The Hockey News GM RANKINGS
1. Ken Holland, Det.
Holland is in the Binghamton Sports Hall of Fame and looking at the numbers he put up as a 5-foot-8 minor pro goalie, we’ll be darned if we can figure out why. But know this: Holland will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder one day and it will be well deserved. “To me, Ken Holland is the best GM in hockey and there’s nobody even close to him,” said one NHL team executive. Holland built great teams when he had money and he has done the same under the constraints of a salary cap that his Detroit Red Wings never needed. His scouting background has given him a strong foundation in identifying talent both in the amateur and pro ranks. But Holland’s best attribute is his decisiveness.
2. Lou Lamoriello, NJ
Critics were gleeful when it looked as though Lamoriello had stumbled so badly with the salary cap that he would have to start dumping salary from the New Jersey Devils. And that’s what he did - only they were Vladimir Malakhov’s and Alexander Mogilny’s. Lamoriello has not only stocked the Devils with his astute draft picks, but he has supplied much of the rest of the league. Demanding Scott Stevens as compensation for Brendan Shanahan in 1991 might have been his best move as a GM. There is nobody in the league better at placing realistic value on a player and refusing to go a penny higher.
3. Bryan Burke, Ana.
Burke has built one of NHL’s top teams, but Ken Holland and Lou Lamoriello have won as many Cups as he has playoff rounds. But Burke’s ability to turn things around is something to behold. In Vancouver, he cut payroll, made the team better and filled the building. In less than two years in Anaheim, he has acquired Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Teemu Selanne. He’s brash and opinionated and his language is often not suitable for children, but he’s very good. After dealing his way into getting the Sedin twins at the 1999 draft, Burke stated, “There was only one guy who was going to get both of them. And it was going to be me.”
4. Darcy Regier, Buf.
When Regier arrived as a player with the Islanders, they were on the cusp of becoming a dynasty that would win four straight Stanley Cups. But Regier was never good enough to get out of the minors. It was there that he came under the mentorship of Jim Devellano, who helped develop Regier into a GM. Regier has rebuilt the Sabres scouting staff and the results have been outstanding. Advocates will say he built the perfect team for the new NHL; critics will say he had no other choice and lucked into it when the league stuck to its obstruction edict.
5. Jim Rutherford, Car.
Watching Rod Brind’Amour lead the Hurricanes to the Cup last season, Rutherford finally experienced the tangible results of his decision to trade all-world defenseman Chris Pronger more than 10 years before. Rutherford dealt Pronger to St. Louis for Brendan Shanahan; and then, when Shanahan demanded a trade, Rutherford sent him to Detroit for Keith Primeau, whom he later dealt to Philadelphia to get Brind’Amour. It turned out great for Rutherford, who might not have the same good fortune after trading another potential franchise defenseman in Jack Johnson.
6. Jay Feaster, TB
Feaster knows a few things about stockpiling assets. He has five children ranging in age from two to 14. Feaster has never played a game of organized hockey in his life and hasn’t been on skates in about 20 years, but he has enough hockey sense to know that top-end talent wins. Forcing a truce between Vincent Lecavalier and coach John Tortorella represented the more difficult option, but he took it. Signing Lecavalier, Martin St-Louis and Brad Richards to long-term contracts looks good as long as the three keep scoring all of Tampa’s goals.
7. David Poile, Nsh.
If the measure of a great player is his success in the post-season, the same has to apply to GMs and the one thing separating Poile and a position in the top five is his teams have never delivered in the playoffs. Poile got Peter Forsberg without taking an impact player off his roster. He has drafted well and makes impact deals, dating back to Rod Langway and Dale Hunter in Washington to getting Tomas Vokoun in the expansion draft to Steve Sullivan for two draft picks and to Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott and J-P Dumont as free agents.
8. Darryl Sutter, Cgy.
Sutter has a very simple philosophy when he considers acquiring a player. He asks himself whether the Flames can afford the player, whether he wants to be in Calgary and whether he is a good fit for the organization. If the answer to any of those questions is no, he doesn’t make the deal. So far it has paid off handsomely for him. Getting goalie Miikka Kiprusoff for a second round pick and acquiring Kristian Huselius from Florida for Steve Montador were terrific trades. And instead of being stubborn, Sutter was even humble enough to trade back for Craig Conroy, a player he’s not crazy about, but one who makes Jarome Iginla more productive.
