Ranking the 10 Savviest Front Offices in the NHL

James Onusko@@jonuskoContributor IIIJuly 9, 2013

Ranking the 10 Savviest Front Offices in the NHL

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    There are NHL front offices that seem to get it right, not just once, but year after year. The majority of NHL clubs never seem to be able to find the traction needed to make the playoffs consistently and challenge for the Stanley Cup.

    Some NHL front offices consistently outperform the others. These organizations are successful for several different reasons, but the way they are built is based on the perceptiveness, intelligence and shrewdness of their front offices–their ability to be savvy.

    These rankings are based on the following criteria: organizational success (championships or at least ability to contend consistently), relative stability in the front office, drafting history (ability to draft players who eventually play for them at the NHL level), good trades and free agent signing performances and finally, how they manage the salary cap. A greater emphasis was placed on the past four seasons in all of these categories.

    Here is the power ranking of the 10 savviest NHL front offices in ascending order.

    Honorable mentions go to the Dallas Stars, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals.

10. Anaheim Ducks

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    The Anaheim Ducks have been a solid NHL franchise in most respects over the past four seasons, with just the odd hiccup. While they have not been a dominant team in the playoffs, they have been a good regular season team for the most part, and were exceptional this past year in the regular season.

    There has been good front office stability in Anaheim, led by general manager Bob Murray. This is a good thing in terms of continuity with winning team philosophies, and often with coaches. The Ducks have not had a great record of trades and free agents with the Andrew Cogliano acquisition being one of the highlights recently.

    Anaheim’s recent drafting history has been relatively average in assessing future NHL talent based on the percentage of players who end up playing with the club. One area they have been quite strong in is managing with the salary cap.

    The Ducks are certainly better than the NHL average, and easily warrant a top-10 standing as having a savvy front office.

9. Los Angeles Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings have had some very good teams in recent years, particularly last year in winning the Stanley Cup. Much of this was due to the stability they have had at the top of organization with Dean Lombardi, assisted ably by Ron Hextall, leading the team.

    The Kings have acquired some very good players through trade such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Both players have been integral pieces for the Kings since their acquisitions.

    Where the Kings have not been as savvy is in their drafting history which ranks nearer to the bottom of the NHL in terms of drafted players that the Kings retain. This will change in time with some of the most recent drafting that the team has done though. Los Angeles has hit home runs in drafting players like defenseman Drew Doughty.

    The Kings have also managed the cap reasonably well in the past three seasons with a higher payroll as they became one of the strongest teams on the ice as well. The Kings are well deserving of the number nine spot on this list.

8. St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blue have quietly built a very good team in St. Louis. Doug Armstrong has been a very good GM in St. Louis, and was more than capable in Dallas previous to that.

    He has had some very good input from Al MacInnis. The Blues have not had exceptional on-ice results, but they have had some solid regular season finishes in one of the toughest divisions in hockey.

    They have picked up some impact players in trades in the past few seasons. Notable names include Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. They have been middle-of-the-pack insofar as retaining drafted players is concerned, but they have some good drafted players, like Vladimir Tarasenko.

    The Blues have been exceptional at getting high value in terms of being competitive and managing the salary cap with a lot of skill. They have operated well under the cap in most years, and seem well positioned to continue to do so in the immediate future.

7. Nashville Predators

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    The Nashville Predators have been well managed by general manager David Poile who has a very good track record in NHL management. Poile had a winning record in Washington in his 15 years there prior to joining the Predators. He’s also been a part of several U.S. national teams, and is highly respected across the league.

    The Predators have had better than average success in Nashville despite several challenges. The team has been relatively competitive in recent years with this past year being an exception in comparison to the last four seasons. Poile has been at the helm since the Predators joined the league and has an excellent record of retaining draftees with the parent team. Notable players have been David Legwand and Shea Weber. Seth Jones now looms on the horizon.

    The Predators have always been active on the trade front and have acquired good players such as Mike Fisher for draft picks. The Predators have done an excellent job at managing the salary cap in the past few seasons despite the attempts to lure their top defenseman, Weber.

    The Predators have not been an elite team, but many lesser NHL clubs pale in comparison.

6. New Jersey Devils

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    The New Jersey Devils have been one of the better franchises in the past twenty years in the NHL. They have iced competitive teams most years, despite being on shaky ground financially through much of that time.

    They have been competitive due mainly to their savvy front office led by one of the best general managers in the game, Lou Lamoriello. He has been at the helm since 1987 and turned the franchise around, almost immediately. Despite not having a large payroll in most seasons, Lou has acquired top names such as Ilya Kovalchuk, and most recently, goaltender Cory Schneider.

    The Devils have been middle of the pack in terms of retaining players they have drafted that perform well in the NHL, but some of that is owing to their low draft position in many drafts.

