Thirty-one men, with ages ranging from 28 to 75. Some of them with championship rings, others that are perpetually chasing them. Some of them are dynamic salesmen, while others would rather have their faces buried in scouting reports as far away from the cameras as possible. A couple of them are named Jim. One is named Jarmo.
Loved. Loathed. Respected. Reviled. They are your NHL general managers.
It’s been an interesting week for our front office rock stars. Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning was given a contract extension, which was celebrated by some and received with ample skepticism by others. New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow tried to explain the team’s middling record this season; meanwhile, a group of Islanders fans raised around $6,000 in one day to purchase a billboard near Barclays Center to demand his firing.
Like we said, interesting times.
All this general manager attention got us thinking about the current crop of executives, and how we’d go about ranking them.
This is going to be a tiered approach. If you’re interested in some 1-through-31 rankings, we’d recommend Dom Luszczyszyn’s list from The Hockey News last summer and this epic one from Carolyn Wilke and Chris Watkins of Hockey Graphs in 2017, whose methodology can be found here.
But for our purposes, we feel that the NHL’s general managers fall into eight distinct categories. Feel free to agree, disagree or vehemently disagree in the comments.
The Golden Boys
The accepted gold standard for general managers. The cream of the crop. They rise to the top.
Rutherford had already won a Stanley Cup when was hired as a short-term fix for the Penguins after Ray Shero was fired, and he ended up building back-to-back Stanley Cup champions with bold moves like the Phil Kessel deal. Lamoriello is a legend for building three Stanley Cup winners in New Jersey, and for finding more fine print in the CBA than a team of Gary Bettman’s finest lawyers. He’s now the head of a management group that has the Leafs on course for their first Stanley Cup since the year The Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Does Yzerman belong here? I think so. He arrived in 2010, and the Bolts have three conference final appearances and one Eastern Conference championship. He’s managed the cap expertly, made two good coaching hires (Guy Boucher, and then knowing when to move on from him for Jon Cooper) and drafted half the roster. He and owner Jeff Vinik have created a gold-standard organization, and hence Stevie Y. is a gold-standard general manager, despite not having the silver Cup in his tenure as GM yet …
The Waiting-For-Silver Boys
General managers with great track records and League-wide respect who are still one Stanley Cup away from getting tiered up.
Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues
Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg Jets
Ron Francis, Carolina Hurricanes
George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights
Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks
David Poile, Nashville Predators
Ray Shero, New Jersey Devils
Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks
Poile was the source of much robust debate among those that contributed to this ranking. Some made the case that if Yzerman is in the Gold Club without a Stanley Cup, then Poile should be too, given the enormous respect league-wide for him. But there was also this sentiment: “He’s been a GM for 35 years and been to the Stanley Cup Final once. Is our recency bias so strong that last year trumps decades of teams that underachieved in the postseason?”
Armstrong and Wilson have been chasing a Cup for many, many years with teams that consistently have been playoff-bound. Murray won a Cup as Brian Burke’s lieutenant, but the Ducks haven’t been back on his watch. Shero gets an asterisk to be included in this group, as he won a Cup with the Penguins; only two GMs have won Cups with two different teams, and one of them was the guy who replaced him in Pittsburgh. Cheveldayoff and Francis are both well-respected execs in search of actual accomplishment, but if either of their teams win, buckle up for the lovefest.
As for McPhee … well, the Golden Knights players aren’t the only ones carrying a sizable chip on their shoulders and searching for a redemption narrative.
They swing for the fences. Sometimes they connect. Other times, it’s just foul.
Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota Wild
Jarmo Kekalainen, Columbus Blue Jackets
Jim Nill, Dallas Stars
Brian MacLellan, Washington Capitals
Don Sweeney, Boston Bruins
Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers
Brad Treliving, Calgary Flames
These are general managers that have made bold moves to bolster their teams, some that worked and others that didn’t and still others that are TBD. The common thread here is that they all seem to be doing “something,” rather than watching idly. At some point, that action has to get results, but in the meantime, hey, they’re trading for Kevin Shattenkirk or trading Seth Jones or … well, whatever it was Florida did last summer.
