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8 Debate: Holland best among general managers

by Corey Masisak /

It is an argument that inspires passion in every rink, sports bar and living room where hockey is being played or is on the television. It can incite elevated heart rates in person and long discussion threads on the Internet.

Who is the best? and NHL Network gathered 10 writers and television personalities and asked that very question. Each was asked to rank his top eight in eight categories -- centers, left wings, right wings, defensemen, goalies, coaches, general managers and guys who wore the No. 8 sweater.

The voting, which took place for all eight segments in mid-February, is complete and the points have been tallied. Here is our answer to the simple question, who are the best in the NHL?

After detailing the top players at each position and the top coaches in the NHL, it is time to shift the focus upstairs. The role of general manager has changed a great deal in the modern NHL. There are more duties than just putting the roster together and hiring a coach.

8 Debate: Top GM voting results

  • 1. Ken Holland (5 first-place votes) -- 74 points
  • 2. Lou Lamoriello (2) -- 59
  • 3. Peter Chiarelli -- 43
  • 4. David Poile (1) -- 38
  • 5. Ray Shero (1) -- 35
  • 6. Dean Lombardi (1) -- 29
  • 7. Don Maloney -- 21
  • 8. Doug Armstrong -- 15

Others receiving votes: Steve Yzerman (8 points), Mike Gillis (7), Jim Rutherford (6), Doug Wilson (6), Bob Murray (5), Stan Bowman (5), Dale Tallon (3), Brian Burke (2), Glen Sather (2), Chuck Fletcher (2)

Teams rely on front-office staffs instead of one person more than ever, and sometimes the general manager isn't really the "guy in charge" who makes final roster decisions. That said, we're going to focus on the GMs -- their ability to build rosters, hire coaches and draft players, and everything else that goes into winning a championship.

Five of the eight GMs on this list have won the Stanley Cup in his current position, and a sixth won as an assistant GM. The other two have proven to be able to build consistent winners with small budgets.

For more on what makes a great general manager, here is what NHL Network and CBC analyst Kevin Weekes had to say:

"Work ethic is No. 1. Obviously it is a lucrative, a powerful position. For me, I like general managers that have their work boots on and that are grinders and love to work.

"Secondly, it is how dedicated they are putting a great team on the ice. Everyone is going to say, 'Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup,' but that's not entirely the case for every team in every situation. That's the reality. So organizations and general managers that really put their best foot forward on a yearly basis -- all situations are unique … but GMs that give their teams the best chance of winning on a yearly basis.

"Lastly, it is a human element. I've always been big on how GMs interact and treat people. At the end of the day, having been a player, there's some truth to the fact that you're a commodity, you're an equity, whatever you want to say. It is the human element -- how they treat guys on the team, how they treat the staff, how they interact with people, and how honest they are. All of those things on a daily basis really mean a lot to me."

Here are the voting results. Note: A GM received eight points for a first-place vote, seven for a second and so forth to one point for an eighth-place ranking (number of first-place votes in parentheses).

1. Ken Holland (5 first-place votes) -- 74 points

Quite simply, Holland is one of the most successful general managers in League history and has enjoyed consistent success in an era when parity reigns like no other before it. The Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in his final season as an assistant GM in 1996-97 and in his first in charge the following year. That remains the last time an NHL team has repeated.

Since then, Holland has built the Red Wings into a machine, winning the Cup again in 2002 and 2008 and reaching the Final in 2009. He's rebuilt the roster, first after Steve Yzerman retired, now without Nicklas Lidstrom. The Red Wings have been the NHL's model franchise for at least the past decade, and Holland has been a huge part of that.

"The Detroit Red Wings have not missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 21 seasons," managing editor Shawn Roarke said. "Ken Holland has steered that streak since taking over as Detroit GM in 1997. Under his watch as the ultimate shot-caller, the club has won three Stanley Cups and four Presidents' Trophies. During his tenure, no team has won more games. The job of a GM is to put together an organization that can win and, by every metric, Holland has done that in Detroit. And he has done it by layering the franchise with talent at every level -- players, scouts, coaches and front office, building a model that is virtually self-sustaining at this point."

2. Lou Lamoriello (2) -- 59

Lamoriello's story is incredible, from math teacher to college coach to Hockey East commissioner and finally to president and GM of the New Jersey Devils for the past 26 years despite no prior professional hockey experience. During his tenure, which is easily the longest of any current GM, he has transformed the Devils into one of the NHL's most successful franchises.


