The duties of NHL general managers have changed throughout history. Years ago, many of them took on the dual role coach and GM while in the modern era we have general managers dishing out a lot of responsibilities to one or more assistants. But basically, a GM’s job is still to take care of the club’s day-to-day operations, make trades, sign free agents, and handle the drafting of players, etc. Like all professions, some of them are good at their job while others leave a lot to be desired.
However, even the worst GMs have their good days too. Of course, the object of the job is to make as many moves as possible that improve the franchise. Every GM in history has made positive moves along the way, but there are others who take backwards steps or make moves which don’t really have any affect at all on their squads. In this list we’re going to focus on GM’s who have done more harm than good to their teams during their stints with them.
Some of the GMs are well-known misfits while others may actually be regarded as being good at their jobs. A good GM needs to make shrewd decisions and improve his club by exchanging weak players for better ones. It takes a lot of skill to get a first-line player in return for a third-liner, but anybody can trade away their best player for another team’s top performer.
In addition, the salary cap has allowed fans to see who the smartest GMs are since they now have to have a solid plan in place when it comes to assembling a winning team within a strict budget. We’ve seen some GMs perform miracles with one club and then destroy their next club due to ineptness. These are the top-10 worst general manager stints in NHL history.
10 Gord Stellick, Toronto Maple Leafs
9 Punch Imlach-Toronto Maple Leafs
8 Gerry McNamara-Toronto Maple Leafs
Gerry McNamara was in charge of the Leafs from 1981 to 1988 and miraculously made the playoffs four times in seven seasons with a winning percentage of just .367. His draft choices were actually pretty good as he picked up Wendel Clark, Al Iafrate, Russ Courtnall, Todd Gill, Vince Damphousse, Gary Leeman and Luke Richardson. However, he dealt away Darryl Sittler to Philadelphia for Rich Costello, Ken Strong and a second-round draft choice and traded a first-round pick to New Jersey, which turned out to be Scott Niedermayer, for Tom Kurvers. He also traded Bob McGill, Steve Thomas and Rick Vaive to Chicago for Ed Olczyk and Al Secord. Secord was then shipped out for a fifth-round draft pick a couple of years later.
7 Mike Gillis, Vancouver Canucks
6 Glen Sather, New York Rangers
Glen Sather’s Rangers have been successful recently, but that wasn’t always the case under the controversial GM. Sather had a habit of throwing good money at mediocre players in the past and critics say the only reason he’s stopped doing so is because of the salary cap. Sather paid millions for players who were past their prime such as Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, Michael Rozsival, Darius Kasparitus, Bobby Holik, Eric Lindros and Pavel Bure.
5 Doug MacLean, Columbus Blue Jackets
Doug MacLean managed Columbus from 2000 to 2007, failed to make the playoffs once, and compiled a record of 172–258–62 for a less-than-mediocre winning percentage. MacLean acquired aging players such as Sergei Fedorov and Adam Foote and signed them to big contracts when they were well past their prime. He lost a couple of good players in Tyler Wright and Francois Beauchemin in the process. MacLean drafted Gilbert Brule sixth overall in 2005 and then tried to rush him straight into the NHL. The youngster ended up suffering a pair of serious injuries before he was sent back to junior hockey.
4 Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers
Flyers legend Bobby Clarke served two stints as the team’s GM from 1984 to 1990 and from 1994 to 2006. While he built some pretty good squads there, his main weakness was goaltending during the last six years of his reign. Clarke never seemed to realize the club needed a top goalie if it was going to win a Stanley Cup and went through over a dozen goalies in his second stint in Philly.
3 Russ Farwell, Philadelphia Flyers
2 Rejean Houle, Montreal Canadiens
Rejean Houle was in charge of the Canadiens between 1995 and 2000 and a lot of Habs fans believe he was nothing short of a disaster. Houle made more than his fair share of bad trades with the worst being Patrick Roy and team captain Mike Keane to the Colorado Avalanche for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky, and Andrei Kovalenko. He also shipped out power forward Mark Recchi to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Dainus Zubrus as well as sending Pierre Turgeon and Craig Conroy to the St. Louis Blues for Shayne Corson and Murray Baron.
1 Mike Milbury, New York Islanders
We could write a book on Mike Milbury’s worst deals while he was GM of the New York Islanders since there were so many of them. But we’ll stick to his worst gaffes while he was in control of the team’s destiny from 1995 to 2005. At one time or another Milbury had Wade Redden, Bryan Berard, Bryan McCabe, Zdeno Chara, Darius Kasparaitis, Eric Brewer, Tommy Salo, Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, Tim Connolly, Raffi Torres and Todd Bertuzzi on his roster while they were promising youngsters or in their prime. However, Milbury managed to trade away all of them.
Some examples of Milbury’s lack of patience include Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen being sent to the Florida Panthers for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish as well as a 2nd overall pick (Jason Spezza) and Zdeno Chara for Alexei Yashin. Milbury also dealt a third-round draft choice, Bryan McCabe and Todd Bertuzzi to Vancouver for Trevor Linden. He then shipped Linden out 15 months later for a first-round pick which Milbury wasted on Branislav Mezei with the 10th overall selection. Milbury went through five head coaches during 10 seasons in charge, made the playoffs three times and handed Yashin a long-term deal which the Islanders eventually bought out. Looking at that core, you're talking about a potential dynasty that Milbury disposed of for over a decade of mediocrity. He's the blueprint for GM's learning what not to do.
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