9. Doug Risebrough, Min.
Risebrough’s building of the Wild has almost erased the fact he once made one of the worst trades in NHL history. As GM of the Flames, Risebrough traded Doug Gilmour and a bunch of other guys to Toronto for Gary Leeman and another bunch of guys. Since taking over in Minnesota, the Wild has made the playoffs just once, but have a solid core of young players and a good mix of useful veterans. Acquiring shootout artist Petteri Nummelin from Atlanta for a third round pick was an underrated move, as was acquiring Manny Fernandez and Brad Lukowich for picks. Brian Rolston, Kim Johnsson and Wes Walz were all very solid signings.
10. Doug Wilson, SJ
Wilson could probably dine out on the Joe Thornton trade for the rest of his career. But then someone might point out he dealt Miikka Kiprusoff to the Calgary Flames for a second round pick. Then someone else might point out he used that pick to select Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a promising young defenseman who stepped into the NHL this season at 19. Wilson has managed to keep the Sharks’ young, promising core of players together long-term and most impressively, got Jonathan Cheechoo to sign a five-year deal below market value after Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal-scorer. He manages assets well.
11. Kevin Lowe, Edm.
When Lowe was considering acquiring Dwayne Roloson at the deadline for a first round pick last season, even his former teammates from the Oilers’ glory days were calling him to ask him whether he had lost his mind. Lowe stuck to his convictions and it got the Oilers to the Stanley Cup final. Even with the salary cap the Oilers say they so desperately needed to compete, Lowe has had to make some agonizing decisions in recent months, such as trading away Chris Pronger – and, of course, Ryan Smyth, over what looks to be a small amount of money, but a large amount of principle.
12. Paul Holmgren, Phi.
Holmgren deserves an ‘A’ with a big shiny star beside it for his work since taking over the mess that was Bob Clarke and the Philadelphia Flyers. Realizing there were no guarantees with Peter Forsberg, he dealt him to Nashville for Scottie Upshall and budding defense prospect Ryan Parent. But his best move was turning a second round pick into goalie Martin Biron, a player the Flyers are hoping will solve their goaltending woes. He acquired Alexei Zhitnik, but flipped him for defense prospect Braydon Coburn and managed to get rid of Kyle Calder, a bust of a signing.
13. Dave Nonis, Van.
Nonis has both himself and Mike Keenan to thank for his team’s success this season. After all, you wouldn’t have found many people outside Keenan who would have been willing to take the Todd Bertuzzi problem off the Canucks’ hands and hand them Roberto Luongo. Hiring Alain Vigneault to replace Marc Crawford has worked out so far. Nonis didn’t do a big deal at the deadline – he refused to give up top prospect Luc Bourdon to get Peter Forsberg – but the re-acquisition of Brent Sopel will help the power play.
14. John Muckler, Ott.
Muckler’s signing of Dominik Hasek ultimately failed, but his trade to get Dany Heatley for Marian Hossa was one of those rare cases where a GM trades a star player and gets equal value. Letting Zdeno Chara go allowed the Senators to keep Wade Redden and Chris Phillips. In Buffalo, Muckler cut the budget and made the Sabres better. Two minor-leaguers for Miro Satan was a great move, as was getting Michael Peca, Mike Wilson and a first-rounder (which they used to take Jay McKee) for Alexander Mogilny.
15. Bob Gainey, Mtl.
Gainey’s measured approach has served him well in his years as a GM and he rarely makes panic moves. But are the Canadiens closer to the Stanley Cup than they were when Gainey took over in 2003? Gainey made some good decisions as GM in Dallas, such as acquiring Sergei Zubov for Kevin Hatcher and having the guts to deal a young Jarome Iginla in order to get Joe Nieuwendyk. In Montreal, his acquisition of Cristobal Huet was a very good one, but his biggest coup so far might have been dumping struggling goalie Jose Theodore. Even though his team was fighting for the playoffs, Gainey still had the gumption to deal Craig Rivet at the deadline.
