Let’s just come right out and say it: The General Manager of the Year is a weird award.
Oh, it’s a nice idea. If players and coaches can be honoured for a good season, then GMs should too. But the award, first introduced in 2010, has never really seemed to work. A GM’s job involves building a roster over multiple seasons, often through moves that don’t pay off until years down the line. Even if you wanted to honour the guy who had the best single season, you wouldn’t be able to know who that was without the benefit of hindsight.
Luckily, we have that hindsight available to us now. So today, let’s go back over the history of the GM of the Year trophy, and retroactively re-award it to the guy who actually deserved it.
First, a few ground rules. We’re looking at everything a GM is responsible for, including the draft, free agency and trades. We don’t care about anything that came before the season; you don’t get GM of the Year credit because a prospect you drafted three years ago had a great rookie year, or a guy you traded for the previous season had a breakthrough. We also don’t care about mistakes made in the future, so if you built yourself a nice little sand castle one year, you don’t lose points for kicking it over the next.
The standings matter, although not all that much because they'll heavily reflect work that had been done in previous years. And the playoffs matter more, because it's completely insane to create an award for the guys trying to build championship rosters and then vote on it before the post-season is even over. Which is what the league does, by the way.
Finally, we're going to define the "season" as everything that happens in between Stanley Cup presentations. So from the moment the last chorus of boos reign down on Gary Bettman, NHL GMs are competing for next year's award.
We've got six seasons to work with. Let's go back and get it right.
The actual winner was: Don Maloney of the Coyotes. (For the award's first few years, no other finalists were announced.)
But in hindsight: Maloney didn't really do much during the season beyond landing Radim Vrbata in a trade. The Coyotes did make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, but wouldn't actually win a round until their deep run in 2012.
So on paper, this was an odd pick. But really, this was less about what Maloney did with the roster and more about everything he'd put up with over the years in Arizona. The team had just gone through a bankruptcy and was constantly rumoured to be on the verge of moving, so Maloney was managing with one hand tied behind his back. His colleagues apparently wanted to recognize that, which is probably as good a reason as any to hand out this kind of award.
It could have gone to: One of the strongest performances came from Greg Sherman of the Avalanche, and yes, I'm as surprised as you are. But the Avs had the league's best draft, hitting hard on Matt Duchene third overall and Ryan O'Reilly at No. 33. Sherman also signed Craig Anderson as a reasonably cheap free agent, then saw him win the starter's job while helping the team to a 26-point improvement in the standings.
There's also a strong case for Paul Holmgrem, who got a Flyers team just three years removed from finishing dead last all the way to the Final, largely on the strength of an aggressive off-season trade for Chris Pronger. And Peter Chiarelli took a potentially disastrous Phil Kessel situation and turned it into a big win.
You could also make an argument for the Blackhawks, who won the Stanley Cup after landing the best UFA signing of the '09 off-season in Marian Hossa. But that gets tricky, because this was the year that Dale Tallon was demoted in mid-July after mishandling the Hawks' offer sheets, making way for Stan Bowman to assume the role.
Tallon deserves most of the credit for building those 2010 champs, but even in our alternate universe, giving the trophy to a guy who'd already been relieved of his duties seems like a stretch.
But the winner should have been: Glen Sather. The Rangers missed the playoffs for the first time in six years, but in hindsight Sather was laying the groundwork for the team that would emerge as one of the league's best just a few seasons later. He hit on his first round pick, landing Chris Kreider at 19th overall in a first round that thinned out quickly after the first few picks. And he made a big splash in free agency by signing Marian Gaborik, who'd score 40 goals twice over the next three seasons and represent one of the few big-money free agent signings of recent years that actually worked out.
But Sather's best move remains one of his most infamous – the June, 2009 trade that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal for a package that included a young Ryan McDonagh. Given Gomez's ridiculous contract, the deal seemed like a miracle for the Rangers at the time, and it only looks better in hindsight.
McDonagh may be the most valuable current Ranger apart from Henrik Lundqvist, and Sather landed him in a deal where he should've been giving the Habs young players just to take on dead money. That alone is enough to earn him some hardware.