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Ranking the NHL GM’s – where does Gorton fit?

So where does Jeff Gorton rank amongst NHL GM's? Photo: Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)
So where does Jeff Gorton rank amongst NHL GM’s? Photo: Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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  • Hi Chris. I think it’s too early to tell where Gorton fits when compared to other GM’s. Along with looking favorably at the moves he made, I am more impressed with the moves he didn’t make. I am cautiously optimistic.

  • Florida is a playoff team and significantly improved their team while maintaining significant cap space for future moves. Depth, schmepth. Thinking they should be much higher. Montreal comes to mind as a team that should possibly be below FLA. Will wait to see the remaining rankings.

  • A good general manager takes a long view approaching when building a franchise. Some of Gortons off-season moves do look promising, yet the acquisition of Eric Staal at the trade deadline was an absolute disaster. He needs more time for judgement…he gets an Incomplete.

  • I’m with Jerry on this, the jury is still out based on too short of a time frame to judge Jeff fairly!

    Having said that, I believe he will be in the top tier down the road, or at least the top third of the NHL, but he has made some great moves, Brass trade, while making a very poor move in E Staal. I suspect he will value his picks much more so than Sather, and will draft much better as well, especially coming into the organization running the scouting system for us.

    Bottom line, Jeff will be good if Slats stays on the golf course, and let’s the man run the show !!!!!!!!!

    • I largely agree with you and Jerry, Walt. Two things where we differ–

      Sather is the President of the team. It is highly improbable that he isn’t very much involved in these moves. He’s Gorton’s boss, and as such will certainly have input on most if not all roster decisions, even if he’s ceded control to his protege. Gorton said it himself when he was introduced last summer. Nothing will really change except titles and that he gets to make the deals now. If Sather was not involved, he’d simply retire.

      As for the managing of the draft choices and drafting in general, you may be right. But as I’ve said before, the circumstances dictate the strategy. Gorton said two things at the presser last summer when he was introduced. On the one hand, he said (paraphrasing) “we can’t trade number one picks every year”. But he also said, “if we are in a position to go for it, we will go for it”. So he certainly isn’t saying he won’t ever trade valuable picks for the right piece. Based on what we saw last deadline, he certainly will.

      Where you and I agree is that the Rangers, who have had a mixed bag of good selections and real bad ones, need to draft better and draft and develop difference maker players. That has not happened nearly enough. That, more than anything else, is why we haven’t won it all in this current cycle, and in my view, why the team had no choice except to double down on acquisitions when the team was close enough to legitimately contend the last few years.

      But I agree, while the talent selected and developed recently hasn’t been star quality at least not yet, there are some hopeful signs. We shall see.

      • Since Gordie Clark was hired, the Rangers have had their best drafting ever. 2013 was a case in point.

  • So far this looks good Chris, except for one thing….I don’t see how you can rate Rowe so low. He had a great year last year, and his moves this year only bolsters the team. I’d rank him in my top 5-10.

  • This is a very difficult quest you have undertaken. But Ken Holland deserves better than you gave him based on years of being an elite GM. He did lose his right hand man Jim Nill, who will prove to be a great GM in his own right, and who was a big part of Detroit’s success in the draft.

  • Quite an undertaking here indeed! I’ve always found this a tough thing to try to rank; to me ranking coaches is loads easier. Very interesting reading though.

    One minor side note (and really minor, but just something I noticed) – I’m not sure we can say just yet that anyone mismanaged the 2016 draft unless you are talking about (ahem) not having a first round pick due to a deal that clearly already did not work out as hoped/planned. I personally think Pulj has more upside than Dubois…but you never really know why a team makes the choice they make there unless you’re privy to their private evaluations and concerns, and if Dubois ends up the better player for any number of possible reasons, we won’t even know that for years to come. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a GM hit on a player when seemingly his whole fan base wanted a different guy and/or seemingly the whole hockey world expected a different guy to go there.

  • “Stay tuned for parts two and three, coming soon”…in other words, “guys, what the hell are we going to write over the summer? better make these posts a bunch of 3 parters or we are screwed…”

  • Too soon to evaluate but it appears that he does recognize talent based on his FA signings and 2016 draft.

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