The key to building a successful NHL franchise is a savvy general manager. Behind every Stanley Cup winner was a GM whose efforts—via trades, free-agent signings or draft picks—built a championship roster.
Those efforts aren't easy in today's NHL. In addition to maintaining a staff of trusted scouts and advisers, a general manager must ensure his payroll remains within the restrictions of the salary cap. He has to find and retain talent that not only suits his roster needs but also fits within the cap. There's player agents to negotiate with, the headache of salary arbitration and the threat of offer sheets. He must hire a coaching staff capable of molding his roster into a contender.
What follows is a ranking of the 10 best general managers in the NHL right now, and how their efforts have benefited their respective teams.
Accomplishments: Since Murray began rebuilding the Senators in 2011, the speed of their improvement over the past two seasons has surprised many experts. Their struggles this season can be attributed to the growing pains of a promising young club. Working under a limited budget, Murray has the Senators on the right path.
Significant moves: Hired Paul MacLean as head coach, who went on to win the Adams Trophy in 2013. Drafted young talent like 2012 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, Robin Lehner, Jared Cowen and Mika Zibanejad. Acquired Bobby Ryan, Craig Anderson, Kyle Turris and Marc Methot via trades.
Accomplishments: Despite four years of limited budgets and uncertainty over the club's ownership and future in Arizona, Maloney turned the Coyotes into a competitive playoff contender. His efforts earned him NHL General Manager of the Year honors in 2010. With new ownership and hopefully more franchise stability, Maloney could build the Coyotes into a future Cup contender.
Significant moves:Acquired veteran talent in Mike Smith, Radim Vrbata, Mike Ribeiro, Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek. Retained homegrown stars Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle, Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal. Hired Dave Tippett as head coach, who won the Adams Trophy in 2010.
Accomplishments: Holland is arguably the main reason the Red Wings not only haven't missed the playoffs since 1990 but have also won four Stanley Cups over that period.
Significant moves: Wings stars Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall were Holland draft picks. Hiring Mike Babcock as head coach turned the Wings into one of the league's best puck-possession teams. The Wings are currently in transition, slowly cycling in younger players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser. If they develop as well as Holland's previous picks, the Wings could return to Cup contention in the near future.
Accomplishments: Taking over for former Ducks GM Brian Burke, Murray had some big shoes to fill, as well as attempt to rebuild a club that won a Stanley Cup in 2007. Through his efforts, the Ducks are once again among the top clubs in the Western Conference.
Significant moves: Confounded the critics by re-signing superstars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Hired Bruce Boudreau as head coach. Drafted Cam Fowler, signed Nick Bonino out of college and added Luca Sbisa and Jakob Silfverberg via trades. The additions of Viktor Fasth and Frederik Andersen provide the Ducks with considerable depth in goal.
Accomplishments: After taking over as GM in 2010, Armstrong demonstrated considerable patience with his core of promising players. Under his watch, the Blues have become a league powerhouse. Armstrong was honored for his efforts in 2012 when he was named NHL General Manager of the Year.
Significant moves: Hired Ken Hitchcock as head coach. Acquired Jaroslav Halak, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart, Jay Bouwmeester and a 2010 first-round pick from Ottawa, which became promising forward Vladimir Tarasenko. Re-signed core players Shattenkirk, Bouwmeester, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and future Norris contender Alex Pietrangelo to long-term contracts.
Accomplishments: In the 10 years since Wilson took over as Sharks general manager, the club has never missed the playoffs, advancing to the Western Conference Final three times. Wilson has proven he can maintain a Stanley Cup contender. All he needs now for his crowning achievement is that elusive championship.
Significant moves: Acquired Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns. Drafted Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jason Demers and Tomas Hertl. Signed Vezina contender Antti Niemi as a free agent and re-signed him to a four-year extension. Re-signed Pavelski and Couture to multiyear contracts.
Accomplishments: Since his hiring in 2006, Shero has built the Penguins into a two-time Stanley Cup finalist (winning in 2009) and a perennial Cup contender. Among his strengths is a willingness to make trades to bolster his roster, especially at the trade deadline. He was named last season's NHL General Manager of the Year.
Significant moves: Re-signed superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to a little less than market value, then used the savings to retain other key players. Acquired James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Jussi Jokinen and Matt Niskanen via trades. Re-signed Kris Letang to a long-term contract. Hired Dan Bylsma as head coach.
Accomplishments: Lombardi turned the Kings from a struggling also-ran into a Stanley Cup champion. He kept the bulk of his roster intact over the last two seasons, which is no easy feat under a salary cap. Thanks to Lombardi's management skills, the Kings are an elite NHL franchise.
Significant moves: Drafted Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov and Tyler Toffoli. Traded for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Re-signed core players Doughty, Voynov, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown to long-term contracts. Hired Darryl Sutter as head coach.
Accomplishments: Chiarelli ended the Bruins' 39-year Stanley Cup drought, building them into a champion in 2011. Under his savvy management, the Bruins returned to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and remain a legitimate Cup contender this season.
Significant moves: Notable draft picks include Dougie Hamilton, as well as now-former Bruin Tyler Seguin. Acquired Dennis Seidenberg, Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell (along with now-former Bruins Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley), all of whom played key roles in the B's 2011 Cup championship. Re-signed core players like Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron to long-term deals. Hired Claude Julien as head coach.
Accomplishments: Bowman inherited a Stanley Cup contender when he took over as GM in 2009. After winning the Cup in 2010, salary-cap constraints forced him to dump nearly half the roster. His rebuilding efforts, however, led the Blackhawks to another Cup championship in 2013.
Significant moves: Excluded core players Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa from his 2010 salary purge. Retained Joel Quenneville as head coach. Stuck with Corey Crawford as his starting goalie. Acquired veteran role players Johnny Oduya and Michal Handzus. Drafted forwards Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw.