Opinions from the desk
When the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Noelle Needham, she was hired without anyone in the organization knowing her gender. This fact has made it okay in the average hockey fan's mind that the Leafs hired two women, the second being the famous Hayley Wickenheiser. The philosophy being, if a company hires the best people, then hiring women becomes more acceptable.
That philosophy is complete bullshit in my opinion.
The hockey industry currently dealing a major deficit in the amount of women in hockey ops positions. The fact is, women add huge value to an organization, and our industry has a responsibility to hire women. My argument is really two pronged. 1) Women should be hired to create diversity, which actually benefits businesses. 2) Hockey has a social responsibility to hire more women to create equality.
On the first point, there is a ton of information and research that shows how effective women in the workplace can be. Research overwhelmingly proves that a diverse staff helps create a better organization.
I saw too many articles written about how progressive the Leafs were being when they hired two women, the second being the famous women's hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser. It is 2018, and I have had enough of the over-congratulations for the slow progression of women working in hockey operations. It is time to be aggressive, and make it clear that women belong in hockey
Women Create More Successful Businesses
This point is very obvious in my opinion, and should not need to be backed up with research. Subjectively, having diverse viewpoints should create a better organization, but I do not want to leave that statement up for discussion. Using an academic article, I will objectively be proving that hiring women can only help that organization thrive.
Article #1 - Do women leaders promote positive change? Analyzing the effect of gender on business practices and diversity initiatives (Written by, Christy Glass & Alison Cook) : In this article, the hypothesis asks how effective are women in leadership positions? They mention previous research that has outlined the possible positives and negatives of women in leadership roles. For example, they mention that "women may be more likely than men to emphasize non-financial performance measures in favor of innovation and equity." Consequently, their research discovered that having women in leadership roles creates only positive outcomes. The business attributes that improved when women are hired included: corporate governance strengths, product strengths, community strength, and diversity strengths. For those reasons, it is clear that hiring women is beneficial to businesses.
The Resistance to Hire Women
If anyone follows sport remotely, this should not come as a surprise. Men have effectively kept the patriarchy alive and well in sport organizations. Even so, I know the argument that "men would be happy to hire women" would arise if I did not address it. That fallacy is part of the reason more women are not hired into hockey operations positions. To prove my point, the next article takes a focus group of male Sport Management students and asks them about women working in sport.
Article #2 - What’s My Responsibility? Undergraduate Heterosexual White Men in Sport Management Discuss Increasing Diversity in Sport (Written by, Jörg Vianden & Elizabeth A. Gregg) : To prove that there is resistance among men to hire women in the sport industry, the authors of this article surveyed a sample group of 22 white men in sport management programs about hiring women. Some students like Jim understood the importance of diversity when he said:
“[You should have] different people with different ideas to bring to the table. If you just have the same people walking around your office, you’re all going to think relatively the same way and your company is never going to change, but the marketplace and everything else changes over time.”
Overall, there was an understanding that there should be women in sport, but there was a lack of responsibility felt by the men to do anything about it. The harsher side of these student’s ignorance can be shown through a quote from Ron, another student in the survey:
“If I’m a man in a CEO position and I look at my responsibility to allow more women into that culture . . . why am I going to invite more competition into this group? I think when you look at the limited number of jobs, especially at a higher level in sports, there are plenty of people who are in facilities and running a stadium and stuff like that, but there are very few front office positions. Why are you going to try to add to the pool of people trying to get more [women]?”
Success of Women in Sport
The one story that is the definition of women succeeding in sport would be the story of Becky Hammon. Becky Hammon is one of the shining stars for women looking to work in sport one day. Currently she is the assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs basketball team, while working under arguably the best coach of all time in Gregg Popovich. She had a long journey to get where she is today, and with rumors that she is being interviewed for head coaching positions, it looks like her star is just going to keep rising.
