Ranking the NHL’s General Managers, 1-31

It’s that slow time of the offseason, where the draft is done, development camps are over, and there’s little more than table scraps on the free agent market. Bob McKenzie has retired to his summer hideaway, Friedman and Marek have recorded their last pod for a good long while, and Da Beauty League is starting up. Apart from the ongoing theatrics of the Erik Karlsson Saga, there’s not much going on.

Now that a majority of the front offices have done most of their work, we can take a look at each team going into the 2018-19 season and see where they stand, and perhaps evaluate the job each General Manager has done thus far, maybe even rank them from best to worst.

But before we do, I’d like to say this…

This is a definitive list, a perfect list, one that cannot be argued, nor disagreed with. Anyone who even attempts to disagree with this list is simply wrong, wrong, WRONG.

Now that I have your attention, some actual caveats:

  • Obviously, it will be difficult to really “rank” some of the newer GMs, especially since one of them has only been on the job for a couple months now. No one ever said this was a perfect list (except for me up there in the bolded paragraph) but we here at Armored Headspace Labs will do our very best to carefully analyze each GM’s body of work, whether it spans years or weeks, to judge these men harshly, and accordingly.
  • Some front office bosses have long careers that span more than one team. I tried not to weigh those previous stints too heavily for or against them, but didn’t ignore them either.
  • Many times we don’t know how much autonomy and authority a GM has at his job. Some owners seem very hands-off, some appear a bit meddlesome, and some are Eugene Melnyk. Regardless, they are the GM of record, and for the sake of clarity we won’t be “handicapping” any of them.
  • These rankings are subject to change, especially in light of a Karlsson or Panarin trade. We’ll update them as we see appropriate.
  • A front office is many people, the GM himself is not solely responsible for drafting and developing talent, trading assets, signing free agents, and hiring/firing coaches. But again, for the sake of clarity the GM gets credit (or blame) for what goes on in all these areas.

Without further ado…

1. David Poile -Nashville Predators

The best of the best, and the only General Manager the Preds have ever known. He’s taken a hockey club located in Nashville, TN from its humble expansion roots and built it into a powerhouse, most recently a Presidents’ Trophy and the year before that, a Stanley Cup Final appearance. He boasts a deep, talented, and fast NHL roster, and a solid draft/development system that continues to feed that roster. He may not have brought a Stanley Cup to Music City, but it sure feels like an inevitability at this point.


2. Steve Yzerman – Tampa Bay Lightning

I was tempted to place Stevie Y at the top of this list, but felt Poile deserved the nod. If he somehow snags Erik Karlsson this offseason without selling off major assets, expect him to take that top spot.


3. Kevin Cheveldayoff – Winnipeg Jets

Whereas other GMs at the top of this list are there because of their boldness, Chevy is here because he preached patience when everyone else demanded he take action. This past deadline, Chevy finally went big and acquired center Paul Stastny, and the move paid off with 15 points in 17 postseason games. While Stastny opted not to re-sign in Winnipeg, that shouldn’t be a huge setback given the wealth of talent the Jets have built via their patient approach. This is a team set to be a contender for years to come.


4. George McPhee – Vegas Golden Knights

This is the guy who put together an expansion club that went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season. This is the guy that built, and then rebuilt, the Washington Capitals into a contender. This is also the guy that traded prospect Filip Forsberg for five minutes of Martin Erat. He also traded away three draft picks for Tomas Tatar, who put up a whopping two points during Vegas’s stellar run and ended up in the press box. For all the brilliant moves George McPhee makes, he also makes a few that leave you wondering. No doubt he’s one of the boldest GMs in the league, but sometimes you wish the man would hedge his bets a little better. Now he has to prove that Vegas’s miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final was no fluke.


5. Stan Bowman – Chicago Blackhawks

Three Stanley Cups for the man who derives his very name from the prized trophy itself. There can be no doubt Bowman is a savvy front office executive, but some misfires (as well as a major goalie injury) has them looking shaky going forward. They just paid a pretty high price in order to clear some cap room, so the Hawks might not be done just yet.


