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