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NHL Draft 2013: Ranking the 10 GMs with the Best Eye for Talent

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2013

NHL Draft 2013: Ranking the 10 GMs with the Best Eye for Talent

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    To be a successful NHL general manager, one must have at least five eyes in his headliterally, of course.

    First is an unquestionable eye for young, budding talent. You can't build a championship-contending team without knowing how to stock minor league affiliates with potential stars of tomorrow. That means building a great personnel and scouting department, and then going after the youngsters that most fit your team's style of play, personality and jelling with the other guys around him.

    Second, still in the talent vein, you must be a master of looking at available free-agent talent and see what may fit within your organization. Sure, a team can be made or broken when you lay out megabucks on a guy who ultimately doesn't perform up to expectations, but there are other free agents that will be the final piece of the puzzle, the ones that complete things hopefully en route to a Stanley Cup championship.

    Third, you must be a master of the deal. In other words, if your team has a marked weakness in an area, you always have to keep that eye open for players that may be available for the right price or talent exchange.

    Fourth, in addition to watching over all the various forms of talent, you have to keep an eye on your coach. Is he getting the job done? Will the players run through a brick wall for the big guy on the bench? Can he motivate a team first into the playoffs and then all the way to the Stanley Cup Final?

    Fifth and last, but not least, you have to keep your eyes on every other team in the league. What are they doing? Are there any trends to keep up with? Who's hot? Who's struggling? Who is unhappy and may want a change of scenery (perhaps leading up to a trade with your team)?

    Here's the 10 GMs that deserved to be known as "the best" in the NHL, and why.

10. Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues

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    Sometimes, you have to take a step back to make a giant leap forward.

    Doug Armstrong was abruptly fired as GM of the Dallas Stars early in the 2007 season. He would go over six months before joining the St. Louis Blues as director of player personnel, which has long been a role that plays to Armstrong's strengths.

    But it was only a matter of time before Armstrong would return to the exclusive club of NHL GMs, slightly over just two years before he became the boss of the Blues, replacing the retired Larry Pleau.

    Armstrong was with the Stars as an assistant when they won the Stanley Cup in 1999, and his club made the playoffs every season he was GM.

    Among Armstrong's more notable achievements since coming to the Blues: he hired head coach Ken Hitchcock, made big trades for Chris Stewart, Jaroslav Halak, Kevin Shattenkirk, drafting Vladimir Tarasenko and the free-agent signing of Brian Elliott, and has built a strong organization with the smallest payroll in the league.

    (Think the NHL's version of "Moneyball")

    If there is anyone who does more with less in the NHL today, it's Armstrong. That's a major reason why he won GM of the Year last season.

9. Don Maloney, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Don Maloney learned his craft well, spending over a decade as the right-hand man to veteran New York Rangers GM Glen Sather.

    Maloney has had perhaps one of the hardest jobs in the league since he assumed the reins of the Coyotes in 2007. He's had to build a club that has been the target of potentially being moved to another city, convincing players to come to Phoenix even though the long-term viability of remaining in the Valley of the Sun seemed bleak at best, and has had to navigate through ownership issues.

    And yet, the Coyotes almost always have had a playoff-caliber team. Okay, maybe not this past season—but if it had been a full season instead of a lockout-shortened 48-game tilt, the Coyotes would have had a better chance of making the postseason.

    Much like Doug Armstrong and the Blues, Maloney has also had to do a lot with a little, also having the second-lowest payroll in the league.

    Armstrong knows there are holes to plug to get his team back to prominence next season, so don't be surprised if he's one of the most active GMs during the offseason, particularly with the upcoming draft and looking at available free agents that might help the Coyotes howl a lot louder in 2013-14.

    Oh yes, let's not forget Maloney's best deal to date: hiring Dave Tippett to replace Wayne Gretzky as head coach in 2009. Anyone who can successfully find the right guy to replace "The Great One" is automatically one of the best GMs in the league.

8. Dean Lombardi, Los Angeles Kings

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    Dean Lombardi almost got the Kings back to defend last season's Stanley Cup championship. With minimal changes from last year's title team, Lombardi's club may have been back in the Cup final had it not been because of the 48-game lockout-shortened season.

    Lombardi is a master builder when it comes to acquiring the right personnel in the right places on a team. He did so with San Jose from 1996-2003 and he has done the same thing since joining the Kings in 2006.