6. Jarmo Kekalainen – Columbus Blue Jackets

I’ll admit it, I’m really hoping Jarmo succeeds. He’s the first NHL GM to hail from Europe, and if he fails I fear it’ll be many, many decades before this ridiculously conservative, copycat league tries again.

Jarmo inherited a huge mess left by not one, but two awful General Managers. But some good drafting and better luck in acquiring talent has Columbus on the cusp of greatness. It’s a real shame the Artemi Panarin situation threatens to ruin all of that. How Kekalainen manages it will no doubt define his tenure in Columbus.


7. Brian MacLellan – Washington Capitals

The boss of the defending Stanley Cup champs. I wanted to rank him higher, but so far MacLellan has had a rough go of it this offseason, starting off by losing the veteran coach who finally got the hard-luck Caps to the Promised Land. Clearing cap room via trade in order to re-sign star defenseman John Carlson was probably the right move, but it already feels very much like Washington won’t be repeating as Cup champs. Oh well, it was worth it for all the Ovechkin drunken fountain swimming.


8. Jim Rutherford – Pittsburgh Penguins

Three Stanley Cups to his name have to count for something, even though Rutherford had the good fortune of walking into Pittsburgh with the best 1-2 center duo in hockey signed long-term. But the last couple offseasons have had the Penguins making curious moves. In 2017 it was giving up a first rounder for Ryan Reaves, and in 2018 it’s signing maligned (and aging) defender Jack Johnson long-term.


9. Doug Wilson – San Jose Sharks

Despite some of the savvy moves Wilson has made and his recommitment to winning with the current core, it feels like San Jose’s Cup window has passed. I think he’s already on borrowed time, especially if the massive deal he inked Evander Kane to doesn’t make an immediate impact.


10. Kyle Dubas – Toronto Maple Leafs

I was reluctant to rank the rookie GM too highly, but I’m fairly confident this initial ranking will end up being too low. He snagged the top free agent prize this offseason in John Tavares, and still appears to have plenty of cap room to sign his other stars to long-term deals. The Leafs look poised to be a contender for years to come, and Dubas played an integral role in building this squad.

Now if he can just get that #1 D-man…


11. Doug Armstrong – St. Louis Blues

Quick question: Is it appropriate to call Ryan O’Reilly “disgruntled” at this point following the infamous post-season interview that punched his ticket out of Buffalo or just “bummed?”

Anyway, back on topic, Armstrong decided to sell at the 2018 deadline, then used the cap savings (as well as a bad situation in Buffalo) to retool his roster up front. But it won’t matter how good the new guys do if the goaltending tandem of Allen and…Chad Johnson?…don’t figure it out.


12. Ray Shero – New Jersey Devils

The son of legendary Flyers coach Fred “The Fog” Shero got his own name on the Stanley Cup in 2009 as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sadly, it was downhill from there. But Shero found work quickly thereafter, taking over for Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey. Obviously, his biggest move thus far was acquiring Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, and all Hall proceeded to do last season was win the Hart Trophy.

Other moves haven’t been quite as successful. Deadline rentals Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon had little impact and have already signed with other clubs. Shero has stayed relatively quiet this offseason, and that’s probably wise to not let a surprise season steer the franchise off-course.


13. Joe Sakic – Colorado Avalanche

Sakic stared down countless critics (including me) who told him to resolve the Matt Duchene debacle, but he held firm, and in the end dealt the center for a massive haul. That trade and their resurgence in 2017-18 did a lot to help fans forget the abysmal 48-point run the year before, but that awful season still happened, and it happened under Sakic’s watch. More seasons like 2017-18 and 2013-14 and less like, well, all the ones in between, and Sakic’s stock will no doubt rise.


