Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Evaluating the GM class of 2014

Hockey fans love to review, rank and debate draft classes. Is this year’s any good? Was 2003 better than 1979? How does the Oilers’ class of 1980 hold up against the Red Wings’ haul in 1989?

But what about the guys who make those draft picks? Each year also brings a new class of NHL GMs, and like draft picks, some years are better than others. This off-season is shaping up to be a busy one in that regard, with plenty of GMs on the hot seat and the possibility of some major changes around NHL front offices.

With that in mind, it seems like a good time to look back at the 2014 off-season that saw eight teams anoint a new GM. According to the archives over at NHL Trade Tracker, that was the busiest single year of turnover since 2006, which was the year a bunch of NHL teams realized that the new post-lockout rules would require some fresh thinking. Other high-turnover years include 2000 (eight new GMs), 1997 (nine, including the expansion Predators), 1994 (eight) and 1974 (nine, including the expansion Scouts and Capitals).

Why was 2014 so busy? It’s hard to say, although history shows that the years immediately before and after lockouts tend to bring significant change to NHL front offices. The 2013 class had been busy in its own right, with six changes, and seven if you count coach Patrick Roy being briefly slotted in ahead of Greg Sherman on the Avs’ org chart. But the years before had been unusually stable, with just one new GM each in 2011 and 2012, so there was some pent-up demand for change. That feels a little like the situation right now, with only six GM changes (including the first hire for the expansion Golden Knights) since July 2015. That’s not quite as extreme as the situation heading into 2013 and 2014, but it’s not far off, so we could be in for a rocky few months ahead.

Of those eight GMs hired in 2014, seven are still on the job. (We pause here to sadly pour one out for Tim Murray.) But the clock may be ticking on them. We often say that a new GM deserves five years to implement a plan, and the Class of 2014 is about to head into year five. And history suggests that we should expect at least a few to not even make it that far – from that busy class of 2013, only Jim Nill and Jarmo Kekalainen are still employed.

So which of the 2014 GMs is in the most danger of not making it to 2019? And who’s got the best shot of being remembered as the class of the, uh, class? Let’s run through the seven names and see if we can figure it out.

Jim Benning, Canucks

The hiring: After missing the playoffs and firing Mike Gillis at the end of the season, the Canucks hired Benning away from the Boston Bruins, where he’d served as assistant GM, on May 21.

Record since: 133-142-36, one playoff appearance

Best moves: Benning came into the job with a reputation for drafting well, and he’s largely lived up to that. Getting Brock Boeser 23rd overall in 2015 was a major win, and 2017 fifth-overall pick Elias Pettersson looks like the real deal. Benning also landed a good prospect from Ottawa for the husk of Alex Burrows, and turned Sven Baertschi into a reasonably successful reclamation project from the Flames.

Worst moves: Given Benning’s image as a draft guru, 2016 pick Olli Juolevi looks like a miss. Worse, the Loui Eriksson signing felt like a flat-out disaster from day one. But the biggest objection to Benning’s tenure in Vancouver is probably the moves he didn’t make. From rarely acquiring draft picks to re-signing Erik Gudbranson to holding onto Chris Tanev, Benning hasn’t tried for the sort of full-scale teardown many fans seem to want to see.

Current outlook: A lot better than it was a month ago, thanks to the three-year extension he signed in February. That move came as a bit of a surprise, with the team on track to finish in the bottom five for the third straight year. Rebuilds take time, sure, but often it doesn’t seem like Benning knows the Canucks are rebuilding.

Odds of seeing 2019: Excellent. The importance of GM extensions can be overstated – remember when Dave Nonis got a five-year deal in 2013, Leafs fans freaked out, and then he was gone less than two years later? – but the vote of confidence from ownership and Trevor Linden means Benning will make it to the new year. Will he see his five-year anniversary in May? That looks likely, too, but another year without progress could call it into question.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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