it has become “pretty modern, sophisticated” in comparison with hockey.
“My sense was there was opportunity to move the needle and kind of close that gap between where hockey is now and baseball has gone over the last 10 years,” he said. “I’m here in part because I want to try to fill that gap.”
Maciver said he and Davidson, both baseball fans, have benefited from hearing Greenberg’s process on both hockey and baseball decisions, but it has been a two-way street.
“I know he was working in baseball,” Maciver said, “but he always kept a pulse on the NHL and he’s a huge hockey fan and very aware of what’s going on and always looking at teams that are having success and kind of figuring out how they structure things. And we’ve had a lot of great dialogue even in a short of amount of time.”
Still, there’s no getting around the lack of hockey entries on Greenberg’s resume.
He insisted, however, that this was always the goal.
“I was fortunate to work in baseball for the last 16 years, but hockey was really my first true love,” he said. “I’m from Pittsburgh. I was born a year after the Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux (in 1984), and I fell in love with the game at a very young age.
“I started skating when I was 3, played on my first team when I was 5 and was on the ice almost every day from then through when I graduated (from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008) at the age of 22.”
He was captain of his club hockey team at Penn his junior and senior years.
“Clearly I wasn’t that good if I was playing club,” he joked. “I had a little bit of speed and I was tenacious but obviously wasn’t very good.”
Despite those modest beginnings, Hawks CEO Danny Wirtz and president of business operations Jaime Faulkner — who also has ties to the Cubs — set their sights on Greenberg for the GM role.
“At some point my name came up — I don’t exactly know how — but I think the first conversation I had was probably with Jaime, really just to get a sense of what that process would look like, what potentially they were looking for,” Greenberg said.
He and Davidson, then the interim GM, emerged as two of the three finalists in the competition that Davidson won.
Greenberg began texting Davidson, at first to congratulate him.
“I thought it was neat to see somebody who started here as an intern and worked his way up,” Greenberg said. “I have a similar background, started as an intern with the Cubs. So, really, I just wanted to reach out and congratulate him. And then we went back and forth on text, had a couple conversations.”
Davidson said he discovered they had a rapport and the conversations evolved into an invitation to join the Hawks front office.
“That process was really driven by Kyle,” Greenberg said.