Any time an NHL general manager’s spot opens up, most of the publicly acknowledged candidates have either already been NHL GMs or have been assistant GMs for years.
A guy with previous GMing experience will typically have a track record that speaks for itself. They either did a good job with their previous team or didn’t, drafted well or poorly, etc. You can judge what they might do by what they’ve already done, and it’s rare that a guy who struggled as a GM in one organization will suddenly become a genius in another.
But for long-time assistants, it’s not so cut and dry. You can hear all about how they’re long-time Hockey Men who did x, y, and z so well for a previous employer and are now ready for a big job after years toiling behind the scenes. But that’s it.
The thing is, though, that many of these guys who are “ready to take the next step,” or however the hockey media chooses to frame it, simply aren’t cut out for the job. Look at these two lists of AGMs who were in line for promotions — one from 2013, one from 2014 — and you’ll see how these things typically work out. There’s a lot of overlap on those two lists but altogether they name 15 candidates, of which 10 have since gone on to become actual general managers of actual NHL teams. That 2013 list was also put together after after the Blue Jackets hired Jarmo Kekalainen, so let’s add him to the list as well.
Laurence Gilman, Claude Loiselle, Frank Provenzano, David McNabb, and Ryan Martin have yet to get the call. Kekalainen, Jim Nill, Ron Hextall, Paul Fenton, Julien BriseBois, Jim Benning, Jeff Gorton, Brad Treliving, Jason Botterill, Ron Francis, and Rob Blake have.
What can you say about those guys? Collectively, it seems like the crew is a little underwhelming. I’d say three have done objectively bad jobs since taking over their respective clubs: Benning (obviously), Fenton (obbbbbviously), and Blake (less obviously, and he’s at least trending in the right direction lately, but it took a while to get there).
The next group of guys I think you would say have done fine. Kekalainen, Treliving, Francis, and Hextall seem to fit that bill. They have had clear successes and clear failures. Kekalainen’s team has four playoff appearances in six years, which is better than anyone else ever did in Columbus, but they’ve also won a round just once and their playoff record is 9-18. And they can’t retain talent that isn’t an RFA. And with the mass exodus they just suffered, who knows what comes next?
Treliving’s team has three playoff appearances in five years, and hasn’t won a round since the fluke 2014-15 season when they got to play an even worse Canucks team in the divisional format. They have a ton of talent, but Treliving has bungled a number of high-profile signings and failed to draft well. It hasn’t helped that his coaches have been Bob Hartley (not his hire), Glen Gulutzan (instead of Bruce Boudreau), and Bill Peters.
Francis built a good team in Carolina, and ensured it has a bright future as well. But his teams also never made the playoffs and couldn’t figure out that Cam Ward was one of the worst goalies in the league over the course of five seasons. What happens with Seattle is up in the air but he’s at least saying the right things.
Hextall obviously got pushed out of the door in Philly for a bad coaching hire and an inability to get a goaltender who could stop the puck. He also made that bad coaching hire after firing the guy who just singlehandedly turned the Blues into a Cup winner, but that’s neither here nor there.
The other three guys on the list are “too soon to tell” hires. BriseBois has been on the job for a year and hasn’t really had a ton to do except manage the cap to one extent or another. Most of his moves have been savvy, some haven’t. The Brayden Point contract seems like it’ll tell us a lot one way or the other, but you have to like where things are headed, even if he did walk into a pretty sweet gig.
(Steve Yzerman was another AGM who got a chance, and he seems to be the exception rather than the rule in terms of being objectively great. Kyle Dubas is another who’s in the “too soon to tell” group.)
Gorton has done some good things in the way of rebuilding the Rangers but has also made some strange decisions that will probably take some time to develop one way or the other. He’s another one where you have to say he’s done a good job in a limited time, but you need more proof of concept.
As for Botterill, he certainly started way behind the 8-ball and has done some pretty good things to improve the roster, but again, to what end? The Sabres are probably still a year or two away from even being a legitimate playoff team.
All of which is to say all the AGMs that are now vying for the Minnesota job are going to be in tough to impress. In recent years, it’s highly uncommon for touted guys to have been a little better than “they make the playoffs half the time.” Trips out of the first round are even harder to come by.
That’s not to say your Bill Guerins and Tom Fitzgeralds and Scott Mellanbys can’t do a good job of righting the ship in Minnesota. But they’d certainly be bucking a trend.
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