A lot of things are easy to quantify in hockey – Steven Stamkos is a good goal scorer because he scores a lot of goals. This is not a subjective opinion, that is just a thing that is. Grading General Managers, however…well that’s not so easy.
So, for our purposes today, I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to call attention to the teams who currently have the most good deals on their books (no matter how they acquired them), because accomplishing that is an art. We always hear about all the terrible deals around the NHL, and about all the overpaid players, but forget that some teams are out there doing it right.
…For the most part.
Almost every GM has made some gross misstep along the way, so it’s impossible to call anyone infallible, but as things currently sit, a few teams are in pretty darn good shape. Let’s show them some love. (Oh, and a note: the numbers shown are they players’ cap hits, not their real-dollar salaries for the year.)
(Note: not having Mike Gillis on this list – from the Sedins, to Burrows, to Hansen to Higgins – was a regrettable oversight. Dean Lombardi didn’t get included because hey, gotta draw the line somewhere, and I don’t care for a deal or three of the Kings.)
GM: Paul Holmgren
Cost: #1 – NHL’s highest payroll (no space under the cap)
Well, rough start. But hear me out.
Paul Holmgren takes a lot of s***. He got rid of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, then they won a Cup. He used that cap room to get Ilya Bryzgalov, who then proceeded to suck. He traded James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn, and JVR’s recent success hasn’t looked great on him (though Schenn is secretly having a pretty decent season).
But on the other hand, he also has some real talent under extremely reasonable, and in some cases ridiculously good contracts. Consider:
Claude Giroux was signed as a restricted free agent which leaves you with little bargaining power, but still: he’s making $3.75 million this year and next to be the team’s captain, face of the franchise, and leading point-getter.
But wait: he’s actually not the leading point-getter right now (go ahead, gasp). That’d be Jakub Voracek, who’s making $4.25 mill (through 2016). He’s got 25 points in 23 games, good for (T)7th in the NHL. Other deals of note:
* Wayne Simmonds: $1.75M this year, jumps to $3.975M through 2019
* Max Talbot: $1.75 through 2016
* Matt Read: $900k through 2014 (13 pts in 18 games)
* Scott Hartnell: $4.2M through 2019 (okay, that’s a lot of term)
All in all, if it weren’t for the Bryzgalov contract, he might have cracked the top five.
GM: Garth Snow
Cost: 28th – NHL’s third lowest payroll ($17,332,929 in cap space)
The Islanders GM also takes a lot of heat because A) he used to be the back-up goalie and that’s hilarious and B) his first contract was the DiPietro deal (though it’s pretty widely understood that he was, ahem, influenced by Charles Wang, the team’s owner on that one). Since then he’s settled down, and helped manipulate the Isles true spending to make it seem like they’re a salary floor team (in reality, they’re below, but “paying” guys like Tim Thomas and Alexei Yashin help), and signed some amazing contracts along the way.
The John Tavares contract might be the most amazing, ridiculous one in the NHL. He makes a mere $5.5 mill a year to be everything I said about Claude Giroux and more until 2018. Hell, just convincing him to stay on Long Island, let alone at that number is mind-blowing. He’s (T)7th in the NHL in scoring, including 13 goals and some shootout winners, and is generally just an admirable human. What a deal.
Other good deals:
* Matt Moulson: $3.13M until 2014 (one point behind Tavares, 30, 31, 36 goals in his last three NHL seasons, 10 in 22 games this year)
* Michael Grabner: $3 mill a season until 2016 (34 goals two season ago, 20 last year, eight goals in 22 games this year)
* Kyle Okposo: $2.8M until 2016 (was a great deal at the time – we’ll see what becomes of it)
* Frans Nielsen: $2.75M per until 2016 (top-10 defensive forward in the NHL, best success rate in the history of the NHL shootout)
* Brad Boyes: One year, one mill (a rescue dog turned top-liner)
* Andrew MacDonald: This year and next at $550k per, years three and four of his current deal (plays 25+ minutes a night)
Snow has a pretty good idea what he’s doing.
Fine, it’s really a Top 6 (which sounds dumb), because I can’t figure out who to cut.
No particular order on this, because what, you think that’s a possible thing? Ranking GMs? Not so much.
