Being a general manager in the National Hockey League is a fairly volatile position. Sometimes we forget this. The truth is, GMs are sometimes protected from derision, scorn, and blame simply because they have a coach in between them and the media. If a team that should be doing better on paper, or that was doing well earlier or in a different season with the same basic roster, is struggling now, everybody recognizes that the head coach is on the chopping block. But go through a head coach or two, and people start looking at the general manager as somebody who may need to be replaced. And if the roster a GM has created is woeful, then the GM may be the problem.
GMs build their rosters with small moves here and there, be it small trades, small signings, and more than anything, through the draft. But of course, what gets all the attention, is a big trade. It seems many GMs are now afraid to make big deals these days (though some definitely are not). But in this era of salary caps and no movement clauses, trades are a bit trickier. Nonetheless, pull one off and your team doesn’t benefit from it? Rest assured that all your team's fans and all of the hockey media will take note and never let you forget it. So here are 15 recent moves made by NHL GMs that will definitely be brought up when they are inevitably fired.
15 Joe Sakic - Ryan O'Reilly & Jamie McGinn for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher, & 2nd Round Pick
On the one hand, it seems blasphemous to suggest Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic could be fired. With everything Sakic has done for the club, he should be immune. But consider that Sakic is a novice GM. And so far, he doesn’t seem to have anywhere near the same aptitude for it that he had as a player. Let’s pause for a moment to consider how bad the Avalanche have been this year. They have been complete and utter trash. And this is a team that, just a few years ago, with young guns like Duchene, Landeskog, and MacKinnon, had made the playoffs and were looking to be a contending team in a few years. Well that hasn’t happened. And trades like this one don’t help.
14 Joe Sakic - Signing Francois Beauchemin
13 Tim Murray - Signing Kyle Okposo
Let us now look at the other GM in that O’Reilly trade: Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray. Now Murray definitely made out better in that one. But he is similar to Sakic in that he is both inexperienced and overseeing a young team that most thought would be better. And should be better. The Sabres were the most improved team last year, but this season has seen them relapse into poor form. And the signing of Kyle Okposo is the type of move that has stalled this team’s progression. And it could stall it further given his $6 million a year cap hit with SIX more years on it, all of which either have a no-movement or modified no-movement clause.
12 Garth Snow - Signing Andrew Ladd
11 Jeff Gorton - 2017 2nd Round Pick, 2016 2nd Round Pick, Aleksi Saarela for Eric Staal
Across town, the Rangers look like a much better run team. (Partly just because they’re not being kicked out of their arena). But New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has made some questionable moves, too. At the top of this list is renting Eric Staal for two second round picks and Aleksi Saarela. This was not a smart move. In 20 games, Staal notched a paltry six points in a Rangers sweater and none during their brief playoff run last year. But what did Gorton think he was getting? Staal had only 33 points that season at the time of a trade; a precipitous drop off from 2014-15, which itself was not great. Gorton was paying for 2008 Eric Staal but getting a poor man’s version.
10 Pierre Dorion - Derick Brassard & a 2018 7th round pick for Mika Zibanejad & a 2018 2nd round pick
Perhaps I’m being too hard on Jeff Gorton, because he clearly has got at least one trade right. Knowing when to trade a player like Brassard is difficult and Gorton decided to cash in after Brassard scored a career high in goals in 2015-16. In return, he got Zibanejad and swapped for a higher pick in the 2018 draft. Zibanejad got injured this year, so it’s tough to know if he’ll be a good return for the Rangers. But with his $5 million cap hit until the end of the 2018-19 season, Brassard could be a problem for the Senators and their GM, Pierre Dorion. Brassard has already demonstrated a marked drop in production this year. But he’s not quite 30, so he still could turn it around, especially if the Sens make the playoffs, where his experience could be an asset.
9 Pierre Dorion - Jonathan Dahlen for Alex Burrows
Now we begin to see a troubling pattern for the relatively inexperienced Dorion. Dahlen is a 19-year-old second round pick who is putting up good numbers in the Swedish Elite League. He’s an unknown quantity , but he could well be a solid NHL player. Alex Burrows is a known quantity. And what we know, is not great. Burrows has only scored more than 30 points once in the past five seasons. Not what you expect to get for $4.5 million a year. Now, for the next two years of his contract, Burrows will only carry a $2.5 million cap hit (along with a modified no trade clause). And, in his first handful of games for the Senators, Burrows has shown some improvement.
