Opinions from the desk
If you have not read part #1 of my article, you can find it by clicking the link attached to this sentence.
Now, I will discuss the more intriguing part of my article. Giving the title of Awful GM to a NHL manager is very difficult for me because of the different GM deviations that exist. There are some GMs that are amazing at certain aspects of a GM's job, and they should be acknowledged for that. The two archetypes of GMs detailed below will help explain why people should not blindly claim a GM is bad, and instead they should understand and value their talents.
Example of a Developer GM
Dave Tallon is the perfect example of a Developer GM. As the current GM of the Florida Panthers, he is best known for building the core of the Chicago Blackhawks cap-era dynasty. As director of player personnel, assistant GM, senior adviser, and GM, Tallon had his say on who Chicago drafted and how they developed their talent. Tallon may not have the ability to finalize a Stanley Cup winning team, since he has never won a Stanley Cup as a GM, but that is exactly why I consider him a developer GM. Hockey analysts may question his overall ability as a GM, but there is no question he is a genius at drafting and developing.
Examining the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks roster will demonstrate the drafting and developing abilities of Tallon. That team was completely built by Tallon, and won the Stanley Cup the season after he was made a senior adviser. Chicago was led by some superstars that included first round picks Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Brent Seabrook. Even so, there were many influential players that were signed by Chicago, or drafted in the second round and later.
With that in mind, I looked at four of the last five rosters to win their first Stanley Cup in the Salary Cap Era (2005-2018). This choice was made to try and examine these organization’s rosters before they had their depth talent taken away by the salary cap. Hypothetically, these four teams should be the most skilled because they had not lost their talent due to salary cap restrictions. Washington's roster was heavily affected by the salary cap when they won, so it would be unfair to include them.
This criteria was designed to show that Tallon was very skillful when he developed his Stanley Cup winning roster. It is very easy to draft NHL players in the first round, sign them as free agents, or acquire them through trades. The real skill comes from picking the hidden gems and developing them for your team. Tallon was able to find these gems on many occasions, which is why he is a Developer GM.
Since there are two teams that had 9 players that fit the criteria, it is important to compare Tallon's 2010 Blackhawks to the 2012 Kings. There are two points that expand my research subjectively to prove that Tallon's drafting and development abilities was more impactful on Chicago than the combined efforts to build Los Angeles. Firstly, the 2010 Blackhawks were completely developed by Tallon from 1998 when he was hired as director of player personnel. Whereas, Dean Lombardi (The GM of the 2012 Kings team) was only with Los Angeles for six years before winning the cup. He had an impact, but many key decisions were made before he arrived. Secondly, the players with the aforementioned criteria included many stars like Duncan Keith, Dustin Byfuglien, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and other impactful players. The Kings had their share of impact players under the criteria, but other than Jonathan Quick, most of their stars did not meet the criteria. This research, and evaluation of the research, proves that Dave Tallon is an amazing drafter and developer.
Overall, Dave Tallon is the perfect example of a Developer GM because of his outstanding drafting and development talent, while still having glaring weaknesses in other aspects of the GM role.
The Solidifier GM
The frustration an organization experiences when their team is close to winning, but can not capture the Stanley Cup, is unimaginable. These teams have an elite core of players, but something is not clicking. That is the problem Solidifier GMs solve quicker than you can snap your fingers. These GMs are masters of taking an established team, and adding the right pieces to win the Stanley Cup. They accomplish this through strategic signings, trades, and personnel changes. They may not be able to acquire many prospects that play in the NHL, but they know what changes to make and when to make them.
Example of a Solidifier GM
It was looking very bleak for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early part of this decade. They had won their first Stanley Cup in 2009, and 5 years later, Crosby still only had his name etched in the Stanley Cup once. This led to Jim Rutherford being hired as the GM in the summer of 2014, and Crosby now has three Stanley Cup rings in his jewellery box. Rutherford was not hired to start a rebuild or make drastic changes, he was hired to solidify the core and add the proper pieces around the team to win another Stanley Cup (or two).
When Rutherford has made trades, they have been designed to take advantage of teams that undervalue their players. Excluding the Brassard trade, which was an aggressive move to try and win a third Stanley Cup, Rutherford has made many low key moves that have paid off. There are four trades in a row that Rutherford made, which really define the type of trade he likes to make. In those trades, Rutherford acquired Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin, and Justin Schultz (plus a second round pick) for the combined value of two third round picks, Brandon Sutter, Rob Scuderi, and David Perron. Wow. He acquired four key pieces of both Stanley Cup championships in return for, two third round picks, a third line centre, a depth defensemen, and a second line winger respectively. In my opinion, those are some of the most intelligent trades made in the last 5 years; Rutherford is clearly an expert at acquiring undervalued assets.