Article #3 - Becky Hammon Biography (Written by, beckyhammon25.com) : Becky Hammon started as a basketball player in the small state of South Dakota. She went on to play college basketball at Colorado State, where she broken many school records and had her jersey number retired in 2005. After her college stint, she played a grand total of 16 WNBA seasons, and averaged almost 14 points per game. Becky Hammon has gone down in history as one of the best women basketball players, and it opened up the door into coaching.
Becky Hammon always had a desire to become a basketball coach. While playing in San Antonio, she had to spend a year rehabbing an injury. This gave her the opportunity to frequently be involved with San Antonio’s NBA team, where she contributed her opinion in coaches meetings and games. In 2014, she broke the glass ceiling of NBA coaching becoming the first full-time, paid, female coach in the NBA. Since then, she notably lead San Antonio’s Summer League team to a championship as head coach in 2015, and also had a lot of other successes with the franchise. Even the Milwaukee Bucks interviewed her when they were looking for a head coach. One day soon, Becky Hammon might become the first female coach in NBA history.
Through my research, I feel that I have made it very clear that there needs to be an aggressive movement by the hockey industry to hire women. Particularly, the hockey industry may see amazing success stories like Becky Hammon if they just gave women a chance to prove their value. Albeit, if the hockey industry keeps overemphasizing small successes when women are hired, there may never be substantial progression in creating a diverse staff in hockey operations. Knowing all this, our industry has a problem that they should be held responsible to change, and fixing that problem will only help make their organizations better.
- The Scout
The Dark Years (TDY) 2015-2018
With Murray's team moulded in the way he had always wanted, Buffalo was set to finally make a push for the playoffs. With the core of Eichel, Kane, Reinhart, Ristolainen, O'Reilly, Bogosian, and Lehner in net, this team was good enough to make the playoffs. Much to their surprise, Buffalo bottomed out with an 81 point season, which was good enough to place 7th in their division. Reeling from a disappointing season, they selected Alexander Nylander 8th overall in the 2016 draft. The Sabres had one goal in mind when entering free agency in 2016 on July 1st, they were going to land a big name. They ended up paying $42M over 7 years to sign Kyle Okposo, who just had played three very solid seasons on John Tavares wing. He averaged around 0.88 points a game over those three seasons, and Buffalo was giddy to land him.
Finally, this team was ready to make the playoffs. Fans had been waiting five seasons, but now with a potential first line winger added in free agency, they were built to win. Even though Buffalo added so many pieces, it never translated to success and they finished with an even worse record than the year before. Ownership finally had enough, they fired Tim Murray, and replaced him with Jason Botterill, who had just won the second of back-to-back championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins as Assistant General Manager. With control of the Sabres, Botterill was content on tinkering with Buffalo before tearing them apart.
My Take On The Dark Years (TDY) Era
The Dark Years was a perfect case of the accelerated rebuild failing. Even with their savior Jack Eichel playing through his entry level contract, which gave Buffalo extra cap space, the team was not good enough to make the playoffs. This was all a result of trying to make a playoff team without the proper players. Buffalo had an average goalie, a shaky defence, and a forward group that never found a rhythm. No matter how many changes the Sabres made, they could not get their team into the playoffs. I find when teams decide to throw a potential rebuild in the trash for playoff contention, they keep adding players that are currently in the NHL, regardless of the cost or effect they will have on the team. This broken philosophy is based on the idea that if a team adds enough good players, the team will eventually win. For example, the Kyle Okposo signing was such a joke. Yes, he did have some great seasons. Yes, at the time he was a 28 year old former 7th overall pick that looked ready to dominate, but did anyone pause for a minute and think about the bigger picture? Buffalo threw $6M at Okposo with the dream that he could replicate his production from the New York Islanders, but he was playing with John Tavares! I mean come on! Did no one in the organization take a step back and think that he might have had an inflated production rate from playing with a top ten player in the world? I am no NHL executive, but it sure crossed my mind the second they gave him $6M for 7 years. Okposo is now an overpaid player with around 0.63 points per game over his last two seasons in Buffalo. It is not an awful contract, but he was not the savior they were trying to sign that offseason. No matter how many players like Okposo, Beaulieu, or Scandella Buffalo has tried to add, the only real solution for adding quality players comes from drafting players like Casey Mittelstadt. (This applies to all teams to except for Boston, who keep adding players to an aging core, and somehow stay elite)