GM: Doug Armstrong
Cost: 30th – NHL’s lowest payroll ($19,855,388 in cap space)
The St. Louis Blues were widely believed to be Stanley Cup contenders this season. Last year they finished second in the Western Conference with 109 points before getting rolled by the Kings (like everyone else) in playoffs. This year the core of the team was a year older so expectations were higher, but we haven’t quite seen what we expected. Still, they’re currently tied for fourth in the West, and aren’t a team to be taken lightly.
And if you didn’t notice, again – this team has the NHL’s lowest payroll. Lower than the Avs, the Isles, and the other “laughingstocks.” How are they doing it?
* David Backes: $4.5 through 2017 (team captain, third in team scoring, official truck of the St. Louis Blues)
* TJ Oshie: $4.175 through 2016 (Also third in team scoring, also a truck)
* David Perron: $3.812M through 2016 (one point back of Backes/Oshie)
* Alex Steen: $3.362M through 2014 (second in scoring, 16 points in 18 games)
* Everyone: No other forward makes more than $3M, the rest is evenly spread
* Barret Jackman: $3.166M through 2015
* Wade Redden: $700k rescue dog
* Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk: Norris contenders on ELCs (good thing they have cap space)
* Jaroslav Halak: $3.75M through 2014
* Brian Elliot: $1.8 through 2014
One of the most noticeable Armstrong traits is that he doesn’t seem to want to waste his nickels – the numbers are very specific ($3.362, for example) so he can save bucks, instead of doing what other GMs seem to do, and say “eff it, sure, we’ll round that up to a .5M.” Also, like Snow, he’s made an effort to get the core locked up until 2016 so “this team” – his team – can have a multi-year period to make a run together.
GM: Stan Bowman
Cost: NHL’s 5th highest payroll ($3,232,221 in cap space)
The Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup a few years ago, then had to blow the thing up. There was a mess at one point – Dale Tallon had a fax machine snafu and didn’t qualify his restricted free agents in time (that’s still a real thing that happened, somehow) and had to over-pay them, so more people had to go. Still – they made some tough decisions and left themselves with a fairly formidable roster. You may have noticed, it’s almost halfway though this shortened season, and they still haven’t lost in regulation yet.
Some of their great contracts:
* Jonathan Toews: $6.3M until 2015 (one of the best two-way players in the game today, not ridiculous term. Straight up “wow” deal)
* Patrick Kane: $6.3M until 2015 (5th in NHL in scoring, 26 points in 22 games)
* Marian Hossa: $5.275M until 2021 (one of the last true back-diving deals signed = great cap hit for a legit star)
* Dave Bolland: $3.375M until 2014
* Duncan Keith: $5.538M until 2023 (ex-Norris winner at that hit…not too shabby)
* Niklas Hjalmarsson: $3.5M until 2015
* Johnny Oduya: $3.383 until 2015
* Steve Monntador: $2.75M until 2015
* Michal Rozsival: $2M
* Corey Crawford: $2.667M through 2014
How ridiculous is that d-corps? Love on the forwards all you want, but I can’t think of a single one of those guys that you wouldn’t take on your team at that price, especially when you consider how much better they make your forwards (getting the puck up to them quick, and out of your own zone quicker), and how much better they make your goalies (people have talked about Corey Crawford contending for the Vezina).
All in all, when they’ve chosen to spend big dollar amounts, they’ve made their decisions wisely.
Obviously, Bowman doesn’t deserve the sole credit for all of these deals, but he’s currently dealing with a pretty nice situation.]
GM: Ray Shero
Cost: 15th highest payroll ($8,784,301 in cap space)
It’s often assumed that the Pittsburgh Penguins are solely dominant because of their jaw-dropping, recognizable difference-makers. Specifically, I’m speaking of Sidney Crosby ($8.7M average-annual value until 2025) and Evgeni Malkin ($8.7 per through 2014). But no hockey team can be successful leaning on a just two guys. Shero has done well to make room for those big contracts while adding value with these ones:
* James Neal: $5M AAV through 2018 (dude was one of two players with more than 40 goals and 40 assists last year)
* Chris Kunitz: $3.725M through 2014 (he’s fourth in the NHL in scoring right now with 27 points in 22 games)
* Brandon Sutter: $2.066M through 2014 (he’s not Jordan Staal, but he’s a great third line center)
* Tyler Kennedy: $2M for this year
* Matt Cooke: $1.8M (people forget that this guy can play)
* Pascal Dupuis: $1.5M for this year (absolutely)
* Kris Letang: $3.5M through 2014 (one of the best values in the league)
* Matt Niskanen: $2.3M through 2014
That’s not-a-lot-of-money going to players who have value, and are generally willing to fill roles without egos. That’s how you can afford the top-end guys, and stay top-end competitive.