8 Jim Benning - Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, 2nd Round Pick for Brandon Sutter & a Conditional 3rd Round Pick
7 Jim Benning - Ryan Kesler and 2015 3rd round pick for a 2014 1st round pick, Luca Sbisa, Nick Bonino, 2014 3rd round pick
First of all, to get Bonino, Benning didn’t just give up a sixth round pick or something. He traded away All-Star Ryan Kesler. If the first round pick Vancouver received, Jared McCann, pans out, maybe Benning can be forgiven. But Kesler has been tearing it up for the Ducks, putting up big points while providing them with grit and leadership. Luca Sbisa has been decent, but he’s not exactly a game changing defenceman. And, of course, Bonino has already been given away to Pittsburgh, where he has shone. And that just makes this Kesler trade even worse.
Benning will be fired some day, and probably sooner rather than later, and when that happens, rest assured people will mention this trade. And they will mention it a lot.
6 Don Sweeney - Signing Matt Beleskey
Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney should thank his lucky stars for Bruce Cassidy. Or, if not Cassidy himself, then the fact that his team has responded positively since Sweeney fired long time Bruins coach Claude Julien. Whether it’s Cassidy himself or just a “new coach bump” that has seen a change in the Bruins’ quality, Sweeney needed this. If after firing Julien, the Bruins still didn’t improve, Sweeney would likely be next. It’s unlikely the Bruins brass would have let him fire another coach to fix things when he’s making moves like signing Matt Beleskey.
5 Don Sweeney - Martin Jones for Sean Kuraly & a 2016 1st Round Pick
4 Doug Armstrong - Zach Pochiro & a Conditional 3rd Round Pick for Nail Yakupov
Doug Armstrong has been with the St. Louis Blues organization since 2008, but has only officially been the GM since 2013. However, his long tenure with the club could be nearing its end. Earlier this season, he fired Ken Hitchcock, a well-liked, experienced coach who had already announced this would be his last season. Armstrong did so because had he not, the Blues would not have made the playoffs. It was a big move, but Armstrong had to make it, because his other move, acquiring former first overall pick Nail Yakupov, wasn’t doing anything.
3 Doug Armstrong - Kevin Shattenkirk & Phoenix Copley for Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, 1st Round Pick, conditional 2nd Rounder
Acquiring Yakupov and firing Hitchcock were not the only moves Armstrong has made this year. He also traded away defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk. Not because Shattenkirk was playing poorly; he wasn’t. It’s because he couldn’t afford to re-sign the impending UFA, and everybody knew it. Maybe that’s why Armstrong couldn’t get a better deal. Instead, the Capitals get to rent a very good defenceman that could be the final piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle and the Blues don’t even get a proper roster player in return. They do get a (very late) first round pick.
2 Doug Armstrong - T.J. Oshie for Troy Brouwer, Phoenix Coley, & a 3rd Round Pick
But wait, there’s more! Our final stop on our tour of poor Doug Armstrong decisions brings us back to the summer of 2015 when Armstrong shipped Oshie off to Washington. (Man, the Caps must love Armstrong). It’s still not clear why he did this. Yes, he did covet Brouwer as an experienced Stanley Cup winner. But apart from one good playoff, Brouwer was rarely more than a role player in the Blackhawks’ success, something Washington had already discovered.
1 Marc Bergevin - P.K. Subban for Shea Weber
Both Weber and Subban are excellent defenceman, so it’s not as if Weber is some liability. But he is older than Subban. What’s more, he doesn’t control the pace of play like Subban can, and that is a trait that only a handful of players possess in the league. Weber is slightly more solid defensively, has a harder shot, and is a bit cheaper. But Subban is younger and likely has his best years ahead of him. Also, Subban is HUGELY popular, as evidenced by the massive applause he received when he returned to Montreal with the Predators.
So why did Habs GM Marc Bergevin trade Subban? Because he didn’t “fit in”. Whatever that means. The fans loved him, franchise goalie Carey Price seemed to like him, and Subban possesses that rarest quality among NHLers: a personality. Is that why the Habs brass hated him? One man who almost certainly hated him was then coach Michel Therrien, who has already been fired. So why did Bergevin trade away Subban? I don’t know. But what I do know is that whenever Bergevin gets the ax, every news article about his firing is going to mention this trade.
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