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In the National Hockey League, the general manager is a team executive responsible for acquiring the rights to player personnel, negotiating their contracts, and reassigning or dismissing players no longer desired on the team. The general manager may also have responsibility for hiring the head coach of the team.
For many years in professional sports, coaches often served as general managers for their teams as well, deciding which players would be kept on the team and which ones dismissed, and even negotiating the terms of their contracts in cooperation with the ownership of the team. In fact, many sports teams in the early years of professional sports were coached by the owner of the team, so in some cases the same individual served as owner, general manager and head coach.
As the amount of money involved in professional sports increased, many prominent players began to hire sports agents to negotiate contracts on their behalf. The intensified contract negotiations that resulted, as well as the overall increased need for professional business management, drove many sports teams to separate the positions of coach and general manager. Some coaches, however, still insist on being allowed to fill both positions as a condition of employment.
In some sports leagues salary caps have been adopted to maintain a competitive balance and in these leagues it is one of the functions of the general manager to ensure all player contracts are in accordance with these caps, as well as consistent with the desires of the ownership and its ability to pay.
General managers are usually responsible for the selection of players in player drafts and work with the coaching staff and scouts to build a strong team. In sports with developmental or minor leagues, the general manager is usually the team executive with the overall responsibility for "sending down" and "calling up" players to and from these leagues, although the head coach may also have significant input into these decisions.
Some of the most successful sports general managers have been former players and coaches, while others have backgrounds in ownership and business management.