Hey, they just walked in the door, cut them a break.
Blake looks like a genius for simply having a coach his players like, while Botterill is attempting the unique “rebuild inside of a rebuild” inception in Buffalo. [Insert Hans Zimmer “bwwwwwwammmm” horns.]
Maligned general managers that might have this thing figured out at some point, because they do have a plan.
All of these guys have, one way or another, baffled their fan bases with their machinations, whether it’s standing by unpopular coaches or failing to pull off big trades. Then one of them will make a dramatic move, and perceptions will change. It’s no coincidence that two of the three participants in the Matt Duchene trade are here, for example.
The Benning re-signing is a good example of the Misunderstood group. Some people see his work with the Canucks as ineffective and discouraging, because he signed Loui Eriksson that one time. Others see him having undone the mistakes of the previous regime while loading up the rebuild. Someone is misunderstanding “the plan” here, as it were.
For some of these general managers, there are external issues affecting their plans, too: From the Glendale City Council to Eugene Melnyk, a.k.a. the Glendale City Council of NHL owners.
The Garth Snow
There are only three general managers employed longer than Snow, who was hired in 2006: Poile, Ken Holland and Wilson. All three have had their teams play for the Stanley Cup since Snow was hired. Their teams advanced past the first round 16 times since Snow was hired.
Snow’s teams have never played for a championship. During that span, they advanced past the first round once.
He’s made some really bad moves (bye, Nino Niederreiter) and some really good ones (hello, Oilers draft pick that became Mathew Barzal). Some say he’s simply benefited from the mismanagement of others in acquiring Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Jordan Eberle. But that deprives him of credit for having acquired them, which in the end, he did.
His drafts look great; his player development, not so much. His free agent dabbling has been complicated by ownership and building issues, but he’s also made some smart decisions on departures that were criticized at the time (like Frans Nielsen). He has the faith of the organization, but little of it from the fans.
Go by the results, and Snow’s in the bottom third of GMs. But he’s not nearly at fault for this as the current criticism would indicate. The whole thing is confounding, Hence, he’s his own tier.
The Votes Of No Confidence
GMs that are feeling the heat because their teams were incredible for like a decade, got old and entered inevitable decline.
Bowman’s handled down cycles for the Hawks before, in between Cup wins, but this one seems like a bit of a steeper climb due to the age of the core (and the fact that there are so many no-trade clauses). Holland has somehow crafted a roster that’s kissing the cap ceiling but is a complete also-ran. Does he return next season?
Will these guys?
The Disaster Artists
Again, this ranking is as much about perception as it is about results. The Oilers and Canadiens were both humongous disappointments this season. Both have built teams with structural problems, that at one point seemed poised to challenge for the Stanley Cup but now seem withdrawn from contention. Much of this can be drawn directly to the decision made by the general managers, be it the P.K. Subban trade or the Taylor Hall trade.
Of all the GMs on this list, these are the names most frequently in the vicinity of the following question: Can they survive this?
But here’s the beauty of being a general manager: All it takes is one great move or one great season, and perceptions can change on a dime. Bergevin lands John Tavares? Chiarelli’s Oilers rebound with the Cup run? They could be in a completely different tier by New Year’s Eve.
Perceptions are constantly shifting for general managers. Every year, you read stuff like this: “The clock is ticking, and he has some serious work to do this summer to sort this thing out. And if he can’t, then he is next on the chopping block.”
That was Tampa Times columnist Tom Jones in 2013, on Steve Yzerman. Suffice it to say, he sorted it out.
Jersey Foul of the week
From the Vegas (Sweet) Golden Knights:
will the real william karlsson please stand up.
please stand up. pic.twitter.com/nTEuAOYSIe
– Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) February 11, 2018
These Swedes were in town to support 30-goal scorer William “Wild Bill” Karlsson. It’s an army of FrankenJerseys! Their hearts are in the right place, but it’s a shame to snip up those gorgeous Swedish national team tre kronors.