"Wow. [Rutherford] acquired four key pieces of both Stanley Cup championships in return for, two third round picks, a third line centre, a depth defensemen, and a second line winger respectively."
As I have stated, the skill in drafting NHL players comes after the first round because it is pretty easy to draft a NHL player in the first round. Knowing this, Rutherford was GM of the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise from 1997-2014. Using the criteria of 250 games (when a NHL player gets their pension) to define what an NHL player is, Rutherford does not have much success drafting players after the first round. Over the 17 years he ran that franchise, Rutherford drafted only 11 players after the first round that became NHL players (played 250 NHL games). That is an abysmal record of drafting. Even so, Carolina still won the Stanley Cup in 2006 and appeared in the Eastern Conference Final in 2009.
Jim Rutherford may not be the best at drafting and developing talent, but he knows how to build a winner through savvy trades and signings, especially in this cap-era.
GM’s have a complex job with many different aspects. Knowing this, I hope hockey analysts and fans stop evaluating GMs with such a narrow lens. Just because a GM is not amazing at all aspects of the job, that does not mean they are automatically bad. There are Elite GM's and there are truly Awful GM's. Even so, the Developer and Solidifier GMs may be blindly considered bad or good, but they provide immense value to an organization.
The best teams start from the top, and with my categorization of GM types, teams could potentially build management dynasties.
- The Scout
Hockey fans view general managers (GM) in one of two ways. They either are doing a good or bad job. However, throughout my time watching the NHL and the decisions GMs have made, I have concluded that there are four types of GMs. In my article, I will go into detail on each category of GM. This is intended to help the industry understand what a GM's strengths and weaknesses are, and how to most effectively use them in an organization.
Some current GMs may not clearly fit into any of the four types because of their inexperience at the position. For example, the jury is still out on the Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka because the results of his decisions have not had been fully realized yet. Due to this fact, he can not be fairly categorized. There are even GM's that may have changed categories. Ken Holland at one time would have been Elite GM, but after the last five years, that might be more questionable. With such a drastic change, it would not be worth it to categorize him for now. Further, I acknowledge that there are a variety circumstances in any NHL franchise that result in decisions that may not directly be a GM's fault. Between owners, hockey operations presidents, scouting directors, player development directors, and many other people with major influence, I understand that the final decision may not rest with the GM. Overall, I do believe there is a trend with certain GM's and they do hold enough power to be held responsible for the decisions made under their watch.
To demonstrate each GM type, there will be a detailed description, a real NHL example that exemplifies that type, and what their role should be in an organization. Then, I will list the other active GMs that fall under each category.
Example of an Elite GM
There are a few Elite GM's that I would like to go into detail about, but I will focus on David Poile. He is the most winningest GM of all time, and I feel that says it all.
Every year at the NHL draft he steals a player that everyone else undervalued, and turns them into a star. Even as recently as 2017, Nashville drafted Eeli Tolvanen 30th overall. He was considered a one dimensional scoring forward, but Nashville knew better. Last year in the KHL at the age of 19, Tolvanen scored 19 goals in 49 games, and became one of the most coveted prospects in the NHL. For a 30th overall pick to become a top five NHL prospect a year later is remarkable, and speaks to Poile's ability to make magic happen.
Similarly, Poile has been responsible for what some consider the most lopsided trade in NHL history. In the shorted season of 2013, Washington was looking to make a push for the Stanley Cup. Nashville was not making the playoffs that season and were trying to trade Martin Erat at the trade deadline. In the 2012 season, he had 58 points in 71 games, with a history of being an effective forward. Polie took advantage of a desperate Washington by forcing their hand and acquiring Filip Forsberg for Erat. At eleventh overall, Filip Forsberg fell to Washington, who was a consensus top five prospect in 2012. Forsberg has gone on to become a 60 point player in his first 3 seasons in the NHL, and had 0.96 points per game last season at the age of 23.
During Polie’s last 15 years in Nashville, he has missed the playoffs 3 times. With Poile at the helm, the Predators built a program of excellence that has been flourishing recently. Recently, he won the Presidents Trophy last year and made a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2017. His team is young, talented, and signed to strategic salary cap numbers that make Nashville's future very bright.
The Awful GM
Not many of these GMs exist, and it is a nightmare if your franchise employs one. These GMs usually have a weak team to begin with, and somehow their team stays bad. It does not matter how many chances these GMs are given, they will continuously make poor decisions. They might even make some smart choices or have a winning record, but they always find a way to shoot themselves in the foot. Very few stay in the NHL long before getting fired, and never re-hired again.