    He literally rebuilt the Kings from the bottom up, and was smart enough to do so around several key players including Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. There also were smart deals that brought Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and Rob Scuderi to the Kings.

    He also has significantly strengthened the Kings' farm system, assuring that there will be plenty of young talent to continue filling voids for at least the next four to five seasons. Among some of the homegrown talent that has paid great dividends thus far are Trevor Lewis, Jonathan Bernier, Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez and Drew Doughty.

    Oh yes, and let's not forget hiring Darryl Sutter as head coach. While the Kings fell short this season, it wasn't due to Lombardi. If anyone has a Midas-like touch among NHL GMs, it's him.

7. Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks

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    Great player, great general manager.

    That sums up Doug Wilson pretty succinctly in the 10 seasons that he's been the Sharks' GM.

    Wilson is a master lineup builder. He's not only drafted players like Joe Pavelski, Marc Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture, he's also acquired key stalwarts such as Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, not to mention Antti Niemi and Brad Stuart.

    Unlike many players that don't think past their playing careers, to his credit Wilson prepared dutifully for his post-playing life. He not only was a student of the game, he was mentored by a number of great coaches and general managers during his career with the Blackhawks and Sharks.

    Ten years after he had hung up his skates for good, he was back with the Sharks. Only this time, it wasn't Doug Wilson, player. It was Doug Wilson, the boss.

6. David Poile, Nashville Predators

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    As hard as it may seem to believe, Poile has been an NHL general manager now for 31 years.

    That's longer than most of the players on the Predators have been on this earth.

    Poile is a tactician as a GM. He believes in the three Big Ds: development through the draft, defense and savvy deal-making.

    Among the three-plus decades that he's been a GM, he virtually single-handedly not only saved the expansion Washington Capitals from going under (or at least being moved), but also built them into one of the league's stronger teams year in and year out.

    While the Predators struggled somewhat in the lockout-shortened season, look for Poile to have them back in the playoffs next season. He knows how to build a championship-contending team (who can forget that the 1998 Capitals made it to the Stanley Cup Final primarily because of Poile's expertise—even though he had left Washington at the end of the previous season to build the expansion Predators).

    Like Maloney and Armstrong, Poile has been a whiz at building a strong team despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league.

    But it also goes to show that you don't always need overpaid players to have success.

    With Barry Trotz at the helm as head coach, the Predators have unquestionably become one of the league's strongest teams thanks to Poile's expertise.

    In addition to signing Shea Weber to a long-term deal, he's also added several key players over the years including Mike Fisher and Filip Forsberg.

    Granted, this past season wasn't the best, but with Poile as GM, the best for Nashville is likely still to come. 

5. Stan Bowman, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Like father, like son. Scotty Bowman was legendary as an NHL coach and it's very clear that the apple didn't fall too far from the tree with Stan Bowman.

    Since succeeding Dale Tallon as Chicago's GM in 2009, Bowman has directed the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship in 2010 and halfway to a second title heading into Saturday's Game 5 of the Cup final.

    Bowman has an uncanny eye for young talent, something he obviously inherited from his Hall of Fame father. The Blackhawks are one of the most successful teams at developing home-grown talent, including stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

    But Bowman also has developed into a savvy contract negotiator, trade maker (even if some of his deals, or letting key players leave as free agents, have drawn some criticism) and is always on the lookout to bring in additional players that may help (like getting Michal Handzus just before the trade deadline in April).

    And let's not forget picking up Marian Hossa when many thought his career was over.

4. Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey Devils

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    Lou Lamoriello is a throwback to GMs of the past; Gritty, tough and a guy who oftentimes makes decisions by the seat of his pants and gut instinct.

    It's a formula that has served Lamoriello well for more than three decades as a coach and team administrator.

    As president and GM of the Devils, he has built an organization that would likely serve as a prototype of how to become successful—and to stay that way.

    Under Lamoriello, the Devils have won three Stanley Cup championships and were runners-up two other times.

    Lamoriello runs his organization almost like a military unit. He believes in discipline, loyalty and a common thread among everyone towards a common cause. If anyone strays from that thread, or thinks he's bigger than the whole, Lamoriello quickly brings that type of attitude down.