How to stop a heckling fan
You go to the penalty box, you feel shame. This is an essential truth of hockey.
But sometimes, you feel even more shame on the road, when some heckling yokel decides to lay into you while you stew for two minutes after a penalty. Such was the case for Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly at the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, who was getting it good from a fan in the front row. But DSP was prepared to deploy countermeasures. Wet, saturating countermeasures:
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) February 16, 2018
Let it never be said that Devante Smith-Pelly doesn’t know how to play his angles. Thanks to RMNB for the video.
Please recall it was a scant eight years ago when the NHL declared war on players squirting water bottles at fans, after Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks was caught doing so during a playoff game in Nashville. In Sept. 2010, the NHL sent out a video that emphasized some rules for the following season, including: “Any identifiable player who uses obscene, profane or abusive language or gestures directed at any person runs the risk of an unsportsmanlike penalty and possible supplemental discipline.”
Let’s hope the NHL has loosened up a bit since then. Because this was hilarious.
ESPN On Ice
Fun podcast this week, with Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times talking about the anger of Chicago Blackhawks fans and “Miracle On Ice” legend Mike Eruzione on the Winter Olympics and his teammates auctioning off their gold medals. Plus, we play Valentine’s Day matchmaker with high-profile trade deadline bait players. Stream here or get us on iTunes. Review and subscribe!
Hall for Hart?
The Hart Trophy race has its season-long favorites — Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, John Tavares of the New York Islanders and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche among them.
But lately, there have been some campaigns springing up for alternative candidates. Like Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as advocated here. Or Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, as advocated here.
Hall has 60 points in 52 games for a 1.15 points-per-game average, seventh-best in the NHL this season for players that have played at least 50 games. But his Hart case is best made when considering what he’s done in context with the rest of the Devils: Hall has 23 more points than the team’s second highest scorer, rookie Nico Hischier (37). He has eight more goals than the second-leading goal scorer, Miles Wood (15). At even strength, he’s eight points (40) better than Hischier (32).
Hall is the best possession forward on the Devils (51.9 Corsi for percentage, 3.72 relative Corsi at 5-on-5). He does get a bit of an offensive advantage with 57.1 percent offensive zone starts, but that’s one of the few metrics that skew against him.
The Devils were 2-3-1 when Hall was out of the lineup; with him, they are 27-17-7. He has 40 points in those wins.
Again, there are ample candidates for the Hart, and Hall isn’t likely to challenge for the Art Ross. But if the Devils make the playoffs, and these numbers hold, it’s hard to imagine Hall won’t make the ballot for a lot of voters considering the incredible impact he’s had on the Devils this season. They’re counting lottery balls without him.
As we covered player development a bit in today’s column, check out this post that tabulates how many 20-goal scorers teams have drafted outside the first round since 1997. The Detroit Red Wings have had seven; the Philadelphia Flyers and Arizona Coyotes have had zero. [Beer League Heroes]
Jaromie Jagr’s birthday cake was quite a sight. [Instagram]
Great idea from Arthur Staple: Asking some of those who know John Tavares best what they think the Islanders star will choose to do as a free agent. [The Athletic]
“Canada as Olympic underdog” is a false narrative but people keep writing about it anyway. [New York Times]
Here’s a fun and informative review of the Olympic hockey jerseys this year. [Hockey by Design]
There’s no NHL team (yet), but hockey is thriving in Houston. [Houston Matters, podcast]
Finally, as the Blackhawks tumble down the standings, interest in buying Chicago tickets has tumbled, too.
Live interest in #Blackhawks is already waining. Cheapest ticket for each of their next 5 home games has fallen by $15-$25 over the past 2 weeks.
– TicketIQ (@Ticket_IQ) February 15, 2018
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
An oral history of the Canadian women’s team in the 1998 Winter Olympics, the first time there was a women’s hockey tournament at the Games. [Yahoo Canada]
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Ranking the top trade deadline (or thereabouts) deals of the NHL’s salary cap era.