14. Jim Nill – Dallas Stars

I just loved those firewagon hockey Dallas Stars and their strange, quirky, expensive Finnish netminding duo. So very much fun, so very unconventional. It’s a shame they veered away from this concept so abruptly. Bringing Ken Hitchcock back gave this team a bit of an identity crisis, and after a late-season collapse, Hitch decided to hang ‘em up. Nill also inherited a nearly-barren cupboard of talent thanks to poor drafting by his predecessors, and I’m not convinced he’s improved the organization in that regard. Signing Tyler Seguin to an extension is his biggest challenge going into 2018-19.


15. John Chayka – Arizona Coyotes

The whiz kid lands here. No one else weaponizes their cap space as much as Arizona. But there’s also been some mismanagement in free agency (Goligoski for five years!?) and at the draft. Sooner or later this needs to stop being the place where bad contracts go to die and actually become a good hockey team. But if last season’s finish was any indication, this could be next season’s Vegas Golden Knights, which is still a weird thing to type out.


16. Rob Blake – Los Angeles Kings

The former star defenseman took over a franchise in a precarious spot—an aging but still talented core, but little in terms of young talent to supplement it. Blake decided to go for it, and while this is a very talented team, it’s also a very old one, with some very dicey contracts. If there’s no short-term success (like another Stanley Cup win) those contracts and the headaches they’ll likely bring will be the lasting legacy of the Rob Blake era.


17. Ron Hextall – Philadelphia Flyers

Along with the many generations of fans who just love Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” the Philadelphia Flyers are a phenomenon that I just don’t understand. Are they rebuilding? Are they going for it? I’m just not sure. Hextall appears to have learned the lessons of his two predecessors and has been ambitious without being impetuous. But it’s just strange to see a team sign a guy for $7 million per when there are still so many holes to fill, in particular the very large one between the pipes. Are they really just going to wait until Carter Hart is ready!?


18. Dale Tallon – Florida Panthers

Tallon played a key role in revitalizing two flagging NHL franchises, but he’s also made some inexplicably bad mistakes along the way. He took a huge gamble taking on a player in Mike Hoffman, but did so for relatively little. And despite losing two players in Smith and Marchessault for nothing, the Panthers’ core still looks strong.


19. Lou Lamoriello – New York Islanders

The Lou Lamoriello era in Long Island was off to a rollicking start with the signing of Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz, and by all accounts absolutely killed it at the draft. But then…John Tavares opted to sign with the Maple Leafs and it’s been downhill since. I personally don’t think the modern game has passed him by, but opting to add more overpaid grinders to a team that had too many to begin with is a curious move. Then again, Lou’s always been lousy at signing free agents, his prowess lies in the trade market, so maybe he’s got something up his sleeve.


20. Jeff Gorton – New York Rangers

The Rangers are a rebuilding club and if you had any doubt, here’s the damn letter saying so. How many teams have pulled the plug seven months after snagging the best free agent on the market that year? I suppose Gorton gets credit for finally opting to tear it down rather than continue to plug holes on a sinking ship, but I think Kevin Shattenkirk can agree that this realization could’ve come just a little sooner.


21. Brad Treliving – Calgary Flames

These rebuilds on the fly don’t often work out well, and Calgary’s little experiment looks as if it’s not going to prove otherwise. Treliving fired his coach, hired the best one on the market at the time (Barry Trotz wouldn’t be available until later), and seriously retooled his roster with a blockbuster deal. He’s played every card a GM has short of a press conference calling out his players (stay tuned). If the Flames don’t meet expectations this upcoming season, something tells me I won’t have to worry about his ranking in the future.


22. Don Waddell – Carolina Hurricanes

The other half of that blockbuster deal involving Calgary is here, and all they did was snag a (statistically speaking) top-flight defenseman. I still think the Tom Dundon era is doomed to failure, but I can’t argue with their moves thus far, especially with the addition of Calvin de Haan via free agency. Waddell is already making better moves in Carolina than he ever did in his disastrous stint as GM of the late Atlanta Thrashers. It remains to be seen if he’ll be the guy to finally get the franchise back to the playoffs.