Though the Devils' brand of hockey has, fairly or unfairly, been chastised in the past, the results are beyond reproach. New Jersey was won the Stanley Cup three times and reached the Final two other seasons during Lamoriello's tenure. Often unconventional, Lamoriello is one of the most respected people in hockey, a distinction that is well-earned for his contributions at the college and NHL levels.

"He's been around forever and he's had success with wildly different groups of people," staff writer Dave Lozo said. "He took a team that was once a 'Mickey Mouse organization' according to Wayne Gretzky and turned it into one of the most successful over the past 20 years. There's been a drop-off this season, but that has a lot to do with injuries to Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk and the departure of Zach Parise, although Lou did everything he could to keep him. Five trips to the Cup Final in 16 seasons is pretty amazing."

3. Peter Chiarelli -- 43

One of several current GMs with either a background in law, player representation or both, Chiarelli took charge of the Boston Bruins in the summer of 2006 and has revived a proud franchise. Chiarelli's most famous moves include signing Zdeno Chara, who played for the Ottawa Senators when Chiarelli was their assistant GM, and making the "Phil Kessel trade" in which the Bruins netted Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight.

Chiarelli also made a series of deft moves to fill out the roster and return the Stanley Cup to Beantown in 2011 for the first time since 1972, and the Bruins are built to be a top contender for years to come.

"Well, let's see, under Chiarelli's watch the Bruins have drafted well, signed top free agents, made smart trades and won the Stanley Cup," senior writer Dan Rosen said. "He drafted Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Dougie Hamilton. He signed Zdeno Chara. He traded for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell, who has been the perfect so-called program player. He traded for Tuukka Rask. He traded for Jaromir Jagr. The list goes on and on. Chiarelli is hardly known for just one trade; his fingerprints are all over the Bruins' successes."

4. David Poile (1) -- 38

The only man who has been an NHL GM longer than Lamoriello is Poile, who has been running a franchise every season since 1982. He built the Washington Capitals into a consistent playoff team (and saved a struggling expansion franchise in the process).

Washington reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1998, the year after Poile left to prepare to build an expansion franchise from the ground up. The Nashville Predators have become a consistent playoff contender as well, and reached the second round each of the past two seasons.

"He's been under constraints a lot of GMs are not in terms of money to spend and the city itself," Lozo said. "We all know Nashville is a great place to play and I'd go there in a second, but it's a foreign land for some kids growing up in Canada and Europe. But Poile has built a rock-solid foundation through the draft and hired a coach (Barry Trotz) who has stuck to a system that's been very successful despite free-agent losses over the years. He made sure to lock up Shea Weber after losing Ryan Suter too."

5. Ray Shero (1) -- 35

Shero was one of Poile's trusted lieutenants in Nashville before replacing a legend with the Pittsburgh Penguins (Craig Patrick). Several of the Penguins' most important players were already there when Shero arrived, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang.

What Shero has done to cement his place as one of the League's best GMs is supplement those stars and make the Penguins a consistent Stanley Cup threat. He has made more great trades near the deadline in the past six years than any other GM, and has managed to collect a deep crop of prospects while still contending every season. The Penguins reached the Final in 2008, won the Cup in 2009 and might have been the favorites to win again in 2011 were it not for injuries to Crosby and Malkin.

"All of the big pieces were in place, but he's made a lot of great moves as GM," Lozo said. "He got James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski. He pulled the trigger on replacing Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma and picked up Hal Gill in a trade at the deadline and it led to a Stanley Cup. He drafted Jordan Staal, then turned him into Brandon Sutter in a trade that saved money and didn't hurt the overall quality of his team. He picked up Chris Kunitz for Ryan Whitney. He signed Paul Martin long-term. And he went all-in this season by picking up Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Doug Murray without losing anyone on his current roster. That's about 10 great moves since 2006, and some GMs go their entire tenure without one trade or signing that works out as well as any of these."

6. Dean Lombardi (1) -- 29

Lombardi helped lay the foundation for a great era of regular-season success with the San Jose Sharks when he was GM there from 1996-2003. Like Shero, his next job involved rebuilding a franchise with a few prized assets to work with.

Since becoming GM of the Los Angeles Kings, Lombardi has built around Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick, and added players through all available avenues. The roster that won the Stanley Cup last season was a wonderful blend of homegrown talent, players acquired in trades, and veteran free-agent signings. On the surface, the Kings' run from No. 8 seed to champion was a huge surprise, but Los Angeles' roster was one of the deepest and most talented in the League and should continue to be so for the next few seasons.