Post Evander Kane (PEK) 2018-Present
Botterill finally decided his last place team was not going to make the playoffs, so he offloaded some of Buffalo's core. The first player to leave was Evander Kane to the San Jose Sharks, just before the trade deadline. Buffalo recouped a 2019 first round pick (because Kane re-signed in San Jose), which was a pretty decent haul for a player that has the skill to be great, but possesses a questionable personality. The next domino to fall was Ryan O'Reilly, who was shipped off to St. Louis. Since O'Reilly is a highly regarded centre, the Sabres got Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, a first round pick in 2019, and a second round pick in 2021. These moves clearly demonstrated that Buffalo was finally looking to start rebuilding again, as they planned on doing back in 2012. The next few decisions all line up with this direction for the team. Accordingly, the Pittsburgh Penguins offloaded Matt Hunwick's contract to Buffalo, and in return they also gave the Sabres Conor Sheary, who was instrumental on Crosby's wing when Pittsburgh won their back-to-back Stanley Cups. Then at the 2018 draft, Buffalo grabbed the highly regarded Rasmus Dahlin 1st overall, breaking the Buffalo curse of losing the draft lottery. It all finally looked like Buffalo was going to commit to a rebuild, and they would have a prosperous future.
My Take On The PEK Era
I was so excited to write this article where I praised Buffalo for committing to a rebuild after a tumultuous past. Too bad they went out and decided to trade picks and prospects for a top 6 winger, who may leave in free agency after one season. Even if the Jeff Skinner trade is a win for them as an isolated transaction, adding a top 6 winger for a last place team is not the answer! I do acknowledge that this new group in Buffalo looks better than any team in the last seven years, but that is not the point. They have an elite young core in Eichel, Mittelstadt, Dahlin, Thompson, Reinhart, and Ristolainen, but they are starting to mortgage young players and picks for immediate help to make the playoffs. Stop me if you have heard this story before. Buffalo is going down the path (again) to be a playoff team, with little hope of contending for the championship. Cup contenders need replacement players on entry level deals ready to play in the NHL when they start having to paying their core a significant part of their salary cap. It is tough to find these replacement players when Buffalo keeps trading picks and prospects to make a last place team just good enough to make the playoff immediately.
If the Sabres stick to the plan they laid out when they acquired all those picks for Kane and O’Reilly, then they are going to be on their way to contend for the Stanley Cup. Yet, if they keep ditching prospects and draft picks for NHL players, while they are not yet an elite team, then they will cripple their chances at a Stanley Cup.
I do not know how many times Buffalo can make the same mistakes, and expect different results. I believe that is called insanity.
- The Scout
When I started watching hockey in 2010, the Buffalo Sabres were a competitive team, lead by the game changing Ryan Miller. The same Ryan Miller that gave Canada fits in the 2010 Olympic Games. This window of playoff contention ended in 2012 when the Buffalo Sabres missed the playoffs after making it the two previous seasons. Ever since then, Buffalo has been absent from the playoffs, a streak that is currently seven years. When Buffalo first started to struggle, they decided to try and rebuild their organization. Seven years later, they still are one of the basement dwellers, and it seems like they have not learned their lesson.
There are four distinct eras in modern Buffalo Sabres history. In each one, the organization took a different direction on how they planned to win the Stanley Cup. Those eras are: Before Tim Murray (BTM), Pre Jack Eichel (PJE), The Dark Years (TDY), and Post Evander Kane (PEK). Examining these eras can help us as observers comprehend how Buffalo thought they could become a playoff team. After I break down the major events of each era, I will offer my own opinion on each time period.
