Which NHL General Managers Should Follow Mike Gillis into Unemployment?
When the Vancouver Canucks fired general manager Mike Gillis earlier this week, it was easy to look at the negatives. Vancouver has stumbled badly this season, and Gillis' maladroit handling of a complex goaltending situation may have been a firing offence all on its own.
But for all that, Gillis also leaves behind an impressive record. In six seasons at the helm, Vancouver made the playoffs five times, posted the NHL's best regular-season record twice and came within a single game of its first Stanley Cup. The first five years of Gillis' tenure were arguably the best in franchise history.
That's why other top hockey executives should be sweating under the collar right now. If Gillis can be fired for what is essentially one bad season, so can men with lesser accomplishments.
Which general managers deserve to be nervous? Read on for our list, with candidates presented in alphabetic order.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com and current through the start of action on April 11.
Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg Jets
His record: Cheveldayoff was ushered in as the new GM of a new hockey team when the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets in the summer of 2011.
Three years in, very little seems to have changed. Not only are many of the players the same, but the results are, too. The Thrashers' final season saw them pick up 80 points in 82 games; this season's Jets team has 82 points in 81 games.
Our verdict: Three years isn't a long time, unless it's the amount remaining on Ondrej Pavelec's contract after this season. If Cheveldayoff has a concrete plan that includes buying out the team's weakest link (Puck Daddy's Harrison Mooney made the argument here), great. Otherwise, sayonara.
What we think happens: Cheveldayoff gets two more years of rope. What happens after that largely depends on whether his team figures out its goaltending.
George McPhee, Washington Capitals
His record: Nearly two decades of management is bound to produce some highs and lows, and too much of each to summarize quickly. The good people at JapersRink have done a nice job in recent days, comparing McPhee's lengthy tenure with what happened under previous GM David Poile here and chronicling the team's shot differential over the years here.
The short answer is this: The Capitals have failed to manage postseason success under McPhee, and the team is now at a low ebb in terms of regular season results, too.
Our verdict: Looking back to Mike Gillis' run, the Canucks managed (in a tougher conference) to do everything the Capitals have done under McPhee and then some in one-third the time. The team's current sins are real and spectacular, and McPhee's past accomplishments aren't enough to excuse them.
What we think happens: It's hard to go wrong quoting TSN's Pierre LeBrun:
McPhee's deal is up at the end of the year. There have not been any talks about an extension. So the betting money, the whispers coming out of Washington, are that there is a better chance than not that there is a change at the GM position.
Dave Nonis, Toronto Maple Leafs
His record: Nonis took over a nonplayoff team in the summer of 2012 and saw that club make it into the playoffs the following year. This season has been a disaster, but the Leafs still have more points than they did the year before Nonis took over.
Our verdict: Looking at the team's record glosses over a series of shortcomings. At the top of the list is the David Clarkson contract and the Mikhail Grabovski buyout, a pair of mistakes that are set to cost Toronto a touch over $51 million (as per CapGeek.com). The team's stone-age approach to analytics is also worth considering.
It says here that even a team as rich as Toronto blowing half of $100 million is an offence that warrants firing.
What we think happens: Nonis has barely had a chance to get his feet wet as a general manager, and he's still on the head coach he inherited from predecessor Brian Burke. He'll be given a chance to turn things around, with the caveat that new president Brendan Shanahan will doubtless be watching him closely.
David Poile, Nashville Predators
His record: Poile has been with Nashville since that franchise's inaugural season, and in a lot of ways the team's been a model for both expansion franchises and budget-conscious NHL teams. The team has made the playoffs in seven of the last 10 seasons, but will fall short for the second consecutive season in 2013-14.
Our verdict: Hockey, especially for the teams that don't really have the money to compete, is a cyclical game. This is a low ebb for Nashville, and it's compounded by the fact that they haven't really had goaltending all year (thanks to an injury to starter Pekka Rinne).
The question is whether a different manager would have done better under the circumstances. Given Poile's overall record, the answer is probably "no."
What we think happens: The Preds have a GM in waiting in Paul Fenton, and there's been speculation that Poile might pay the price for two tough years in a row. Given that Poile has only ever used one coach (Barry Trotz), it seems more plausible that the team makes a change behind the bench to see if a change in style can coax more out of the club.
Garth Snow, New York Islanders
His record: Snow has been the general manager of the New York Islanders since the summer of 2006. In his eight seasons at the helm, the Islanders have missed the postseason on six occasions and have yet to win a playoff round, prolonging a streak of futility that goes back to 1993.
Our verdict: Eight years of failure is more than enough evidence, even without his ridiculously incompetent handling of the team's goaltending situation. Fire him, fire him now.
What we think happens: The simple fact of the matter is that Snow is performing for a constituency of one: team owner Charles Wang. We've been given no reason to believe that Wang is going to make the sensible decision here. However, there's a chance Wang will sell the team, as reported by TSN's Bob McKenzie (h/t CBSNewYork), which could affect Snow's status.
Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers
His record: Dale Tallon took over a wretched team in the summer of 2010, one that hadn't made the playoffs since the year 2000, and helped get it into the postseason.
The only problems are that the one playoff appearance was a nearly complete fluke and that things are worse than ever now. The team Tallon took over was coming off a 77-point season; currently the Panthers have just 61 points through 81 contests.
Our verdict: It's easy to get caught up in what happened to Chicago after Tallon left, forgetting that he had bungled badly in years prior and was pushed out the door by ownership to make way for a closer. So far, he's shown no signs of being able to get the Panthers on track.
What we think happens: Tallon, while saying he needs to be better, sounded optimistic about next season in a story by the Sun Sentinel's Dave Hyde. An infusion of money, as well as the acquisition of Roberto Luongo, might be enough to create the necessary improvement to keep Tallon employed long-term.
Jim Rutherford, Carolina Hurricanes
His record: Rutherford's team won the Stanley Cup in 2006, and that's a formidable achievement. Other than that, however, the team's been more bad than good. That's been especially true of late, as the 2013-14 campaign marks the seventh time in eight seasons since that 2006 win that the 'Canes are outside the playoffs.
Our verdict: It's time for a change.
What we think happens: Chip Alexander of The News & Observer (membership required) laid out the expectations for this summer late last month. Rutherford is expected to step down in favour of Ron Francis.
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