The Jackets have filled in a major piece of their developmental puzzle in Cleveland, naming assistant general manager Bill Zito to serve as general manager of the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters.
Zito joined the Columbus organization in 2013 and has played a role in everything from contract negotiations and player evaluation to salary cap management and budgeting. As GM of the Monsters, he'll basically have oversight of the entire on-ice operation.
What that means for Monsters fans is that Zito will be in charge of implementing the Jackets' organizational development philosophy. And what everyone up here in Cleve-town is wondering is exactly what that philosophy will be. Will it be of the we-develop-players-first-and-hey-if-we-win-too-that's-a-bonus variety? Or will it be more along the lines of "let's develop a winning culture at the minor-league level so guys know what it takes when they get to the NHL?"
(HINT: We're all kind of hoping for the latter.)
Of course, there's nothing that says you can't do both, and Zito would seem to have the brains to figure out how to satisfy everyone. The guy played four years of collegiate hockey at Yale and attended law school at the University of Wisconsin. He spent two decades as a player agent after that, so he knows this game from just about every angle.
Minor-league general managers are beholden to multiple masters. Former Monsters GM David Oliver navigated the position fairly well, keeping his bosses in Colorado happy through player development while somehow escaping a great deal of fan criticism in Cleveland despite the fact that his teams made the AHL playoffs once in eight years. (And yes, this is a stat we're going to mention in virtually every Monsters post this year until the Jackets' prospects qualify for the postseason tournament next April and break our string of hockey misery.)
In Oliver's defense, he did make some excellent free-agent signings the one year the Monsters did advance to the playoffs (2010-11), and that will be part of Zito's job, too. Finding undrafted/unsigned talent is an art, and it usually takes a lot of misses before GMs get the hang of finding hits.
More importantly to the Blue Jackets' organization, Zito is going to be entrusted with a stable of promising prospects and will be responsible for ensuring they develop the right way. Learning the pro game is much tougher than most fans realize, and the 76-game AHL schedule is a good place for the kids to learn what it means to prepare themselves and come to the rink every day with the attitude of a successful professional athlete.
Just over three months until minor-league camp begins, kids!