So you thought you were getting traditional power rankings, didn’t you? Too bad.
Instead, we’re looking at the men with the most awkward goal celebrations in the hockey world: the general managers.
NHL GMs are an eclectic group, ranging from retired players to the kids of former high-level executives, to grinders who rose up through the scouting department.
Remember: before you send hateful tweets and emails, this list is based on each manager’s history with his current organization. For someone like Lou Lamoriello, one of the most accomplished executives over the last 25 years, it’s hard to credit him for his work with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s made, like, three transactions.
With that in mind, we break down the general managers into tiers (they’re listed in alphabetical order within each grouping) and do our best to provide worthwhile analysis.
TIER 1: TOP OF THEIR GAME
Stan Bowman, Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks GM inherited Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Kane, but he’s still done a great job managing the Blackhawks through a run that has included three Stanley Cups under his guidance. The son of Scotty is excellent with the salary cap, has made the right trades to create space to extend key players, and has done an outstanding job finding value in the draft.
Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks: Murray is one of the best traders in the NHL. Like Bowman, he inherited some of his best players but has been able to keep his club competitive with a series of quality transactions. For example, his return on Bobby Ryan. Murray has assembled an ascending group of defencemen to help provide balance to a forward unit that includes two of the top players in the league.
Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay Lightning: Yzerman is much younger than some of the other top GMs, but he’s already established his excellent managing skills. He’s found diamonds in the rough in the draft (Ondrej Palat), made quality free agent signings (Anton Stralman), and stole starting goalie Ben Bishop in a heist of a trade with Ottawa. His next order of business: getting Steven Stamkos signed.
TIER 2: RIGHT UP THERE
Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens: Bergevin is a great fit to run a team in the new NHL. He is a shrewd manager of the salary cap, knows when to cut ties with declining players (Josh Gorges for example), and is building his team around quality homegrown, drafted talent. It’s an efficient way to do business.
Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings: Holland is the godfather of NHL GMs. He’s built the most stable organization in hockey through outstanding development, quality drafting, and strong leadership. Sure it helps to have great European scouts to find gems like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall, but Holland’s ability to find talent and effectively develop it is unmatched over a long period of time. The only reason he’s not tops on this list is the fact that Detroit is going through a transition and no longer looks like a true contender.
Dean Lombardi, Los Angeles Kings: Lombardi’s team is coming off a down year, but that shouldn’t take away from his quality work in turning the mediocre Kings into a two-time Cup winner. Lombardi has used plenty of different avenues to build his team, including the draft, trade market, and free agency. His hiring of head coach Daryl Sutter, which was questioned at the time, has definitely worked out despite some troubling rumours last season.
David Poile, Nashville Predators: Like Holland, Poile is one of the bosses in the NHL GM game. Poile has been around since the Predators’ inception and has done outstanding work to keep the small-market team in contention. He is highly-regarded across hockey circles due to his ability to draft (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Roman Josi, Pekka Rinne) and we’re still not sure what Jedi mind trick he used to pull off the Filip Forsberg trade.
TIER 3: REALLY SOLID EXECUTIVE
Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues: Armstrong has assembled quite a nice roster in St. Louis, but they can’t seem to get out of the first round of the playoffs. The Blues GM has had a solid but inconsistent track record in terms of personnel moves, but overall Armstrong is a quality manager that has a good reputation around the game.
Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota Wild: Fletcher’s most notable moves came right before the 2012-13 lockout, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to mega-deals that have helped bring the Wild back to respectability. Otherwise, Fletcher (the son of the Silver Fox) has done a nice job turning Minnesota into a forward-thinking organization that has done good work with the salary cap and has found good value in the draft and the trade market.
Jim Nill, Dallas Stars: Nill is one of the GMs we strongly considered bumping up to a higher level. Yes, his team was a bit of disappointment last season but he’s made a handful of impressive moves, including stealing Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins. Nill was a key part of building the Red Wings organization and he’s hoping to build a similarly-stable organization down south.
Bryan Murray, Ottawa Senators: Murray is entering his final season as Senators GM, so we need to acknowledge the quality work he’s done running the Senators. Yes, there have been some misevaluations, but he’s done a nice job rebuilding the roster with young players and depth.
TIER 4: ON THE RISE
Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg Jets: Cheveldayoff was on the hot seat entering the 2014-15 season and certainly helped his standing by putting together his best roster since being hired in Winnipeg. Cheveldayoff led the Jets to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and helped shed his passive reputation by swinging a blockbuster deal with the Buffalo Sabres.
Jarmo Kekalainen, Columbus Blue Jackets: Kekalainen is a bit of a mystery man to the average hockey fan. He did quality scouting work with Ottawa and St. Louis prior to coming to Columbus and has started to assemble a nice group of talent with the Blue Jackets. Signing Ryan Johansen and acquiring forward Brandon Saad were highly-regarded moves but you have to seriously question anyone who trades for David Clarkson.
Garth Snow, New York Islanders: Snow has managed to change the entire narrative of his GM career in less than a year. The Islanders GM had long been regarded as more of a punch line, but a slow rebuild of the Islanders — complete with a crew of young players — has many questioning their initial analysis of Snow.