The Kings became the first No. 8 seed ever to win the Stanley Cup last season, largely due in part to Lombardi building one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the League. (Photo: NHLI via Getty Images)

"Lombardi had three important pieces when he took over in Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick, and he was able to build a Stanley Cup championship roster around them because he made the right moves at the right time, didn't get stuck in overpaying anybody, and had enough cap space to strike when he felt his team was ready," Rosen said. "That's how he was able to get Mike Richards out of Philadelphia and Jeff Carter out of Columbus. Lombardi used patience and intelligence. He recognized that depth down the middle, a strong defense and solid goaltending are the most important elements to sustained success. Look at the Kings' roster now and you'll see they are loaded in those areas."

7. Don Maloney -- 21

Maloney spent more than a decade as an assistant to Glen Sather with the New York Rangers before earning his own command of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007. The team has been in flux because of ownership issues for much of Maloney's tenure, yet he's still been able to produce successful seasons.

The Coyotes have made the playoffs three consecutive years despite one of the lowest payrolls in the League, and are in contention to make it four in a row. Phoenix made the Western Conference Finals last season, and Maloney's best move might not have involved a player -- he hired Dave Tippett to replace Wayne Gretzky as coach in 2009.

"Nobody has a harder job than Don Maloney," Roarke said. "He is as much of a salesman as he is a hockey front-office operative. Somehow, despite the uncertain situation in Phoenix, Maloney has found a way to bring in players that can help the cause while fitting within a strict salary structure. He identified and recruited a coach that could win with the raw materials on hand. And he has augmented, when necessary, with a deft hand at the trading table."

8. Doug Armstrong -- 15

Armstrong also hired Tippett to be an NHL coach -- in 2002 with the Dallas Stars. Armstrong won the Stanley Cup in Dallas as an assistant to Bob Gainey in 1999, and the team reached the playoffs in each of his seasons in charge.

He joined the St. Louis Blues in 2008 and replaced retiring Larry Pleau as GM in 2010. Though many of the team's core players were drafted before Armstrong became GM, he has made two huge moves -- he traded for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk from the Colorado Avalanche and hired Ken Hitchcock to be the team's coach not long after last season began.

"The Blues are near the bottom in spending and yet they put up 109 points last season and are on their way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs again this season," Rosen said. "I had them pegged to represent the West in the Cup Final, and despite Chicago's success, the way the Blues are playing now it's not ridiculous to think they can get there. Armstrong is a big reason why. He smartly made the coaching change last year and brought in Ken Hitchcock, who obviously was the right guy for this team. He showed faith in the young guys, gave them the proper time to develop without the addition of being under pressure to win immediately. They're winning now because of it. He recognized his team needed help on defense this season and did a fantastic job of addressing it by acquiring Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester without subtracting a roster player. He probably should be higher than No. 8."

Others receiving votes: Steve Yzerman (8 points), Mike Gillis (7), Jim Rutherford (6), Doug Wilson (6), Bob Murray (5), Stan Bowman (5), Dale Tallon (3), Brian Burke (2), Glen Sather (2), Chuck Fletcher (2)

Brian Compton
John Kreiser
Dave Lozo
Corey Masisak
Shawn Roarke
1. Lamoriello 1. Holland 1. Lamoriello 1. Shero 1. Holland
2. Holland 2. Lombardi 2. Holland 2. Holland 2. Lamoriello
3. Poile 3. Lamoriello 3. Poile 3. Lamoriello 3. Poile
4. Chiarelli 4. Maloney 4. Chiarelli 4. Chiarelli 4. Maloney
5. Maloney 5. Chiarelli 5. Wilson 5. Lombardi 5. Shero
6. Yzerman 6. Shero 6. Gillis 6. Tallon 6. Chiarelli
7. Wilson 7. Armstrong 7. Shero 7. Rutherford 7. Burke
8. Armstrong 8. Poile 8. Rutherford 8. Poile 8. Lombardi
Dan Rosen
E.J. Hradek
NHL Network
Mike Johnson
NHL Network
Barry Melrose
NHL Network
Kevin Weekes
NHL Network
1. Lombardi 1. Holland 1. Holland 1. Poile 1. Holland
2. Lamoriello 2. Lamoriello 2. Chiarelli 2. Holland 2. Shero
3. Holland 3. Shero 3. Armstrong 3. Lamoriello 3. Chiarelli
4. Armstrong 4. Lombardi 4. Maloney 4. Yzerman 4. Bowman
5. Chiarelli 5. Chiarelli 5. Lamoriello 5. Shero 5. Gillis
6. Poile 6. Rutherford 6. Poile 6. Bob Murray 6. Poile
7. Sather 7. Maloney 7. Bob Murray 7. Fletcher 7. Lombardi
8. Shero 8. Poile 8. Lombardi 8. Lombardi 8. Armstrong

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