Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Who wins, an all-time roster of stars who became coaches or stars who became GMs?

NHL teams sure do love to hire former players for important jobs. These days, if your favorite player retires, it’s probably not goodbye. Just give it a few years, and he’ll be back as coach or GM or to be determined.

Sometimes it works. Joe Sakic could win GM of the Year honors for his work in Colorado, while Rod Brind’Amour is the favorite for this year’s Jack Adams. Sometimes it doesn’t, like Wayne Gretzky’s coaching career or Mike Milbury as GM. Jim Benning and Travis Green, two former players, didn’t have a great year in Vancouver, but Bill Guerin and Dean Evason did pretty well in Minnesota. Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz never played a shift in the NHL, and neither did Julien BriseBoise or Jon Cooper, while Bob Murray and Dallas Eakins played plenty. It’s kind of all over the map.

Today, let’s come at the question from a different angle. Who’d win a head-to-head matchup, a team made up entirely of NHL stars who went on to become coaches, or those who went on to become GMs?

You’re already starting to come up with names for both teams, and that’s half the fun. But first, a few ground rules:

– We’ll build two full rosters of 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, without worrying too much about position beyond that. We’ll go back over all of NHL history, but we’ll give priority to guys from the modern era, because I’m tod it’s more fun if reader know who I’m talking about.

– To be clear, we’re looking to build our two teams based on how good the player was, not necessarily what they did as coach or GM. You shouldn’t hire Wayne Gretzky to coach your favorite team, but you do want him on your Team Coach roster here.

– In the case of guys who spent time as both coach and GM, we’ll assign them to a team based on which job they held the longest. We’re looking for NHL jobs only, not WHA or other leagues. And assistants aren’t in play – you need to have held the real job.

– Finally, we’re going to limit this to guys who held the job for more than one full season. It turns out a lot of guys got hired for very short stints, especially on the coaching side, and we don’t want to fill our roster up with ringers.

Take a moment to see if you can figure out which side is going to win, and how many names your favorite team will supply. OK, let’s see how this plays out…

First lines

So yeah, let’s start with the obvious pick for Team Coach: the greatest player in NHL history, Wayne Gretzky. He never got the Coyotes into the playoffs in four years behind their bench, apparently because yelling “Just do what I used to do” isn’t really a strategy. That doesn’t matter here, as he gives Team Coach a huge head start.

For his wingers, we’ll reach back into history for Alex Delvecchio, who coached the Wings for parts of four seasons (and was their GM for three). On the other wing, let’s slot in Denis Savard, who’s top claim to fame behind the Blackhawks bench was being fired and replaced by Joel Quenneville. Gretzky, Savard and Delvecchio give us about 5,500 points worth of production, over half of which comes from Gretzky. Pretty good!

Team GM doesn’t have any Gretzky-level stars available, but they come pretty close. Let’s start them with Phil Esposito, who held the job with both the Rangers and Lightning and was a complete and certifiable madman the whole time. (Seriously, look at his trading record in just three years in New York.) We’ll give him Terrible Ted Lindsay on one wing, thanks to three seasons running the Red Wings in the late 70s.

The other pick for a spot on Team GM’s top line came with some controversy. I originally assumed that Brett Hull would be an easy pick, based on his two seasons in Dallas. But Hull shared the job with Les Jackson, with both listed as co-GMs. Should that count? The pair held the job for less that two seasons, meaning if we give Hull 50% credit he’ll fall just short of our one-year cut off. But I’m not an NHL replay official and I’m not here to pull goals off the board on a technicality, so Brett Hull is on the team.

The edge probably has to go to Team Coach here just based on having Gretzky, but it ends up being closer than you might expect – and maybe even tilts to Team GM if Lindsay catches anyone with their head down. Which he will.

Second lines

We’ll start Team Coach’s second line with another Hall-of-Fame center in Adam Oates. His brief stint as Devils co-coach with Scott Stevens was even weirder than the Brett Hull thing, but luckily he had a few years in Washington to make sure he qualifies. We’ll reach back into history to give him a pair of Hart Trophy winners as his linemates, in Milt Schmidt and Toe Blake. Schmidt had some strong seasons behind the bench in Boston and two more he’d rather forget in Washington, while Blake may be the only Hall-of-Fame player who actually went on to even more success as coach.

Team GM will stay in the modern era with a trio current GMs you were probably waiting to see. We’ll start with Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. Granted, it will feel a little bit weird to see them on the same line given that the Red Wings and Avalanche had a bit of a rivalry back in the day, but we’re figuring they can get along well enough to rack up some offense. We’ll round out the line with Ron Francis, giving us the fifth, seventh and ninth highest scoring players of all-time on one line. Yeah, that’s probably manageable.

It’s always tough to compare across eras, and Blake and Schmidt were legitimate stars in their day, but I think Team GM takes this one and it isn’t especially close.

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