Last week, I ranked the first part of the top-10 NHL general managers (ten through six). Without further ado, here is my personal ranking of the top-10 NHL GMs (five through one).
Number 5: Don Sweeney, Boston Bruins
First up is a man who is as “Boston” as they come in and around the National Hockey League- his name is Don Sweeney. Since being promoted as Bruins general manager in May 2015, Sweeney has been nothing short of spectacular. As an executive, he’s well-respected, calculated, savvy, and firm as a board when it comes to player negotiations. I’ve never seen someone so stealth and pristine when it comes to player contracts (see the deals of Jake DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, and Anders Bjork if you don’t believe me). This guy knows how to “draw the line in the sand”, which has allowed his team to be competitive, flexible, and crafty since assuming rank five-and-a-half years ago
On the ice, Sweeney has juggled, retooled, and constructed a team that is a perennial playoff contender year in and year out. Although he’s yet to win a Stanley Cup, “Donnie S” has consistently positioned the B’s in the top-10 of the NHL standings each and every season as one of the most exciting, and well-rounded teams in hockey. His club is fast, balanced, and has some excellent pieces coming down the pipeline in the form of Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, John Beecher, and Trent Frederic to complement the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and the aforementioned McAvoy among others. I’m certainly not going to be the one to bet against Boston as we move towards the start of 2020-21. Sweeney deserves a ton of credit for what he and the Bruins have done over the past five years.
Number 4: Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks
There’s smart, and then there’s “business-like” smart. San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson has both of them and carries the accolades of being one of the best and most endearing executives in the NHL. A former player (and a good one at that), Wilson has sat in the GM chair in San Jose for the better part of 18 seasons. During that time, he has quickly become one of hockey’s most stealth and intelligent executives with the ability to retain talent, sign players, and consistently retool on the fly for the benefit of his team out in Silicon Valley. His accolades include a Presidents’ Trophy triumph in 2008-09, an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, one conference title, five division crowns, and 14 playoff appearances.
We often hear the term “rebuild/retool on the fly”. Well, hockey fans, that term was likely coined by Wilson himself. Unlike many of his peers (and predecessors), Wilson has the innate ability to sense when change is needed. He successfully transitioned his club from the days of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, and now it appears as though the Sharks are heading into 2020-21 with Kevin Labanc, Tomas Hertl, and Timo Meier in the driver’s seat. After a highly uncharacteristic season in 2019-20, I fully expect the Sharks to bounce back this year, which is music to the ears of fans up and down the California coast.
Number 3: Lou Lamoriello, New York Islanders
Coming in at number three is the Wiley, old vet himself, and three-time Stanley Cup champion, “Uncle” Lou Lamoriello. Prior to his arrival on Long Island, the New York Islanders were a run-and-gun type team that experienced very little in the way of playoff success. After the departure of long-time captain, and face-of-the-franchise, John Tavares in the summer of 2018, many pegged the Islanders to take a step back. But hey, not so fast, hockey fans!
Although they had an up-and-down regular season in 2019-20 with a 35-23-10 record through 69 games (good for fifth place in the Metropolitan Division), this team came together and was absolute magic in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the point where they were just two wins shy of a berth in the Cup final. They did this with sheer, hard work, balanced scoring, team defense, excellent goaltending, and playing a four-line game under the leadership of head coach Barry Trotz.
As we look ahead to 2020-21, the Isles are fresh off back-to-back playoff appearances and remain one of the most balanced and consistent teams in hockey. I certainly wouldn’t want to face Trotz and the boys on the Island in the playoffs.
Number 2: Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh Penguins
Three-time Stanley Cup champion and 71-year-old Jim Rutherford finishes runner up on this list as the second-best GM in hockey. After leading the underdog Carolina Hurricanes to a Cup triumph in 2005-06, Rutherford led Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016-17 and 2017-18. With the underlying effects of the NHL salary cap looming large over 31 (soon to be 32) franchises, winning consecutive Cups is no easy task by any means. Yet somehow, someway, “J.R.” and the Pens were able to accomplish it.
As an executive, Rutherford is known as a man with a quick fuse, who isn’t afraid to make a splash on the trade front. Sensing that he only has so many more “kicks at the can” in Pittsburgh, Rutherford has wheeled and dealed to ensure his team is as competitive as possible with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang still in the black and gold of Pittsburgh. His trades of Matt Murray in favor of Tristan Jarry in goal, in addition to the trade of Phil Kessel, and the acquisition of Kaperi Kapanen tell you everything you need to know about how he does business. Look for Rutherford and the Pens to be right in the thick of things once again in 2020-21.
Number 1: Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues
Like the Islanders, the St. Louis Blues were a team that lacked an identity prior to the arrival of Doug Armstrong. Well, hockey fans, that certainly isn’t the case any longer in the Midwest.
As with all GMs, you’re ultimately judged on your ability to win, stockpile talent, and remain “in the hunt” and competitive year after year. “Army” has done that and then some during in tenure in St. Louis. Last season, he helped steer the ship for the franchise’s first-ever Cup triumph.
In the GM chair (and in rather short order), Armstrong has transformed the Blues into a “run and gun”, underachieving club, into one of the league’s most potent all-around teams. What really stands out about Armstrong is his ability to read and react to the needs of his team, and to make them accordingly (i.e. bringing in Craig Berube behind the bench and Ryan O’Reilly). I think as long as Armstrong is at the helm, this team will be well-positioned for sustained success in the NHL.
Follow Dom Lunardo on Twitter @TapetoTape88
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