Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What’s the best starting lineup you could make from a single GM’s trade history?

With​ less than a week​ to​ go​ until​ the​ 2019​ trade deadline,​ all eyes are​ on NHL general​ managers.​ Within minutes of​​ Monday’s 3:00 p.m. ET deadline, everyone will be coming up with their lists of winners and losers. Some GMs will be found wanting, while others will be declared the champions of the day.

But we like to think a little bigger around here. So instead of wondering about who’ll be the best NHL GM of the 2019 deadline, let’s aim higher by trying to determine the best big-game hunter in history. Which GM holds the all-time crown when it comes to going and swinging big deals?

A few months ago, I tried to tackle a similar sort of question from a slightly different angle by following a chain of lopsided trades. I thought it was pretty much perfect methodology, but a few readers didn’t seem to agree with where it ended up. OK, fair enough. So let’s try something else.

Today, we’re going to see which NHL GM from the modern era lets us put together the best six-man starting lineup made up entirely of players that they traded for. We’re looking for a goalie, two defensemen and three forwards, all of them acquired by the same GM in various trades.

We can mix and match between teams for those GMs who’ve held multiple jobs. But we’re looking for trades and trades only – drafting, free agency and other kind of transactions won’t help you here. We’re not really looking for the “best” GM here, and we don’t even really care if they won or lost the deal. One way or another, we’re looking to crown the guy who landed the biggest names.

A couple of key ground rules:

– The GM only gets credit for what the player did with the team that acquired them. Trading for a Hall of Famer at the very end of his career doesn’t get your credit for his entire body of work. But you do get credit for whatever they did with the team, even if you weren’t around to see all of it.

– We’re only counting players who were acquired directly, not picks that were eventually used on star players.

That last rule is important for a couple of reasons. First, it prevents GMs from getting credit for players they lucked into thanks to their scouting department nailing some fourth-round pick. But more importantly, we need this rule to make this any sort of a contest instead of a coronation of Sam Pollock. If we’re counting picks, Pollock gets to start his team with names like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt and Bob Gainey, and the whole thing is over before it starts. Sam’s too good, so we need a rule to hold him back.

But it’s a tribute to Pollock that while we’re intentionally stacking the deck against him, he still comes through with a solid roster. Let’s make him our starting point.

(GM trading records are via

Team Sam Pollock

Goalie: Ken Dryden

Defensemen: Don Awrey, Jimmy Roberts

Forwards: Frank Mahovlich, Pete Mahovlich, Dick Duff

Team Pollock can’t use Lafleur, Robinson or the other draft pick heists, but still comes out looking pretty good. They start with a Hall of Famer in Dryden, whose rights Pollock stole from the Bruins in one of his very first trades back in 1964. They also get the Mahovlich brothers, plus six years of Duff’s Hall of Fame career. The defense is weak and that’s even after we’re cheating a bit with Roberts, who played more on the wing than the blueline in Montreal, but we kind of have to – even though he made a ton of trades, most of Pollock’s deals were for picks or cash, not established players.

So all in all, Team Pollock is pretty good. But will it hold up as the best? Let’s usher in a new challenger.

Team Harry Sinden

Goalie: Gilles Gilbert

Defensemen: Brad Park, Mike O’Connell

Forwards: Cam Neely, Rick Middleton, Adam Oates

Sinden’s team is just OK in goal – as you’ll see, that ends up being a bit of a theme for a few of his colleagues too. But the rest of his roster is pretty darn good. And he’s got some depth to draw on, as we’ve left off names like Jean Ratelle. The only real weak point is that second defenseman slot, which would look a lot better if our draft pick rule wasn’t keeping Ray Bourque off the team. But having future Sinden protégé Mike O’Connell on the squad makes a certain kind of sense, so let’s go with that.

Sinden’s Bruins didn’t beat Pollock’s Habs all that much when it mattered back in the 1970s, but I think he has the edge here. But he’ll need to get past some other strong contenders.

Team Bill Torrey

Goalie: Chico Resch

Defensemen: Jean Potvin, Uwe Krupp

Forwards: Butch Goring, Pierre Turgeon, Bob Bourne

As with Sinden, goalie isn’t a strong suit, although it’s not bad; Resch basically wins by default, since Billy Smith was an expansion pick and not a trade. Torrey also suffers a bit on the blueline, partly because he was pretty good at drafting them and didn’t need to trade for them as often as other guys. Jean Potvin might not be the best Potvin brother the Islanders ever had, but he put in a solid 400 games for them, and Krupp was decent too. Torrey’s best position is up front, where he could also lay claim to guys like Ray Ferraro and Stumpy Thomas.

Sinden, Torrey and Pollock represent the classic franchise-defining GMs of the 1970s. There’s one more we need to get to, although this one is sometimes better remembered for the work he did in another market.

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