Example of an Awful GM
I understand this may be a controversial choice, but I will be using Peter Chiarlli as an example of an Awful GM. With a Stanley Cup ring on his finger, many unconsciously consider Chiarelli an amazing GM. When critically analyzing his decisions, he is honestly an Awful GM. Even with the great teams and players he has developed, there have been too many bad decisions made under his watch.
Looking at his draft history, during his eight drafts he anchored for Boston, there was one player (Ryan Spooner) that Chiarelli drafted after the first round that played more than 150 games. That is simply not good enough. Every player he drafted in Boston has had four years to develop, which is plenty of time to make a fair analysis. Mind you, Chiarelli was not allowed to help Boston with the amazing draft success of 2006 because he was released from Ottawa with the condition that he did not help Boston for a period of time.
The top two picks of the 2010 draft were Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, who both have been traded by Chiarelli. They have yielded the combined return of Adam Larsson, Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Joe Morrow, and Matt Fraser (Plus there were other pieces that went to Dallas along with Seguin). The combined value Chiarelli got in return is glaringly less than the value of the two superstars traded away. Looking at his many other trades, the Cam Talbot trade may be the only one he won (Not counting the Kessel trade, which he was forced into). There honestly is little to give Chiarelli credit for.
Many people erroneously believe that Chiarelli brought Chara to Boston in 2006. He technically was not part of the deal, since he was required to stay inactive per the terms of his release with Ottawa.
Overall, I believe Chiarelli had a ton of managerial help in Boston that led to success. Unfortunately, with the autonomy he has in Edmonton (which I am not sure really exists) and with elite talent like Connor McDavid, his teams have not performed.
Next week, I will be covering the other two types of GM's that people may not be aware of, but I have uncovered over my time watching and analyzing hockey.
- The Scout
I grew up with my dad watching the Toronto Maple Leafs. There were many nights in the pre-Shanahan era where my dad would be yelling at the T.V. because of how poorly his team would play. After the game was over, he always commented on the goaltending. Whether it was Vesa Toskala, Jonas Gustavsson, or Andrew Raycroft, the Leafs could never seem to find a legitimate starting goaltender that had a career save percentage above .902%. My dad would proclaim that the answer to this problem was to scout and draft an absurd number of goaltenders. While my dad might have been overreacting, I agree that NHL teams clearly undervalue the importance of drafting goaltenders.
As a scout, it has been explained to me why teams do not draft goaltenders early or often in the NHL draft. The general consensus is that goaltenders are very erratic in their development, making it hard to project if they will play in the NHL. This assumption leads to two conclusions.
#2 - Since goaltender development is tough to project, teams would be wasting their draft picks if they drafted more than one goaltender each draft. The majority of a team’s draft picks should become NHL players, and drafting forwards and defensemen with a more accurate development projections gives them that chance. They also are trying to draft goaltenders with NHL potential, but they do not want to use as many draft picks because of how unlikely that possibility is.
Also, it is worth mentioning NHL franchises only have so many goaltender jobs available. There are two in the NHL, two in the AHL, and some teams have two in the ECHL. Ultimately, teams do not want to draft goaltenders that they may never use.
Drafting goaltenders is considered a crapshoot. Teams will spend plenty of time scouting goaltenders, but at the draft, they are very hesitant to draft more than one goaltender. I understand these team's viewpoint, but I believe that they have the wrong approach when drafting goaltenders. I would argue that since drafting goaltenders is such a risk, I would target the top goaltenders and draft a minimum of two goaltenders each draft. My rational being, since it is so hard to draft goaltenders, teams should give themselves the best chance to draft a NHL caliber one.
If teams drafted goaltenders early, they would be acquiring the best talent, which should translate into a clearer projection and a high percentage chance they play in the NHL. This line of thinking is refuted by Corey Pronman, who I highly respect as a scout and contributor for The Athletic, in his tweet. He does acknowledge in responses to his tweet that there have been goaltenders drafted recently in the second round that have NHL jobs. I would agree that if you look at the goaltenders drafted in the early rounds, you find very few playing in the NHL today. My response to Mr. Pronman's tweet is that because of the consensus scouts have around goaltending prospects, it recently has led to a tradition of waiting until the second or third round before drafting potentially elite goaltenders.