Before Tim Murray (BTM) 2011-2013
This era begins with the last years of Darcy Regier’s reign as GM, in which there seemed to be a clear direction in mind for the franchise. The Sabres were coming off a disappointing game 7 loss in the first round to Philadelphia in 2011. They went on to have a decent season in 2011-12, but were clearly sellers at the deadline. Accordingly, Buffalo shipped out Paul Gaustad for a first round pick at the deadline, signalling the start of a rebuild. At the 2012 draft, the Sabres had two first round picks and two second round picks, before packaging the 21st and 42nd overall picks to move up and pick Zemgus Girgensons 14th overall. The Sabres had started to obtain an abundance of draft picks, and used them to build their prospect pool.
The 2012-13 shorten season saw Buffalo go 21-21-6, and that was the first season the rebuild truly took effect. Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr, and Jason Pominville were all shipped out of town, and main assets received in return were: 4 second round picks, Johan Larsson (who was a former second round pick), and a first round pick. Darcy Regier was clearly trying to accumulate assets for a rebuild. This was shown when Buffalo had six selections in the first three rounds of the draft in 2013. He was also very careful not to make any huge free agent signings, and the biggest contract Darcy handed out was to his own player Cody Hodgson for 25.5M over 5 years.
My Take On The BTM Era
I was so excited for Buffalo's future when they decided to aggressively tear down their core and start a rebuild. Ryan Miller was an elite goalie at the time, but even with his outstanding play, Buffalo was not going anywhere. Darcy Regier did an amazing job squeezing as much value from his assets as he could. Correspondingly, there was an emphasis on acquiring draft picks, and Buffalo's scouting department did a solid job finding talented prospects.
Pre Jack Eichel (PJE) 2013-2015
No more was Buffalo going to be in the bottom of the standings, they were going to win! Ironically, this season was the first horrible season the Sabres had dealt with (there are worse seasons to come). With newly appointed general manager Tim Murray at the helm, they finished with 52 points that season. Those measly 52 points gave the Sabres the 2nd overall pick in the 2014 draft, after losing the draft lottery to Florida. While in their free fall that season, Murray made a few trades, but most notably Miller was finally let go for the key pieces of William Carrier, a first round pick, and third round pick. That was the last time Buffalo was concerned with adding draft picks while Tim Murray was in charge. After selecting Sam Reinhart 2nd overall, they went into free agency looking to make a splash.
The Sabres entered the 2014-15 season with a swagger that would hopefully push them over the edge and make them a playoff team. Too bad for Buffalo, they only improved by two points. They were given the consolation prize of franchise player Jack Eichel in the McDavid draft because they lost the draft lottery again. Prior to the 2015 draft, Buffalo knew that they were getting a top 2 draft pick because of how awfully they were playing, so they made a blockbuster deal in February. The Sabres acquired Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane from Winnipeg. Those two players were considered huge additions for Buffalo because in their mind, Bogosian was a former 3rd overall pick that was eventually going to be a top pairing defensemen (Spoiler: he did not become a top 2 defensemen) and Kane was a 23 year old 30 goal scorer, who was unjustly ran out of town for personality reasons. In return for these two, the important pieces that the Sabres gave Winnipeg were: Brendan Lemieux (31st overall selection in 2014), Joel Armia (16th overall in 2011), Tyler Myers (2010 rookie of the year and 12th overall in 2008), and a 1st round pick. They basically gave Winnipeg 4 first round selections (31st overall virtually being a late first round pick) for Kane and Bogosian. This trend of trading picks and prospects continued when Buffalo traded for Ryan O`Reilly, Jamie McGinn, Robin Lehner, and David Legwand at the 2015 draft. It only cost them: a first round pick, two former first round picks in Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko, a former second round pick JT Compher, and a second round pick. After a quite free agency period, Buffalo was going into next season with an elite Jack Eichel, and some NHL proven players to support him. The 2016 season was finally going to be the year Buffalo was good enough to make the playoffs.