Brad Treliving, Calgary Flames: Most people, deep down, thought Brian Burke would be pulling the strings — but Treliving has really stood out since coming to Calgary. The Flames have bought heavily into analytics despite the team defying them last year, and what once looked like a dreadful roster is loaded with quality young talent. The Flames’ trade for Dougie Hamilton was one of the best moves of the off-season.
TIER 5: RELIABLE VETERANS
Don Maloney, Arizona Coyotes: Maloney might have the toughest job in hockey. Working with a paper-thin budget, the Coyotes have a hard time keeping their players and haven’t been able to maintain their level of play in recent seasons. Still, Maloney should be pleased with his ascending core of young players, including Dylan Strome, Max Domi, and Anthony Duclair. They’re a team to watch, for sure.
Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers: After loading up on high picks to rebuild the Blackhawks, the veteran Tallon is doing the same kind of work in Florida. There have been some questionable signings here, mostly to reach the cap floor, but the group of Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aleksander Barkov has the makings of something special.
Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks: Wilson helped build one of the NHL’s best rosters for almost a decade, but the playoff letdowns have helped take away some of Wilson’s sizzle around the league. Some of his best players are aging, but Wilson has still been able to add young talent into a program that’s moving forward with a core that includes Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture.
TIER 6: INCOMPLETE
Peter Chiarelli, Edmonton Oilers: Chiarelli was a really impressive executive, outside of a few big mistakes (see: Seguin, Tyler) during his tenure with the Bruins, but it’s way too early to grade his work since joining Edmonton. Any human could’ve reasonably picked Connor McDavid, but we did like the move to hire head coach Todd McLellan along with some of his defensive additions. Chiarelli appears to be the most legitimate GM the Oilers have had in quite some time. (For one, he’s never played for the Oilers before.)
Jeff Gorton, New York Rangers: It’s hard for an outsider (like me) to distinguish how much work Gorton did in terms of the Rangers’ personnel decisions while Glen Sather held the GM title. The Rangers didn’t officially hire Gorton until after the 2015 NHL Draft so the transactions tied to his name are very limited.
Lou Lamoriello, Toronto Maple Leafs: As mentioned above, Lamoriello is entirely new to the Leafs’ organization. Aside from making the players cut their hair and shave their beards, he’s signed Brad Boyes and traded for Michael Grabner. The Leafs job will require plenty of patience so it’ll be fascinating to see how Lou handles the task.
Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh Penguins: Rutherford has only been in Pittsburgh for one full season, so it’s difficult to judge his impact. Although his team flopped big time in his year running the club, buying Phil Kessel on the cheap could turn out to be a home-run move. After his inconsistent tenure in Carolina, it’s fair to remain a bit skeptical.
Ray Shero, New Jersey Devils: Shero has a large task on his hands. For one, there’s no Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in New Jersey. (Heck, there’s barely a Chris Kunitz.) The team is expected to be in the mix for American phenom Auston Matthews, which would be a big help given the lack of front-end talent on New Jersey’s roster.
TIER 7: STILL MUCH TO PROVE
Jim Benning, Vancouver Canucks: It’s hard to knock a guy who took the Canucks to the playoffs in his first season with the club. But at the same time, you don’t want to base too much on one season. The Canucks are a bit of a crossroads — determining whether they’re chasing a Cup or rebuilding the roster with young talent — so it will be intriguing to see the direction of the former Bruins assistant.
Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers: Hextall gained steam around the league as an assistant in Los Angeles, and his first year in Philadelphia got off to strong start. He found value in free agent signings (a big change from the previous Flyers GMs), added draft picks through trades, and made an outside-the-box coaching hire. It’s a refreshing change for an organization that has swung and missed too often.
Ron Francis, Carolina Hurricanes: It’s difficult to get a read on Francis thus far. He hasn’t done much in free agency, hasn’t made many high-profile trades, and lucked into landing Noah Hanifin in the 2015 draft. The Hurricanes’ roster is a serious work in progress, so his moves going forward will be closely watched.
Brian McLellan, Washington Capitals: Like others in this category, it’s a bit too early to effectively judge McLellan — but we’re on board with his direction. Adding players like T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams will add scoring depth and some sand paper to an already-loaded forward group.
Tim Murray, Buffalo Sabres: It’s very early in Murray’s tenure, but his brief run has been fascinating to watch. Tanking didn’t land Buffalo Connor McDavid, but Jack Eichel is a hell of a consolation prize. Plus, moves to acquire Ryan O’Reilly, goalie Robin Lehner, and forward Evander Kane boosted some life into the organization. It’ll be fun to see what happens next.
Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche: The Colorado legend has all say in terms of personnel with the Avalanche so he’ll be under close eye as the Avalanche look to bounce back from a down season. The team didn’t seem to adjust to possession trends last season, but it’s hard to determine whether that comes down to the GM or head coach Patrick Roy. They need to have a better season in 2015-16.
TIER 8: WHAT THE HECK!?
Don Sweeney, Boston Bruins: Truthfully, the Bruins’ new GM should be listed in the above tier — but why not have some fun with this thing? The Milan Lucic trade was totally understandable and probably a smart move, but dealing away Dougie Hamilton? Why!? Sweeney didn’t help his case with his peculiar choices for first-round draft picks and none of them seem to be off to particularly strong strong starts. Sweeney could be a genius, but his first summer left much to be desired.