16. Garth Snow, NYI
Snickers could be heard across the league when Snow stepped out of the crease and into the most dysfunctional front office in hockey, but he has brought stability to a post that has lacked it for many years. Prior to getting Ryan Smyth, Snow got some cap room by dealing Alexei Zhitnik and Mike York and got useful offensive defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron. He also signed Sean Hill, Viktor Kozlov and Richard Park.
17. Ray Shero, Pit.
It took Shero until the trade deadline to get the toughness everyone said he needed and along with it, he got two players who can play in Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque. Aside from that, Shero’s best move has been to leave a good thing well enough alone. Of course, he also made a smart move when he looked at the mess that is the Boston Bruins and turned down that GM job before landing in a much better situation in Pittsburgh.
18. Dale Tallon, Chi.
Both times Dale Tallon was hired to work in the Blackhawks front office, he came out of the broadcast booth to do it. That’s the way they do things in Chicago. But if Tallon continues an upward trajectory after a strong start as GM, this one might just work out. Since taking the job, Tallon has made significant upgrades by signing Nikolai Khabibulin as a free agent and giving up Mark Bell to get Martin Havlat, who is a franchise cornerstone if he can stay healthy. Tallon determined that a $2.95-million arbitration award for Kyle Calder was too much and dealt him to Philadelphia for Michal Handzus. Based on his performance in international hockey, Jonathan Toews looks like he’ll be a player. Tallon picked him over Phil Kessel and Nicklas Backstrom.
19. Don Waddell, Atl.
Almost everyone in the hockey world thought Don Waddell overpaid when he acquired Keith Tkachuk at the deadline. His response was, “Talk to me after the playoffs.” Should the Thrashers make it there this season, it will mark the first time in franchise history, all of which has been presided over by Waddell. Waddell’s scouting staff has drafted well with the first or second overall slot, but success has been elusive in later rounds. Waddell’s best work has come in trades and free agent signings. Getting Marian Hossa for Dany Heatley has been one of those trades that has turned out great for both teams and getting Slava Kozlov for two picks was an outstanding deal.
20. Doug Armstrong, Dal.
Since taking over as Dallas Stars GM in 2002, Doug Armstrong’s teams have won one playoff series. Despite that, he signed goalie Marty Turco to a four-year deal at $5.7 million per year. His moves at the deadline were curious, giving up first-rounders for Ladislav Nagy and Mattias Norstrom. Trading Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner for Jason Arnott and Randy McKay hasn’t helped, either. but he has done some good things, notably getting Darryl Sydor for a fourth round pick and Mike Ribeiro for Janne Niinimaa. Signing Bill Guerin and buying him out over the summer has cost the Stars $2.2 million in cap space both this season and next.
21. Dean Lombardi, LA
Lombardi built the San Jose Sharks into a perennial contender, but faces an enormous challenge doing the same with the Los Angeles Kings, a team that so seldom ever seems to get it right. It says here his deal to get potential franchise cornerstone Jack Johnson gets him off to a great start. Dealing Jan Caloun and Andy Sutton in order to prevent Evgeni Nabokov from being taken in the expansion draft was a wise move in San Jose. Signing Dan Cloutier was a disaster when it was done and looks worse now.
22. John Ferguson, Tor.
If John Ferguson hit the home runs with his big moves that he has with his minor ones, he would be near the top of the list. Ferguson has resisted the temptation to part with youth for a quick fix and has built a formidable scouting and development system, but has undermined his efforts with some spotty performance on major moves. Ed Belfour is taking up $1.5 million in cap space this season because of a contract that was excessive both at the time and in retrospect. His long-term signings of Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina on defense are looking suspect already, but that didn’t stop him from committing to veteran Darcy Tucker for another four years.