Buffalo made a notably bad trades for Kane, Bogosian, and Lehner, but even the O'Reilly trade was not worth it. They may have won the O'Reilly trade, but Buffalo was never going to be better than a playoff team because they had very few young prospects to lift them to contender status. The point of building through the draft is to have a huge prospect bank to pull from. If enough of those prospects become NHL players, then you have a contender on your hands. Instead, Buffalo elected to trade 6 first round picks or former first round picks, and 3 second round picks or former second round picks (that includes the 31st and 32nd overall picks!). They decimated a majority of their prospect pool for Ryan O`Reilly (an elite 2nd line centre), Robin Lehner (a fringe starting goalie), Zach Bogosian (a second pairing defenseman), and Evander Kane (a 2nd line winger with personality issues). Consequently, the Sabres were so caught up in trying to make the playoffs that they ruined their prospect pool that was so skillfully built by Darcy Regier.
Next week, I will cover the other two eras that brought the Sabres to where they currently are today.
- The Scout
This is 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.
This 2017-18 season marked the end of the Chicago Blackhawks' nine year playoff streak. This modern incarnation of the franchise is now entering unfamiliar territory. For a team that history considers a post salary cap era dynasty, they are not used to receiving top 10 selections in the draft, as they did in the 2018 draft. The Blackhawks have made a concerted effort to stay on top of the league through constant injections of young talent throughout the roster, salary cap savvy signings, and trades that recouped assets for players they could not afford anymore. However, with the long term injury to their goalie Corey Crawford, the skeleton defence core, and an under producing forward group, Chicago has created an unstable team that collapsed during the 2017-18 season. Between salary cap restrictions bullying the Blackhawks into trading away key assets, questionable trade and signing decisions by the hockey operations group, and their scouting department's inability to be a top three producer of talent (which is a lot to ask of them), they have put themselves on the perimeter of Stanley Cup contention. This begs the question, should they accept their inevitable fate and dismantle their current roster, or should they take their core and make one last attempt to win the Stanley Cup?
I will preface this section with the fact that I am a Chicago Blackhawks fan. I really would like to see the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup. However, I am also a huge believer in early rebuilds. Teams can flip their elite stars for huge prospect packages, and it can create a contender very quickly. Chicago has enough young forwards and defensive prospects to successfully create an accelerated rebuild, but I personally believe that they need to make one last push for the Stanley Cup. For that to work, first and foremost Crawford has to be healthy or else they should just call it an era and start again. Hear me out, Toews is an elite #1 centre, Kane is a top 5 point producer in the NHL, Keith is still a top 2 defensemen (top 4 if you want to be picky), and Crawford (health) is a top 5 goalie in the NHL. Along with high end young players like Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat, and Brandon Saad, that is a core that is able to compete for a Stanley Cup right away.
I want to be clear, I have no illusions of another cap-era dynasty with Chicago. This team is good enough to win one last Stanley Cup with this current core. They might not get as much trade value from their stars if they choose to do this, but the point of a rebuild is to win the Stanley Cup. Why would you not take advantage of an opportunity to win while you can? It would be well worth it to make one last strong push while this core is still elite.
There are two things that would need to be done immediately if Chicago is going to win one last Stanley Cup. First off the Blackhawks have to get rid of Seabrook right away. This is not up for discussion, and he needs to go no matter what the cost is. I love Seabrook and everything he has done for Chicago, but he has not performed well enough to justify his $6.875M, 8 year contract. To prove this point, during the 2017-18 season, there are key metrics that show the brutal truth of Seabrook’s level of play. As Scott Powers, the lead writer for The Athletic Chicago, points out:
Those common advanced analytics tell us that when Seabrook was deployed as a top 4 defensemen, there were more shots taken on his team than Chicago generated in around 55% of the games he played. When Quenneville played him as a bottom pairing defensemen, his team was out chanced in only around 33% of his games. Furthermore, it would not be worth it to buy out Seabrook since he would carry a buyout penalty of as high as $6.8M, and that would not do the Blackhawks any good if they are trying to win today. Ultimately, Chicago should beg and plead with him to waive his no trade clause, and get his salary off the books. His $6.875M cap hit is not acceptable to pay a bottom pairing defensemen, especially on a team that is trying to win a Stanley Cup. Chicago could find much better use for that $6.875M if they were able to free up that cap space.