23. Jason Botterill – Buffalo Sabres

The O’Reilly deal leaves me thoroughly underwhelmed, especially since, in order to facilitate it, he had to take on two mediocre players with bad contracts, but perhaps the only way out of the enormous hole the Sabres currently find themselves in is by digging a little deeper. Finally getting that 1st overall pick the franchise was hoping for back in 2015 sure helps that endeavor.


24. Paul Fenton – Minnesota Wild

Fenton has been on the job a very, very short time, and he came in with very little in terms of options, so it’s not unexpected to see the Wild take a very quiet approach, signing a few veterans to depth roles and focusing on locking down key restricted free agents. Still though…replacing one aging Matt (Cullen) with another (Hendricks)?


25. Don Sweeney – Boston Bruins

No one remembers the hokey golf movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” but I’m reminded of the fictionalized version of golf legend Walter Hagen in that film. The narrator describes him as someone who made all kinds of terrible swings but made up for them every time with one or two great ones. That’s what the Bruins are, a team that continually overvalues aging grinders while jettisoning skill players, yet somehow the core of talent they’ve put together is good enough to overcome these self-inflicted wounds. The B’s continue to draft and develop good talent, and might have the best top line in the league, yet I just don’t get what the plan is when they sign a middling puckmover to a long-term extension.


26. Ken Holland – Detroit Red Wings

There was a time when Holland would be at the top of this list, but that was a long time ago. Since then he’s run the Red Wings aground in a vain attempt to keep a playoff streak alive as the franchise moved into a new arena. Alas, it appears Detroit is ready to embrace a rebuild…kind of. They managed to snag two potential top prospects at the draft, and they laid relatively low on the free agent market. But for a team that’s rebuilding the re-signing of aging veteran Mike Green to a multi-year deal seems strange.


27. Bob Murray – Anaheim Ducks

I wrote earlier how I would not separate the drafting/development department from the rest of the front office, but I can’t help it here. How frustrating it must be to be the amateur scouting department for the Ducks, to continually serve up prime prospects only for the guys in charge to continually mismanage it? Only this year did Murray finally admit that the game of hockey has changed and the Ducks needed to get faster. But I think Ducks fans can agree that it sure would’ve been nice to have that epiphany a bit before signing Ryan Kesler and his battered frame to a cap-crushing deal, wouldn’t it?


28. Marc Bergevin – Montreal Canadiens

Bergevin somehow received a stay of execution from ownership, and continued to do what he does best, not acquire centers for a team in desperate need of them. This is a man who still looks for all the wrong things in building a winner, and makes nearly all the wrong moves. And don’t even get me started on his mishandling of the Max Pacioretty situation.


29. Peter Chiarelli – Edmonton Oilers

Garth Snow somehow managed to hoodwink Chiarelli on two separate occasions, yet it’s Chiarelli who still has a job. Why? I’m not sure. He may have his name on the Stanley Cup, but his lasting legacy will be as the guy who dealt away a future Hart Trophy winner for a middling defenseman. It’s really tough, even for someone like me who isn’t an Oilers fan, to watch a prime years of a generational talent be wasted by such bad management.


30. Jim Benning – Vancouver Canucks

A prolonged rebuilding plan that doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon, Benning is yet another man at the bottom of this list who still inexplicably has a job despite a continual string of failed seasons and bloated payrolls. Of all the GMs on this list, Benning’s vision appears to be the most elusive. I’ve no idea what the plan is, and I’m fairly confident in saying that he doesn’t either. Losing franchise icon and Team President Trevor Linden now means Benning has nothing holding him back. Strap in, Canucks fans…


31. Pierre Dorion – Ottawa Senators

There’s no GM in a worse situation than Dorion. The Sens are poised to be one of the worst teams in the league going into 2018-19, and that’s not even counting the eventual Erik Karlsson trade. Couple all that with the fact that Ottawa doesn’t even have a high first round pick to look forward to and you have a GM who’s at the very bottom of this list.