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NHL Power Rankings: Ranking the NHL general managers

NBC Sports logo NBC Sports 11/30/2020 Adam Gretz
Joe Sakic holding a sign posing for the camera © Getty

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we turn our focus to the league’s 31 general managers to see who is at the top of the class and doing the best job building their team.

We are looking at a combination of career achievement, as well as current success and the way they have set their team up for the long-term.

Who tops the list?

To this week’s Power Rankings!

The Elites

1. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche. There is not a team in the NHL that is set up for more long-term success than the Avalanche. The Matt Duchene trade could help set up the defense for the next decade, while he has also taken advantage of his salary cap situation to the past two years to stack the depth chart behind his All-Star top line.

2. Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings. His Detroit track record is obviously incomplete, but he was the main architect of a Tampa Bay Lightning team that has been the NHL’s most successful team over the past six years. That counts. A lot. That is also why he gets such a high mark.

3. Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues. Since being named general manager a decade ago the Blues have the fourth most wins in the NHL and finally got their championship. The Alex Pietrangelo situation was tough, but they still found a capable replacement in Torey Krug. The trades for Brayden Schenn and Ryan O'Reilly were complete robberies that helped bring the Blues their first Stanley Cup.

4. Julien BriseBois, Tampa Bay Lightning. Even though he has only been the general manager for two years he still had a major hand in building the current roster. He also had an incredible 2020 to get Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, Patrick Maroon, and Kevin Shattenkirk to help bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay.

5. Don Sweeney, Boston Bruins. His tenure has not been perfect, but the Bruins have a great team with a very manageable salary cap outlook. That is not an easy thing to accomplish.

Established names and strong track records

6. Lou Lamoriello, New York Islanders. He built a mini-dynasty in New Jersey and that will always be part of his story. He has not made a ton of franchise-altering moves with the Islanders (Jean-Gabriel Pageau is significant) but he did bring stability and credibility to an organization that lacked both before he arrived.

7. Jim Nill, Dallas Stars. This guy has never met a blockbuster offseason acquisition that he hasn’t liked. His aggressiveness did not result in success on the ice until recently. Fun fact: Over the past two years no team has won more playoff games than the Stars’ 22.

8. Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh Penguins. In terms of entertainment value he is in a class all by himself because he never stops trading people. Ever. He has won three Stanley Cups with two different organizations, and that commands respect. There have been a LOT of home runs with the Penguins in terms of his roster moves. He has also had some massive swings and misses. The latter has happened far more frequently the past few years and might closer their window a little faster than it should.

9. Brian MacLellan, Washington Capitals. He helped bring a Stanley Cup to Washington and nobody can ever take that away. They remain a constant contender but there has been some obvious regression the past two years. Overall though, he’s built a strong team that is still a Stanley Cup contender.

Definitely above average 

10. Kelly McCrimmon, Vegas Golden Knights. Since taking over the role he has added Chandler Stephenson, Alec Martinez, Robin Lehner and Alex Pietrangelo to the roster. Salary cap nightmare? Maybe. But also a hell of a team.

11. Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs. The most polarizing general manager in hockey, mainly due to his perception within the insane hellscape that is the Toronto hockey scene. Overall, I like the moves he makes. He has a plan, he sticks to it, and he does not let outside voices dictate his path. The lack of postseason success, combined with Lamoriello’s success in New York, has put a massive target on his back. Winning in the playoffs will change that. Sometimes that requires forces beyond the general manager’s control.

12. Don Waddell, Carolina Hurricanes. Dougie Hamilton, Nino Neiderreiter, Vincent Trocheck, and Brady Skjei are among the players Waddell has acquired since replacing Ron Francis two years, without giving up all that much in return. He also got a first-round pick out of Toronto (No. 13 overall) for eating a portion of Patrick Marleau’s contract.

13. Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers. The end of his Detroit tenure was not good, but I like his start in Edmonton as he attempts to clean up Peter Chiarelli’s mess. This offseason has been especially productive with the cheap additions of Tyson Barrie, Kyle Turris, and Dominik Kahun.

The middle ground

14. Jeff Gorton, New York Rangers. There have been some missteps here and there, but overall there is a pretty clear plan in place and a lot of impact talent added to the organization. Some draft lottery luck has helped (a top-two pick in each of the past two years!) as did a huge free agent score in Artemi Panarin. The big criticism in the short-term is the fact they have nearly $14 million in dead money on the books this season. That is insane.

15. Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks. A few years ago he is in the top-five, easily. But the Sharks have badly regressed, their salary cap situation is rough, and he ignored the goalie situation for two years when the team was supposed to be a contender. That was completely reckless.

16. Rob Blake, Los Angeles Kings. He inherited a team on the decline and is in the process of tearing it all down. The Kings have one of the league’s best farm systems and a loaded talent pool to build from. There is a foundation being built here, even if it takes time to see it pay off.

17. Chuck Fletcher, Philadelphia Flyers. His biggest moves have been acquiring Kevin Hayes and Matt Niskanen. He paid Hayes a ton of money, but so far it has worked out. The Niskanen trade was a solid talent-for-talent swap, but Niskanen retired after just one year. He has not dramatically altered the course of the franchise in one direction or another.

18. Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens. He makes a lot of trades that seem like losses for him initially and then turn out to be wins. He’s actually had some GREAT moves. But the on-ice results remain completely mediocre. He had a strong offseason on paper this year. How the team does as a result might make-or-break my perception of him.

[More: ProHockeyTalk Free Agency Tracker]

19. Jarmo Kekalainen, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Artemi Panarin and Seth Jones trades were massive wins that helped make the Blue Jackets a consistent playoff team, something that they had NEVER been before. Now it is time to take the next step and no longer be happy to simply make the playoffs.

20. Brad Treliving, Calgary Flames. The Flames draft and develop fairly well, but they make some absolutely bonkers decisions in free agency and in the offseason under Treliving. In a couple years we might look back at this offseason and wonder what they were thinking. Some might already be doing that.

21. David Poile, Nashville Predators. The Predators they are a team trending in the wrong direction while Poile has had some significant missteps along the way. Big picture? He has done a good job in Nashville, literally helping to build the team from the ground up. But most general managers that get 22 years and untouchable job security with a single team usually have more to show for it than just one trip out of the second round of the playoffs.

22. Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg Jets. He has been busier in recent years, but he remains one of the least active general managers in the NHL. He doesn’t make many bad moves, and he doesn’t make many great moves. Mostly because he rarely makes any moves.

Too soon to tell

23. Bill Guerin, Minnesota Wild. I think his first year has been mostly fine (love the Nick Bonino trade; like the value for Jason Zucker), but it’s been just that: One year.

24. Tom Fitzgerald, New Jersey Devils. His initial moves revolved around purging a disappointing roster. He found good value in his early trades, and I love the Corey Crawford signing.

These guys should be on the hot seat

25. Pierre Dorion, Ottawa Senators. Three years ago the Senators were a double overtime Game 7 away from the Stanley Cup Final. Today, nobody from that team remains on the roster. That says more about ownership than Dorion, whose hands have been tied. The Senators have a ton of draft picks to work with and an improving farm system, but ownership will still dictate what this thing becomes.

26. Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks. My biggest criticism here is the Ducks just do not seem to have any real direction. This is not a playoff team.  They continue to act like they are a playoff team. That means it will be longer before they actually become a playoff team again.

27. Stan Bowman, Chicago Blackhawks. Banners hang forever, and every great team will eventually have to pay the piper for its success. I feel like Chicago’s time in that regard came sooner than it needed to through mismanagement and an inability to cut the chord with players they won with. Loyalty is great, but in a bottom-line business it does not always win. He also lost three separate Brandon Saad trades which is completely baffling. The rebuild is off to a rocky start.

28. Jim Benning, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have hit some major home runs in the draft despite never picking higher than fifth during their rebuild. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes are superstars that are going to make this team a must-see. But the cap management here is a complete disaster and ultimately cost them a good playerTyler Toffoli — that they paid a significant price for at the trade deadline just a few months earlier. It has also resulted in an incredibly top-heavy roster.

Not enough track record to rank

Kevyn Adams, Buffalo Sabres. He has only been in charge for six months, but they have been an eventful six months. Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, and Cody Eakin are strong pickups. But they are still only one-year commitments for a team that has major long-term issues.

Bill Zito, Florida Panthers. He is continuing the Panthers’ recent tradition of front office change and massive roster overhaul. Hopefully he has better luck than the people before him.

Bill Armstrong, Arizona Coyotes. He has some challenges ahead.

More NHL Power Rankings

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: Ranking the NHL general managers originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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