Chicago has too many good players to blow up their core. To retool and make one last push, the changes need to be immediate and drastic. They have enough talent to win between their experienced and skilled core, their dynamic young roster players, and their many high end tradable prospects. With this blueprint, I believe that Chicago could capture that elusive fourth Stanley Cup, an achievement that no post salary cap era franchise has ever accomplished.
- The Scout
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
Today, the NHL punishes teams for drafting and developing talent, and that should embarrass them. To solve this issue, the NHL should introduce a similar salary cap structure and compensation for drafting and developing players, similar to the NBA. With the Luxury Taxes and Bird Rights, it would create a situation where teams would be rewarded for drafting players and have the capacity to keep them.
First looking at the Luxury Tax, it creates a bubble for teams to spend over the set salary cap. If a rich team like the New York Rangers chose to spend 5 million USD over the set salary cap, they would have to pay a tax on that 5 million USD. That tax New York paid would be spread around the league to give poorer teams more money to spend on their payroll. This allows rich teams to have the option to spend more money and keep their players. Also, it helps poor teams keep their talent through the distribution of the Luxury Taxes.
The point is, the hard salary cap suffocates teams into trading or releasing their drafted talent to underserving teams, because they do not have the salary cap space to sign everyone. With a Luxury Tax, teams could spend over the salary cap to keep their talent, while also helping poorer teams pay their players. Everyone should be able to keep their acquired talent, which teams can not do under the current salary structure.
With the ability to spend over the salary cap, teams may look to overpay players in free agency. To discourage the inflation of a free agent's value and encourage drafting and developing players in a Luxury Tax system, there needs to be rules similar to Bird Rights. In the NBA, if you draft/sign a player and keep them on your team for 3 years, you obtain their Bird Rights. The first component to Bird Rights is the opportunity to sign the player to an extra year, that other teams can not offer in free agency. Secondly, teams are able to exceed the salary cap to sign players with Bird Rights, without paying any Luxury Taxes. The rules for spending over the salary cap are very convoluted, but teams are able to execute this if they have developed and kept their talent.
There have been steps taken to move closer to Bird Rights rewards in the NHL. If players re-signs with their team, they can receive an extra eighth year that other teams can not offer them in free agency. This is a good step, but the real change needs to come in long term financial relief. The few years that a player receives less than market value is not enough to help teams keep their talent under the salary cap. The NHL needs to introduce ongoing financial exceptions for drafted and developed players to prevent teams from losing talent because they do not have salary cap space to sign them.
The fairytale of the Vegas Golden Knights was made possible by the excessive parity in the NHL. The main focus of the NHL's salary structure is to keep every team's max payroll the same, allowing everyone to have a fair chance to win the Stanley Cup. This has made everyone equally competitive, which has lead to teams having their talent taken from them and given to undeserving teams because if a team has too many skilled players, they will not be able to afford them. I believe that this equality is not fair, and there needs to be change. Through the flexibility of a soft cap with a Luxury Tax, teams would have to option to keep their talent by spending over the salary cap, while also supporting teams that may not have the same money through the distribution of the Luxury Taxes. Additionally, with perks similar to Bird Rights, teams could keep their talent they have worked to develop through salary cap exemptions. The best teams should have the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup, that is what I consider fair. An expansion Vegas team, designed to be everyone's rejects, was only able to make the Stanley Cup final in their first year because of the unfair equality created by the NHL, and the league should make sure that never happens again.
- The Scout