Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Which GMs are facing the most deadline pressure? (Eastern Conference edition)

Tomorrow marks the start of February. More importantly for hockey fans, it also marks four weeks until the trade deadline. With more teams than ever hanging around the playoff race, we could be in for a wild month.

Or maybe not. This is the NHL, after all, where most of the league’s GMs have proven very adept at coming up with reasons to stand pat. You can already hear the well-worn excuses being dusted off — the cap makes trading too hard, the market wasn’t quite right, we just couldn’t find the right deal. Most of these guys will probably figure out a way to tinker here and there and then call it a day.

And for some teams, that will make sense. Others, not so much. So this week, we’re going through the league team-by-team to figure out which GMs are under the most pressure over the next four weeks. Yesterday, we covered the Western Conference. Today, it’s onto the East.

Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh Penguins

Rutherford's Penguins are the defending Cup champs, they don't have any obvious holes, and they've all but clinched a playoff spot already. It's not all smooth-sailing; he does still need to figure out what to do about his goaltending and the upcoming expansion draft, although that can wait for the off-season. And the Metro is going to be tough, with the possibility that a deadline arms race could break out between the division's top contenders. But for now, Rutherford's in as good a shape as anyone.

Pressure rating: 2/10

Jarko Kekalainen, Columbus Blue Jackets

Few GMs came into the season on a hotter seat than Kekalainen. His cap was a mess, he'd made a controversial pick at the top of the draft, he hadn't done much to improve over the off-season, and nobody expected his team to be any good. On opening night, Kekalainen looked like a guy who could be hard-pressed to make it through the season. Fast forward to today, and he's probably in the running for GM of the Year. The Blue Jackets are going to make the playoffs, and they've even got a shot at a Presidents' Trophy.

That doesn't remove all the pressure from Kekalainen, since this is the time of year that Cup contenders are expected to load up, and the Blue Jackets have shown some signs of fading over recent weeks. If you're a Columbus fan who's been waiting nearly two decades for a playoff run, you might figure now's the time to go all-in. But right now, Kekalainen's job looks an awful lot easier — not to mention more secure — than it did just a few months ago.

Pressure rating: 4/10

Ray Shero, New Jersey Devils

Is anyone actually out of the playoff hunt in the East? If so, it's New Jersey, and that's a disappointing result for a team that seemed headed in the right direction. The good news is that it could position the Devils as one of the few sellers in the league, which in theory should drive up prices on anyone they want to move. That's the kind of opportunity that a smart GM can take advantage of.

Pressure rating: 4/10

Pierre Dorion, Ottawa Senators

The Senators have been a pleasant surprise so far, and are holding down a reasonably firm grip on a playoff spot. In his first season as an NHL GM, Dorion has suggested that he'd like to add help at forward. The Senators have been linked to some of the bigger names out there, and given that the playoff format is likely to serve up a winnable first-round matchup, there's been some talk that this might the year for Dorion to make a big push. It could happen, but right now the Senators don't look like a team that absolutely needs to make a move.

Pressure rating: 4/10

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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