I was thinking the other day just how solid an offseason Jeff Gorton had been having (despite not being able to significantly improve the blueline) and it got me thinking about where Gorton ranked amongst his peers. Taking that one step further it got me thinking about General Manager’s around the league, who’s doing well and who’s not. All this made me spitball about a power ranking of the NHL General Managers.
Everyone loves a pecking order, no? There’s been some significant change throughout the NHL recently and some GM’s will be hard to judge given their shallow bodies of work but it doesn’t mean we can’t try. Split into three posts over the couple weeks (starting at 30 and working our way up), here’s a brief insight into how I think the NHL’s key decision makers stack up against each other and where I think Jeff Gorton fits as he enters his second season in charge of the Rangers.
- Jim Benning – Vancouver Canucks
Jim Benning has had a truly dire offseason. The Pre-free agency tampering embarrassment, his apparent reluctance(?) to embrace what is an obviously, necessary rebuild. He spent money in free agency that seemed ill advised given the Canucks’ situation. Benning seemingly hasn’t done anything right lately. With a mediocre prospect pool it doesn’t seem the Canucks are trending in the right direction either.
- Joe Sakic – Colorado Avalanche
Has Joe Sakic ever been ranked this lowly in anything he has ever done? It seems Colorado are spinning their wheels and going nowhere fast. Management seem to clash with every significant star player they have, the club have stalled in their development and their offseason seems without concept. Their blueline is a mess (particularly if they end up moving Tyson Barrie) and in a brutal Central Division, the future doesn’t seem promising for the Avalanche under Sakic’s watch.
- Jarmo Kekäläinen – Columbus Blue Jackets
Had you asked me about Kekäläinen a year or so ago, I may have been more positive. All of a sudden, the Blue Jackets have had a messy divorce from stud center Ryan Johansen, they have spent poorly (with a mediocre roster they sit only 4m or so from the cap ceiling) and they traded one of their better albeit underperforming prospects to the Leafs (Kerby Rychal) for little in return. Meanwhile they managed to mismanage the third overall pick in the 2016 draft. Kekäläinen is surely on the hot seat entering 16/17.
- Don Sweeney – Boston Bruins
Despite having a strong prospect pool, you get the feeling it could be better given the way the Bruins drafted in 2015. Fast forward a year and Sweeney overpaid (or over committed?) to David Backes this summer. Rewind a year and he gave too many years to Matt Beleskey. He overcommitted to a mediocre Kevan Miller (four years for a third pairing blueliner? really?) while failing to add depth to his blueline, a unit that is still reliant on the now obviously regressing Zdeno Chara. Credit Sweeney somewhat for looking to the future and re-stocking the Bruins prospect pool, but Sweeney has a lot to prove entering the new season.
- Pierre Dorion – Ottawa Senators
Who really runs the Senators, Dorion or owner Eugene Melnyk? It’s hard to judge Dorion after a few months in the job, but you do get the feeling that Melnyk does what he wants and the financial power is clearly with the owner as the recent Sens/Rangers trade suggests. Credit Dorion for getting a reasonable deal for Mike Hoffman sorted. With an average prospect pool to draw from and serious flaws on the NHL roster (their goaltending and depth at all positions) Dorion has a lot of work to do in his first full year.
- Tom Rowe – Florida Panthers
I admit to knowing little about Tom Rowe. What I do know is that the Panthers have undergone serious change this offseason on and off ice and Rowe has had a busy first summer in charge. His move for Keith Yandle was aggressive, his free agent signings of James Reimer and Jason Demers split opinion. The Panthers have a strong young core so it appears Rowe and co. are in go for it mode. While adding a lot of depth this offseason, Rowe has given up very little to make his team deeper. It’s been a solid start on the job. Time will tell if he’s made the right decisions.
- John Chayka – Arizona Coyotes
At just 27 and very new to his profession, Chayka starts higher on my list than he’s probably earned. Why? It appears that the Coyotes have a clear concept and Chayka comes across well in the media – he seems to just get it. I’m not an analytics guy but I do like how he can rationally justify his decisions. He may have landed a steal in Jakob Chychrun in the draft while he has quietly built a solid blueline in the desert; particularly if Luke Schenn can play well in a third pairing role.
We’ll know a lot more about Chayka when we see how he deals with rebuilding the ‘Yotes forward corps and how he deals with the significant contract situations of Michael Stone, Martin Hanzal, Anthony Duclair all within the next twelve months.
- Peter Chiarelli – Edmonton Oilers
That Chiarelli isn’t lower on this list is on reputation alone. He’s been a fine GM in the past but I feel he has had a truly bad offseason. The Milan Lucic deal promises to be awful, he should have got much more in return for Taylor Hall (even if Adam Larsson is solid) and he has so far failed to shake up a roster that needs significant change – even if it is talented.
Will Chiarelli benefit from Connor McDavid and the rest of the lottery picks in Edmonton? Will he be around long enough? Chiarelli still has a lot of work to do to turn Edmonton around and I’m not sure he’ll get it done based on his poor decision making this summer. His reputation will get him at least another year to improve things.
- Chuck Fletcher – Minnesota Wild
I credit Fletcher for signing Matt Dumba to a reasonable bridge deal even if he may end up regretting it in two years time. Fletcher has assembled a good blueline, but for a team that is close to the cap ceiling they lack true depth (and quality) up front and signing Eric Staal and releasing Thomas Vanek seems like change for change’s sake. My prospect knowledge is too rusty to offer insight into the Wild’s 2016 draft but their prospect pool is average and a lot seems to rest on Joel Eriksson Ek being a difference maker. I don’t feel Fletcher has done enough to help the Wild compete in the brutal Central division.
- Ken Holland – Detroit Red Wings
This is comfortably the most debate-worthy pick I have made so far. For so long, Ken Holland was the gold standard of NHL General Managers. Or was he? I agree with Ryan Lambert who recently looked critically at Ken Holland’s performance as GM. Now that Holland doesn’t have an in his prime, generational talent (or multiple such talents) to lean on, the Wings are not such a model franchise. Yes, the Wings are still developing good young players but no longer are the Wings the home of consistent excellence and no longer do teams look with envy toward Detroit.
The Danny DeKeyser contract looks an overpayment, Holland swung and missed on Steven Stamkos and Holland also seems to have given too much money to middling (albeit solid) players in Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and even Frans Nielsen. Holland has also failed to significantly improve a very average blueline which is absent of a top talent and growing old quickly. It’s been that way for a long time now. Holland needs a big year to re-establish himself amongst the elite.
Stay tuned for parts two and three, coming soon.