Without diving into advanced analytics, which you can find here by NHL Numbers that proves my point on the value of drafting goaltenders early, let us dive into the success rate of goaltenders drafted from 2000-2009 using basic numbers. Evaluating this era will give enough time to know if these goaltenders have developed into NHL goaltenders. For comparison, 50 games played in the NHL will be the threshold used to determine the success of each pick, as Travis Yost did in his article. The average percentage of NHL forwards and defensemen drafted in the first two rounds using the aforementioned criteria was 62%. The percentage of goaltenders that were drafted in the first two rounds with the following criteria was 53%. The chance of drafting a NHL goaltender is 9% less than the total average of NHL forwards or defensemen selected in the first two rounds. Even with the difficulty of drafting goaltenders, teams only have around 15% less of a chance to draft a NHL caliber goaltender. This proves that drafting goaltenders early in the draft creates the best chance of drafting a NHL goaltender.
The whole conversation around the number of goaltenders drafted per team is confusing. I understand the common logic of not using a lot of your picks on goaltenders because their careers are hard to project. Yet, I have come to the conclusion that drafting many goaltenders over time gives teams a better chance of drafting one that will play in the NHL. This is exemplified by the Philadelphia Flyers. In the 2015 draft, they drafted three goaltenders. Even though it is too early to predict, it seems that none of these goaltenders are NHL caliber. Despite this, the Flyers selected Carter Hart in the 2016 draft, and he is slowly developing into an NHL starter. This supports my theory that more goaltenders drafted means a higher chance that one becomes a NHL goaltender. Teams are always desperate for starting goaltenders, but they usually only give themselves one chance each year to solve that issue. I would like to see a team consistently draft two or more goaltenders each draft, and then look at the results.
Another previously addressed issue regarding drafting goaltenders is that NHL franchises only have so many goaltender jobs available. They do not want to draft goaltenders that they may never use. However, a simple solution to this problem would be to draft a high number of goaltenders, and do not to sign them if they are not developing properly. Then, the number of jobs available would never be an issue.
Given the evidence, I am surprised that more teams do not share my viewpoint. Many NHL teams clearly do not have a legitimate starting goaltender, but only select one goaltender in the 5th round of the draft each year. This is purely illogical. The best goaltenders are drafted in the early rounds, and since it is so tough to draft goaltenders, more should be drafted, not less.
As my Stanley Cup starved dad always says, “You can never have too many goaltenders.”
- The Scout
I would like to introduce everyone to 'Are you rebuilding or not?'. This will be an ongoing series of articles that evaluates what teams are trying to accomplish through: trades, signings, draft selections, personnel changes, and other aspects of a NHL team. Presently, the Tampa Bay Lightning are trying to win a Stanley Cup and the New York Rangers are clearly starting a rebuild. Those are both teams with a clear mandate for the future, unlike the teams I will be covering in this series. I will be writing about franchises that do not have a clear direction for the future of their hockey club. This will be accomplished by outlining the team's current situation, and presenting the evidence that demonstrates a rebuild or an attempt to immediately win the Stanley Cup. Then, I will conclude what I believe the team's direction should be.
If I was taking over as the GM of the Montreal Canadiens, I would start a rebuild. This team as it looks today, is not capable of winning a Stanley Cup. Their defensemen are slow and old, with the exceptions of Mete and Juulsen, and they are missing true #1 and #2 centres (I do not consider Domi or Drouin true centres). No matter how well Price plays, this roster is not a Stanley Cup contender in my opinion.
Most people would agree with me on that assessment, but my plan would deviate from most Canadiens fans idea of what a rebuild would entail. There is the option of keeping this young roster intact while the Canadiens have a few bad seasons and collect many draft picks. In as few as two years from now, Kotkaniemi and their 2017 first round pick Poehling may solve the Canadiens #1 and #2 centre issue. Additionally, with the development of any young prospects on defence, including the aforementioned Mete and Juulsen in the NHL, they may have a promising young group of defensemen. With the added bonus of a 33 year old Price still in net, who will be very good still, Canadiens fan may think this rebuilding strategy should be what Montreal looks to pursue.
I would take a different approach. The best rebuilding option would be to immediately trade the core players while they are still valuable assets. The reasoning for this decision is very simple for me, teams need to have proper asset management. Teams can either trade their top players for valuable assets before a rebuild like the Rangers did with Ryan Mcdonagh, or they can squeeze all the talent out of their own assets and be left with little to no trade value like Detroit has done with Kronwall and Datsyuk. I would start by trading Weber, Price, and Pacioretty for young NHL ready prospects and draft picks. Montreal could get valuable assets if they traded all three players, and that could jump start Montreal's rebuild.
The current Canadiens roster in two years will be good and maybe even great, but I want my team to be the best. Only the best win Stanley Cups, and no one cares if you do not win that coveted trophy. Through trading your top older players, you can recoup those elite assets that could potentially make you the best team in 3+ years. If Montreal handled their assets how I believe they should, they could initiate a rebuild and be a Stanley Cup contender in the next 3-5 years.
- The Scout