    The front office, led by Lamoriello, has been very good at managing the salary cap in recent years, although their payroll was raised significantly with the addition of Kovalchuk in 2010. All in all, the Devils have been one of the best managed teams in the NHL for many years.

5. Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks front office has been led by general manager Stan Bowman. The Hawks have been one of the savvier NHL clubs for a number of seasons, and this has been reflected in their two Stanley Cups since 2010, and some excellent regular season results.

    They have been relatively stable as an organization, although the dismissal of Dale Tallon, prior to the 2010 Stanley Cup season, was not handled well. Stan Bowman has done a good job since, with the aid of his father, the incomparable Scotty Bowman.

    The Blackhawks have been able to acquire players like Viktor Stalberg (recently signed by the Nashville Predators), Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy through trades under Bowman. They have also been able to attract prime free agents, namely Marian Hossa in the summer of 2009. The Blackhawks have had good success in the draft although many of those picks were made with high selections. Nevertheless the club used those picks wisely.

    The Blackhawks have managed well in the salary cap era, the exception being the 2009-10 season. There could be an argument made it was worth it though as the team won the Stanley Cup that season. The Blackhawks have one of the best front offices in the entire league.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins, led by GM Ray Shero, have been one of the top organizations in the entire league for several seasons. Shero has guided the Penguins to establishing themselves as perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup with a solid nucleus of exceptional players, led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

    There has been good stability in the front office and the Penguins have acquired impact players like Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Douglas Murray and in 2013, Jarome Iginla via trades. Not all deals have worked out, but Pittsburgh is usually in the mix for most major free agent signings. They recently re-acquired veteran defenseman, Rob Scuderi via free agency.

    The Penguins have done a very good job in having drafted players play with the Penguins with Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin leading the way. Pittsburgh have not done a great job with the salary cap, but because they have had a number of top-end players for several years, this has not been easy. It has been justifiable to be at or near the cap with such a competitive team.

    The Penguins boast one of the best management teams in pro hockey.

3. San Jose Sharks

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    The San Jose Sharks have had one of the top front office groups in the NHL in the past decade.

    GM Doug Wilson has led the team since 2003, and the Sharks, while never Stanley Cup champions, have been routinely chosen as a favorite to challenge for the Stanley Cup in most of those seasons. They have challenged for or won the President’s Trophy for the better part of seven seasons now.

    Few teams can match that consistency.

    Wilson has been able to make some good trades and has acquired impact players such as Dany Heatley, Brent Burns and Raffi Torres via trade.

    Where the Sharks front office has been at its best is at the draft table. The Sharks have retained more drafted players to play at the NHL level when compared to all other organizations since the early 1990s.

    The Sharks have managed the salary cap well, although the team has been up against the ceilings from time to time in calculated pushes to attempt to win the Stanley Cup.

    Unquestionably, the Sharks have one of the league’s most efficient front office teams.

2. Boston Bruins

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    Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Boston Bruins front office have been excellent over the past four seasons. The Bruins are a team with all of the necessary ingredients to be a great team for the foreseeable future.

    Chiarelli has been the GM since 2006, and has a strong team around him headed by ex-Bruins star, Cam Neely.

    Chiarelli has made many good deals during his tenure. His team has featured several outstanding NHLers acquired from other teams: Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, the recently departed Nathan Horton, Chris Kelly and the list goes on.

    The Bruins have done a very good job of retaining their drafted players as well with current stars Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand headlining that list, with more future stars on the way.

    Managing the salary cap has been another strength with the Bruins able to ice one of the best teams in the league with cap room to spare. The Boston Bruins have one of the top two front office teams in the NHL. 

1. Detroit Red Wings

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    The Detroit Red Wings are the envy of the entire league.

    Ken Holland and his front office are the model of consistency, and even in a "re-building" year, as the 2013 season was supposed to be, the club pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, to the brink of playoff elimination.

    The Red Wings have won multiple championships under Holland and have been at or near the top of the standings year after year. There has been little turnover in the Red Wings’ front office, and when there has been, it has been to give key personnel other opportunities elsewhere.

    The Red Wings have made excellent trades and free agent signings over the years with the most recent being Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss. In the past, the Wings have acquired players like Marian Hossa and Todd Bertuzzi, and have seen them make significant contributions to the club.

    The Wings have also had a remarkable record in the draft, with superstars such as Pavel Datsyuk taken relatively late in their draft years. The majority of their team has been built through the draft and reflects an exceptional ability to identify talent on the part of the front office.

    The Wings have managed well in the salary cap era and have had very few issues with compliance. Considering all of this, the Detroit Red Wings, led by Holland and Jim Devellano, have the savviest front office staff in the NHL.