Don Sweeney took over as the Boston Bruins’ general manager in 2015 and has guided them to three straight playoff berths and a 49-24-9 record in 2018-19. On Wednesday night during the 2019 NHL Awards, his efforts were acknowledged with the GM of the Year Award.
A panel of NHL exclusives, print and broadcast media, as well as the 31 GMs annually give the award “to the general manager who best excelled at his role during the regular season.” Though the award focuses on the season, the voting does take place after the second round.
Sweeney made two significant moves before the trade deadline, acquiring Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle. Though the two had a limited impact during the regular season, they provided valuable secondary scoring during the Bruins’ run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
One of his big moves though came before the campaign when he signed goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a two-year, $5.5 million contract. That move played off beautifully for the Bruins as Halak was an ideal backup in 2018-19. He took the pressure off Tuukka Rask during his early season struggles and allowed Boston to use their starting sparingly enough that he was fresh for the postseason.
(For a breakdown and poll of the three Calder Trophy finalists for rookie of the year, click here.)
The NHL doesn’t add new trophies to its annual awards very often – how about a defensive defenseman award, eh? – but the league was wise to add a trophy for the league’s best general manager starting last year. Sure, some might say that the Stanley Cup might be the truest sign of a great executive, but the league’s champions aren’t always the best example of savvy personnel decision making.
Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney won the inaugural award for his work before and during the 2009-10 season, but this 11-12 candidates are: Mike Gillis of the Vancouver Canucks, David Poile of the Nashville Predators and Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Let’s take a quick look at each of their contributions. (The GMs are listed in last name alphabetical order.)
Vancouver’s Mike Gillis
Sure, his predecessors acquired the biggest fish in guys like the Sedin twins, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler. That being said, the Canucks weren’t the deepest team in the NHL before he arrived. The former agent built a team that withstood a ridiculous amount of injuries to its defensive corps and ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy.
Vancouver won three Northwest Division titles during his three years as the GM, but his moves for this season have been particularly successful. Keith Ballard (pre-season trade) hasn’t been amazing, Dan Hamhuis suffered a career-threatening concussion and the team let Michael Grabner go for nothing, but that didn’t matter. He made a great signing by bringing (currently sidelined) faceoff wiz Manny Malhotra into the fold, while his two subtle trade deadline moves (bringing in Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapiere) are working out nicely too.
Nashville’s David Poile
Much like a probable Jack Adams award nomination for Predators coach Barry Trotz, Poile’s nod almost seems like a career achievement award. Both the GM and the bench boss have been impressively stable in building a hard-working, good bang-for-the-buck team in Nashville. Dealing with a marginal budget forces teams to build through the draft, which has been fine with the Poile as he added pieces like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne that way.
Like Gillis, some moves didn’t work out. Mike Lombardi’s concussion concerns kept him from being the defensive center the team craved, although Mike Fisher (acquired via a trade) is working wonders in that role so far in the playoffs. His best move specifically involved trading for wayward youngster Sergei Kostitsyn, who rode a ridiculous 24.7 shooting percentage to the team scoring lead with 50 points.
Then again, one of Poile’s greatest challenges will come up this summer, as he must find a way to re-sign restricted free agent Weber.
Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman
The Lightning already had some pieces in place in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and more, but Yzerman brought in excellent rookie coach Guy Boucher and generally re-made the team in the image of the Detroit Red Wings (though that is naturally still a work in progress).
Dan Ellis didn’t really work out, even if signing him was a low-risk, medium-reward proposition. Yzerman made a nice move when he traded for veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson, although this summer might determine how well he handles the goalie position as a GM. New addition Pavel Kubina seems fairly comfortable back in Tampa Bay, Simon Gagne rebounded from a slow start to have a solid season and Eric Brewer (trade deadline) provides another helping of veteran leadership.
So, which GM do you think deserves this year’s award? Is it the architect for big chunks of the league’s best team (Gillis), a guy who’s done so much with a small budget (Poile) or a former legend who is a breath of fresh air for a wayward franchise (Yzerman)? Let us know your choice in the poll below.