23. George McPhee, Wsh.
After going to the Stanley Cup final in his first year as GM of the Capitals, McPhee hasn’t won a playoff series and will finish out of the playoffs a third straight season. Burned by a Jaromir Jagr deal that was forced upon him by ownership, McPhee has focused all of the Capitals efforts on the future. He has certainly stockpiled draft picks, leading the league with 11 first round picks in the past five drafts, including at least two in the first round in each of the past three. He was at it again, getting Buffalo’s first-rounder and Jiri Novotny for Dainius Zubrus and Timo Helbling and a second-rounder for Richard Zednik .
24. Glen Sather, NYR
What to do with Sather? If there is a statute of limitations on Doug Risebrough trading Doug Gilmour, there has to also be one on the Hall of Fame work Sather did with the Oilers in the 1980s. Yes, his scouting staffs drafted Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Esa Tikkanen, Ryan Smyth and Jason Arnott, but in successive years in the first round they also took Selmar Odelien, Scott Metcalfe, Kim Issel, Peter Soberlak, Francois Leroux, Jason Soules, Scott Allison, Tyler Wright and Joe Hulbig. Sather’s teams have had a winning record three times in the past 15 years and, after one year of respectability, the Rangers are again in disarray.
25. Peter Chiarelli, Bos.
Chiarelli has hardly had an opportunity to make an impact in Boston and it didn’t help that the Bruins didn’t know whether they would be buyers or sellers as the trade deadline approached. He got off to a solid start by signing Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard as free agents in the off-season – heaven knows where the Bruins would be without those two guys – and getting Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew for Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart wasn’t a bad deal. Locking up Marco Sturm, the lone player left from the previous regime’s disastrous Joe Thornton trade, was a good move.
26. Jacques Martin, Fla.
We’ll be the first to acknowledge Martin inherited the mother of all messes from Mike Keenan. In fact, he did a pretty good job of cleaning some of it up by shipping Todd Bertuzzi to Detroit and getting a prospect and a couple of draft picks in return. But would the Panthers be that much worse off than they are now had Martin decided to really blow things up good and trade Martin Gelinas, Chris Gratton and Ed Belfour along with Gary Roberts and Bertuzzi? Kudos to Martin for getting Roberts to waive his no-trade clause for somewhere other than Ottawa or Toronto and getting a good prospect in Noah Welch in return.
27. Francois Giguere, Col.
Like Martin, Giguere has been set up to be the fall guy for things that happened long before he took the job. Had Pierre Lacroix still been the GM, he would have placed higher on the list on the strength of building two Stanley Cup winners, but his moves for star players in exchange for what once seemed to be a bottomless pit of youth has finally caught up to the Avalanche and Giguere must deal with it. Giguere comes from an accounting background, not a hockey one, and it was dollars and cents that prompted him to trade Alex Tanguay, in part because he thought Marek Svatos could fill that role, which hasn’t happened.
28. Mike Barnett, Phx.
Things started out well for Barnett in 2001-02, but have gone into a downward spiral since. The Coyotes have acknowledged they’ve had enough of the quick fix. Presumably, that means there will be no more Jeremy Roenick/Owen Nolan/Georges Laraque signings. With Wayne Gretzky as a close advisor, Barnett has made a flurry of moves during his tenure, some good (getting Derek Morris and Keith Ballard for Chris Gratton, Ossi Vaananen and a pick) and some disastrous (trading Daniel Briere to get Gratton).
29. Doug McLean, CBJ
Doug MacLean can’t be faulted for sitting by and fiddling while his organization burns, but his aggressive moves have done more to hurt than help. The Blue Jackets have been plagued by a failure to capitalize on high draft picks and a number of curious personnel moves. They’ve picked in the top eight in every draft and will do so again this June, but have a dismal record getting NHL-caliber talent beyond the first round. Taking on Sergei Fedorov’s salary seemed like a bad idea at the time – and even worse now.
30. Larry Pleau, StL.
We hate doing this to one of the truly good people in the game. But under Pleau, the Blues went from being a team that had at least 90 points in each of the five years prior to the lockout to the NHL’s bottom-feeder last season. A series of bad trades and signings have put the organization in a deep, deep hole from which it will take years to recover. To make matter worse for Pleau, the positive steps made this season have president John Davidson’s fingerprints all over them.