GM: Don Maloney
Cost: 29th in NHL ($18,785,939 in cap space)
The Phoenix Coyotes currently sit a point out of the playoffs (with a game in hand) after a recent 6-3-1 run, and they continue to frustrate opponents. Last season they managed to win their division for the first time ever, and this is all with a comically low payroll with a team owned by the NHL.
If that wasn’t laid out clearly enough for you: Don Maloney is a wizard. A white wizard, with like, all the tricks ‘n stuff. Not some lowly grey one.
Here’s what they’ve got under contract:
* Mikkel Boedker: $1.1M cap hit this year (leading the team in scoring, 16 points in 21 games)
* Antoine Vermette: $3.75M through 2015 (underrated defensive forward)
* Martin Hanzal: $3.1M through 2017 (10 points in 12 games)
And then the one year guys (because of their uncertain future)
* Matthew Lombardi: $2M
* Lauri Korpikoski: $1.8M
* Raffi Torres: $1.75
* Boyd Gordon: $1.325M
To go with the rock-solid core of d-men:
* Keith Yandle: $5.250M through 2016 (top-10 NHL d-man)
* Zbynek Michalek: $4M through 2015
* Rostislav Klesla: $2.975M through 2014
* Derek Morris: $2.75M through 2014
* Mike Smith: $2M for the year
* Jason Labarbera: $1.250M for the year
And that’s not to mention Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his entry-level deal. Maloney’s hands are tied, but he’s recognized what an under-talented team needs to win: rock solid defense, legit, proven NHL forwards (ideally ones that other GMs under-value, like Vermette), and solid goaltending.
GM: Peter Chiarelli
Cost: 14th highest ($8,082,082 in available cap space)
Peter Chiarelli is a pretty respected dude around the NHL. He’s made a number of savvy moves that make others think he’s into some advanced analytics (love for guys like Chris Kelly and Rich Peverly), or that he’s just really smart (turning Phil Kessel into Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton). Either way, after finding a home for Tim Thomas’ contract, he’s freed up room to add another piece to an already great team that includes nice deals to:
* Patrice Bergeron: $5M per through 2014
* Milan Lucic: $4.083 this year, up to $6M through 2016 (can’t replicate a guy like Lucic)
* Rich Peverly: $3.25M per through 2015
* Chris Kelly: $3M per through 2016
* Brad Marchand: $2.5M this year, $4.5M through 2016 starting next year
* Daniel Paille: $1.3M through 2015
* Dennis Seidenberg: $3.25M through 2014
* Andrew Ference: $2.25M this year
There’s really not a bad contract on their team. Even Zdeno Chara, who makes $6.916M per season until 2017 (when he makes $4M) is easily worth what they’re paying him.
GM: Ken Holland
Cost: 13th highest cap hit ($7,781,864 in cap space)
Ken Holland is in the select group of GMs (along with Ray Shero and Peter Chiarelli, I’d say) that seem to have universal respect around the hockey world. They rarely dive in and go crazy on free agents, and they keep their talent without over-paying it. The Red Wings are the rare team that’s just consistently competitive, year in, year out for over a decade now. Currently, they only have two legitimately high paid players, and Pavel Datsyuk ($6.7 per through 2014) and Henrik Zetterberg ($6.083M through 2021) are both undeniably worth it. The rest look more like:
* Johan Franzen: $3.94M through 2020 (gotta love that)
* Valtteri Filppula: $3M this year
* Darren Helm: $2.125M through 2016
* Todd Bertuzzi: $2.075M through 2014 (another rescue dog story that turned out well)
* Jordin Tootoo: $1.9M through 2015 (not bad for an effective grinder)
* Justin Abdelkader: $1.8m through 2016
* Nicklas Kronwall: $4.750M through 2019
* Jimmy Howard: $2.25M this year
And then of course, there’s the entry-level deals to guys like Damien Brunner and Tomas Tatar that help them out.
For a lot of these smarter GMs, it’s a matter of making sure your top-end guys are locked up on fair cap hits, then making sure your two-to-four million dollar guys don’t go the way of Mike Komisarek. When you’re putting together an NHL roster, every penny counts.