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.
Of the players Sakic got in return, only Grigorenko is currently on the Avs roster and he has less than half the points O’Reilly has.
14 Joe Sakic - Signing Francois Beauchemin
And signing Francois Beauchemin hasn’t helped either. His 34 points in his first year with the Avs was decent. His minus-7 was not. And his numbers have dropped off considerably in 2016-17. Signing Beauchemin made some sense; the young Avs could use an experienced D-man. But Beauchemin, though a veteran, has never been that solid rock of a stay-at-home defenseman even at his peak. And the big problem is Beauchemin’s $4.5 million contract, on which he still has yet another season. The Avs are in the unenviable position of being a young team that seems as though they need to already re-build, with many believing Duchene and Landeskog could be traded this summer. Is Sakic the man to rebuild them? Or will Avs management remember moves like these two and opt to replace him?
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.
This is what we call an albatross contract and it will be around Murray’s neck until he is eventually fired. Okposo has seen a slight drop off so far this year, but what’s most galling is that he never deserved a $6 million per year contract in the first place. Stats of 22 goals and 64 points is good. But it’s not $6 million good. Even Garth Snow knew that.
12 Garth Snow - Signing Andrew Ladd
Honestly, I had reservations about putting Garth Snow on this list. I mean, if he wasn’t fired for signing Rick DiPietro to that 150 year $240 trillion contract, what could he possibly do to get canned? And that contract was one of Snow’s first ever moves. If you’ll remember, Snow was promoted to GM from the position of...backup goaltender. Yet another example of how messed up the Islanders organization is, seemingly inherently. And Snow has made the Isles a better team, ever so gradually. But he’s also made some highly questionable moves over his ten plus years as GM, including signing Andrew Ladd to a seven year, $38.5 million contract. Yeesh. This for a player who had 46 points last season and has never scored more than 62. John Tavares’s contract is up at the end of next season. Will he really want to sign long term for a team managed by Garth Snow?
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.
The fact that Staal is having a rebound season this year in Minnesota can’t make him feel good and this move will be remembered by the Rangers' brass come performance review time.
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.
But Zibanejad is six years younger and a bit cheaper, so it’s tough to figure out why Dorion thought this was a good deal. On its face, this trade might not be a big deal, but when combined with…
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.
But let’s not forget, when Burrows left Vancouver, Canucks fans were pleasantly surprised that they got anything for Burrows at all. Pierre Dorion actually made Canucks GM Jim Benning look good. And as we will see, that’s not easy.
8 Jim Benning - Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, 2nd Round Pick for Brandon Sutter & a Conditional 3rd Round Pick
It’s safe to say that Jim Benning hasn’t covered himself in glory in his relatively brief time as Canucks GM thus far. Vancouver has not been good for several seasons and are now staring down the barrel of a long rebuild. And do they really want Jim Benning to be the guy rebuilding them - the man that traded away Nick Bonino, who went on to become one of the key players in the Penguins march to the Cup in 2016? In return, Benning got Brandon Sutter, whose approximately 30 points per season average is unlikely to make much of a difference in the Canucks’ fortunes. To be fair to Benning, nobody saw Bonino’s importance in a Stanley Cup run coming. Except for maybe Jim Benning, who traded for Bonino in the first place. So why did he get rid of him so quickly?
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.
It’s not that Beleskey is a liability for Boston, it’s just that, like with so many unrestricted free agents (UFA) Sweeney paid way too much for him. The $3.8 million per year didn’t look so bad last season when Beleskey put up good numbers. But this year, Beleskey has regressed to the mean (and beyond). Even after you account for his injury, Beleskey was not on pace to meet his career highs again.
5 Don Sweeney - Martin Jones for Sean Kuraly & a 2016 1st Round Pick
Every GM makes the occasional bad free agent signing. They’ve all overpaid somebody at least once. But for Don Sweeney, signing Beleskey was not his only error in judgement. The biggest mistake when he traded away all star goalie Martin Jones. Jones has been outstanding for the Sharks and it makes their deal look like a steal. Now, the Bruins of course have Tuukka Rask, one of the better goalies in the league. Even so, they could have gotten more for Jones. They could have afforded to keep Jones as a backup for a year, giving them cover in case Rask got injured and allowing the rest of the league to see how good Jones can be. Instead, Sweeney decided to trade him away as soon as possible, and the Sharks sure are happy he did.
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.
Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli was happy to be rid of Yakupov whose underwhelming career had just become a distraction. At best, the Yakupov move was like buying a lottery ticket. Maybe he would all of a sudden recover his sparkling junior form? Yeah, he hasn’t.
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.
But with the Blues on the brink of missing the playoffs, facing a salary cap crunch, and also possessing a few draft picks, this summer could determine the team’s fortunes for years to come. Do they really want Doug Armstrong to be in charge of all that?
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.
Many have assumed the move was made for cap reasons. But Oshie’s cap hit of $4.175 is pretty reasonable for a player of his quality, and his contract doesn’t end until the end of this season (2017). Perhaps it would have been better to cut ties with aging captain David Backes, who left this past summer anyway. In any event, the Blues are still facing a cap crunch, so trading away Oshie solved nothing.
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.