    While the Devils slumped this past season, injuries to key players took a marked toll, particularly to guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur.

    But there's no denying that drafting guys like Brodeur, Adam Larrsson, Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique, plus signing Kovalchuk, have made the Devils a team that could very easily become the comeback club of the year next season.

3. Ray Shero, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    While many fans are trying to forget what happened to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, being swept 4-0 by the Boston Bruins, general manager Ray Shero is not the type of guy to sit back and say "We'll get 'em next year."

    No, look for Shero to become one of the more active GMs during the offseason. There are obviously holes that need to be filled to prevent another hasty exit, and Shero is likely already well on his way towards plugging those gaps.

    The son of NHL coaching legend Fred Shero, Ray replaced Craig Patrick as Penguins' GM in 2006, having learned much of the fine points of being a GM as David Poile's right-hand man with Nashville.

    Granted, Shero inherited some great players when he joined the Penguins, including Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury (who may be one of those heading out of town after his early-playoff collapse).

    Shero wisely built upon that base and made the Penguins even stronger through deft trades (like Matt Niskanen and James Neal for Alex Goligoski and acquiring Brandon Sutter), re-signed players rather than letting them test the free-agent waters, and strengthened an already strong farm system that will keep the Penguins stocked for at least the next five seasons.

    The Penguins have won one Stanley Cup under Shero, came close a second time and are almost yearly favorites to vie for the championship (this season notwithstanding).

    But Shero can be unpredictable at times, too. When it appeared Dan Bylsma would be going elsewhere after this year's playoff collapse, Shero may have been one of the few people left who still believed in his coach, ultimately rewarding him with a two-year extension.

2. Peter Chiarelli, Boston Bruins

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    No matter whether the Bruins win or lose the current Stanley Cup Final with the Chicago Blackhawks, Chiarelli has become one of the best GMs in the business, bar none.

    He has built a team and organization that has returned Beantown to its glory days of old, including winning the Cup in 2011, ending a nearly 30-year drought. And that could become two Cup titles in three seasons if Boston wins two of the remaining three games in this year's Final.

    Among some of Chiarelli's best moves has been signing giant Zdeno Chara, as well as getting guys like Nathan Horton, Gregory Campbell and Tuukka Rask via the trade route.

    And let's not forget him picking up Jaromir Jagr for a song, potentially the last piece to the puzzle for another Cup crown.

    One of Boston's biggest problems prior to Chiarelli joining the team in 2006 was a weak draft and farm system. That was one of Chiarelli's chief rebuilding tasks, and he's done well, drafting Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.

    Lastly, after the Devils unwisely dumped Claude Julien after not even one full season, Chiarelli was there to pick Julien up. And the rest has been several great chapters in Bruins history—with the latest still being written.

1. Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings

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    Ken Holland is arguably the best of the best when it comes to building, rebuilding, stocking and restocking a team, be it through trades, free-agent signings and also overseeing perhaps the best-run farm system of minor league players there is in the NHL.

     How many GMs can say their team won the Stanley Cup in his final season as an assistant GM, and then turned around and won a second straight Cup crown in his first season after being promoted to GM?

    Holland can, as the Red Wings were the last team to win back-to-back Cup titles in 1997 and 1998.

    And let's not forget that since then, the Red Wings have won two more Cup titles (2002 an 2008) and almost won another one in 2009.

    Of particular note, the Red Wings have made the playoffs for 21 straight years. No other team even comes close. And for the last 16 seasons, Holland has been the primary driving force in that incredible run of success and consistency.

    Let's not forget four Presidents' Trophies, either, or that no other team in the NHL has won more games during Holland's tenure at the Red Wings' steering wheel.

    Virtually everything Holland does speaks of a first-class operation, run by a first-class GM who has surrounded himself by first-class assistants, coaches and players.

    Not only does Holland have an incredible knack for finding talent, he also receives perhaps the greatest amount of loyalty and trust from players on any team in the league.

    Even though the Red Wings fell short against the Blackhawks, giving up a 3-1 series lead to fall 4-3, Holland has nothing to feel ashamed about.

    He has stocked the team so well that next season will likely be season No. 22 to make the playoffs—and potentially get yet another Cup crown. With the majority of current players acquired one way or other by Holland, including Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Flippula, Detroit can already be considered one of the top contenders in 2013-14.

     

    Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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