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Trophy Thursday: General Manager of the Year

'Younger' NHL trophy goes to the general manager who excels - a closer look at what impresses award voters and which GMs might be finalists this season

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

The majority of NHL trophies are one-of-a-kind authentic, no copies, and decades deep in history. In contrast, the General Manager of the Year Award has the cool trophy thing down but can't brag on its long run of recipients.

But, hey, the GM award now moves into its second decade. Former Arizona Coyotes Don Maloney won the inaugural nameplate on the GM trophy for the 2009-2010 season.

 

Another Don, Boston's Don Sweeney, took home the hardware last June as the 10th winner last June at the NHL Awards night. The trophy is determined by a vote of all 31 NHL general managers plus five NHL executives and five media members. The 41 voters are charged with identifying the "general manager who best excelled in his role during the regular season." 

The award tends to be a close vote most years because the voters (especially the 31 GMs and five executives) recognize the "excelled" definition is not just the season's record. Sweeney's Bruins team used 37 players in 2018-19 (20 players dress for each game, including two goalies). That total was the most for any playoff squad. Dealing with injuries or players who are not performing to expectations is a top challenge for every GM and the hard-working assistant GMs, scouts, player development staffers and quantitative analysts and others charged with establishing the optimal roster. 

Part of the optimization is deciding to add or trade players during the league's February trade deadline. Sweeney and staff added forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. Both notched big points in the postseason: Coyle scored seven goals and added nine assists in 24 games. Johansson contributed four goals and seven assists in 22 postseason contests. 

How the GM's team has drafted is another marker. Three of Sweeney's draftees were integral to Boston's Eastern Conference title and getting to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final: Forward Jake DeBrusk was selected 14th overall in 2015; he scored 27 goals last year. Defenseman Brandon Carlo was picked 37th in 2015 and notched a +22 plus-minus rating (on the ice for 22 more Boston goals than opponents' goals). Possibly the best pick is defenseman Charlie McAvoy. Sweeney tabbed him 14th overall in 2016 and three Junes later is the team leader in time on ice (TOI) at 22:10 per game. 

Quick aside, Part 1: Every GM is quick to credit their staff for putting together the team's roster and are especially vocal about the deep dive performed every season by the amateur scouting staff tasked with forecasting how 18-year-olds will fare, typically, three to six years later as NHL pros, after first playing in a mix of juniors, NCAA and/or American Hockey League games. Deb Placey of NHL.com/NHL Network hosts a superb podcast, "Executive Suite," that drives this point home every time she interviews a GM as a guest.

Projecting a GM winner is no simple task, especially in November. One of last year's runners-up in the voting was Doug Armstrong, whose St. Louis Blues team beat Boston in the Cup Final Game 7. As the Blues were spiraling to the league's worst record last fall-hitting a low point in early January-no one was penciling in Armstrong. 

Armstrong is instructive in another predictive factor: He won the GM trophy in 2011-12. No general manager has won the award more than once in its first decade. Only Armstrong, Anaheim's Bob Murray in 2013-14 and Steve Yzerman in 2014-15 (then with Tampa Bay and now in Detroit) have even been official runners-up after winning the GM Award. 

Media members who report on the NHL regularly know the league's GMs express notable respect for their counterparts-another point validated on Deb Placey's "Executive Suite" podcast interviews. To that end, GM-of-year-forecasters might ponder deserving candidates who have not won the award. 

For example, both Ken Holland and Lou Lamoriello could be contenders in the spring voting. Holland, a four-time Cup-winning GM in Detroit will certainly be considered if Edmonton continues its run among the Western Conference leaders, picking up credit for hiring new coach and ex-NHL Seattle senior adviser Dave Tippett, trading for James Neal and adding other veterans to the young superstar talent on the Oilers roster.

Lamoriello won three Cups in an epic stretch with the New Jersey Devils, then moved to the GM role in Toronto to help team president Brendan Shanahan rebuild the organization before taking his current role as GM of the New York Islanders. The Isles beat Toronto Wednesday to extend their point-streak to 13 games (the only blemish is a 4-3 overtime loss to Pittsburgh after 10 straight wins and now two more). NYI swept Pittsburgh in the playoffs last spring and currently sport the third highest team points total in the league. 

Other candidates: Armstrong's Blues are off to a strong start, making him the possible first repeat winner. Montreal is cresting upward in the standings; GM Marc Bergevin was a runner-up in 2013-14 and highly regarded across hockey destinations. You can't discount Joe Sakic's work as a builder of the Colorado Avalanche and he is beloved by many across the NHL. Ditto Dale Tallon if the Florida Panthers stay on the upside of wins and losses. While Dallas started 1-7-1, the Stars and Jim Nill are turning it around. Winning the rugged Central Division is the goal and would likely make Nill at GM of the Year finalist. It's November, let's check back with each other in April.

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