Jim Benning

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PHT Power Rankings: NHL GM hot seat tiers

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The general manager is one of the most important individuals in an NHL front office.

They are the ones that decide the short-and long-term future of the team, pick the direction, implement the plan, and put the roster in place. While the coaches are always the ones that get put on the hot seat and are the first ones to fall on the sword when things go wrong, the general managers are the ones who ultimately impact what sort of team you are going to have every season. If your team is in a position where it is contemplating a coaching change or in the process of making a coaching change, it is a good bet that the general manager should probably be on the hot seat as well.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at all 31 NHL general managers and look at which ones are — or should be — on the hot seat, and which ones have the most time to continue building their teams.

To the rankings!

The hot seat

• Jim Benning, Vancouver Canucks. No GM is in the danger zone more than Benning and you don’t have to look far to figure out why. In his five years as the Canucks’ GM the team has made the playoffs once (his first year on the job), has missed the playoffs four years in a row, has been one of the least successful NHL teams during his watch, and is now saddled with several long-term contracts for veteran role players who are probably not going to be part of a championship core in Vancouver. Everything he has done the past two offseasons seems based on trying to sneak into the playoffs right now, and it is still probably not going to be enough. Not many general managers make it through five consecutive non-playoff seasons, and the Benning-era Canucks are going to need an incredible one-year turnaround to avoid such a streak.

• Jason Botterill, Buffalo Sabres. Given how little time he has had to work with in Buffalo this might be considered too high of a spot, but the pressure to put a winning team on the ice in Buffalo has to be immense right now. The Sabres have become the Eastern Conference version of the Edmonton Oilers, only worse when you consider the Oilers have actually made the playoffs (and won a round!) in the past eight years. The Sabres have had a really strong offseason on paper, so that is a positive heading into the season, but that is going to have to eventually translate into success on the ice.

• Pierre Dorion, Ottawa Senators. Dorion is in a no-win situation in Ottawa and it only seems to be a matter of when, and not if, the Senators are searching for a new general manager. The sad thing is it probably will not matter because the problems in Ottawa go way beyond whatever person is in the GM’s office trying to piece together a competitive team on a shoestring budget with a consistently bumbling owner.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Getting warmer

• Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens entered the offseason with the salary cap space to make some kind of a big move, but so far the summer has been kind of a dud. As things sit in mid-July the Canadiens are returning mostly the same roster that has missed the playoffs two years in a row … minus one of its top scorers from a year ago in Andrew Shaw. The Sebastian Aho offer sheet was a great idea in theory, but in practice it was just a waste of time and a huge help to the Carolina Hurricanes.

• Stan Bowman, Chicago Blackhawks. Kind of hard to imagine Bowman getting fired given what he has accomplished in Chicago, but it is still very much a what have you done for me lately business. Business has been tough for the Blackhawks lately. They just fired a three-time Stanley Cup winning coach this past season, have missed the playoffs two years in a row, and Bowman’s offseason approach has him betting big on his core still being able to compete as constructed. If he is wrong, he is probably next in line for change.

[Related: Blackhawks shaping up to be NHL’s biggest wild card team]

• Brad Treliving, Calgary Flames. He hasn’t done a bad job in Calgary, but the Flames have made it out of the first round once in his tenure (his first year on the job) and his attempt to fix the team’s biggest Achilles heel this offseason (goalie) was to bring in Cam Talbot. Seems questionable!

• Jim Nill, Dallas Stars. The Stars’ incredible mid-season turnaround — produced almost entirely by the top five or six players on the roster — probably bought him some additional time and gave him at least another year to try and build something in Dallas. He made some big moves this summer by bringing in Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry, but his entire tenure in Dallas has been highlight by big offseason moves and underwhelming results on the ice. That has to change.

• Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers. The Panthers have a lot of important ingredients in place, from a young core of impact players to a future Hall of Fame coach. At some point, though, you have to win. Or at least come close to winning. The Sergei Bobrovsky contract will probably be what makes or breaks this team and this era of Panthers hockey.

Still safe for now

• Jarmo Kekalainen, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are almost certainly going to take a step backward this season after going all in at the 2019 trade deadline. Ownership had to know that was a possibility, so it’s hard to imagine his seat being too hot when he probably wasn’t the only one involved in the decision to push all of the team’s chips to the center of the table. Kekalainen’s gamble gave the Blue Jackets some short-term success and he still has a solid core to work with, but he has a lot of work ahead of him.

• Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg Jets. Another season like the 2018-19 campaign could move Cheveldayoff into the hot seat category. He has been running the show in Winnipeg since the team arrived and after a lot of patience finally put a competitive team on the ice. Unfortunately for the Jets, things seem to have hit a plateau without yet reaching the next level. In typical Cheveldayoff fashion the team has been extremely quiet in the offseason but still has some major long-term contract situations to deal with. A lot of things can go wrong here in a very short period of time.

• John Chayka, Arizona Coyotes. This could have been a playoff team this past season with some better injury luck. He added to their forward depth over the summer with the additions of Phil Kessel and Carl Soderberg and there is some real cause for optimism in the desert.

• Rob Blake, Los Angeles Kings. Blake is in an interesting spot because he is still fairly new in the position and that should give him a bit of a leash. But he also has not really done anything to move the team in any meaningful direction. They are still in the same middle-ground they have been in between rebuilding and competing, and will still probably be one of the worst teams in the league this season.

• Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks. Without making any additional comment on the job that he has done, his situation in Anaheim just seems to be bulletproof at this point.

• Jeff Gorton, New York Rangers. I see no reason to think his job is, or should be, in any immediate danger. The rebuild seems to be going well and he helped accelerate the process this offseason with some major impact additions. They may not be a playoff team this season, but they probably were not supposed to be at this point, either.

[Related: Devils, Rangers rivalry gets boost thanks to Hughes, Kaako]

• Paul Fenton, Minnesota Wild. Given how new he is to the position he should be lower on the list, but the manner in which he has overhauled the roster and the actual moves he has made to do it are kind of bizarre.

• Ray Shero, New Jersey Devils. Blockbuster Ray was back at it this offseason, getting P.K. Subban at nearly no cost to his current NHL roster or the long-term future. He has done a great job adding impact talent to a roster that badly needed it when he took over. Some of it was due to luck (like winning two draft lotteries), while some of it was due to shrewd and aggressive trading. Getting Taylor Hall signed will be important.

Ice cold seat and not going anywhere

• Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh Penguins. He has not done a good job over the past few years, rapidly shifting the roster away from the recipe that made it a back-to-back Stanley Cup winning team. Bad contracts and a lack of direction have hurt both the long-term and short-term direction of the team, something that should put him way higher on the list. Despite that, he is going nowhere unless he wants to. He just received a contract extension, he was just announced as a Hall of Fame inductee, and he still has the clout of putting two banners in the rafters of the arena.

• David Poile, Nashville Predators. The longest-tenured general manager in the NHL and the only one the team has ever known. The Predators have some flaws, but they are still a contender. Tough to imagine a change happening here anytime soon.

• Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs. He has done a really good job navigating the salary cap situation (which was always overblown) while still addressing the teams biggest need (defense). His job security is rock solid — as it should be — but at some point this paper tiger he has helped assemble has to actually … you know … win.

• Don Waddell, Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are coming off of an Eastern Conference playoff run and still probably have their best days ahead of them. Waddell is not going anywhere.

• Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche. Sakic is assembling a powerhouse in Colorado that not only has the ability to keep its young core in place, but can also easily add to it. The Avalanche have done just that this summer.

• Don Sweeney, Boston Bruins. Unless the bottom totally falls out on the Bruins this season or Sweeney does something incredibly dumb he should be safe for a long time. This is one of the best teams in the league and he was just named the NHL’s general manager of the year for the 2018-19 season.

• Brian MacLellan, Washington Capitals. The shine of the 2018 Stanley Cup has not gone away yet. That gives a general manager probably three or four years of added security.

• Lou Lamoriello, New York Islanders. Expectations for the Islanders are probably going to be way too high given what they did this past season and a step back should be expected. But when you are Lou Lamoriello, and your first year on the job was an unexpected and almost improbable success story, you can get comfortable in that office.

• Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks. He might be the best general manager in the NHL right now but will probably never get that recognition in the eyes of the majority of the hockey viewing public because he is still lacking a Stanley Cup in San Jose. Championship or not, he has done an amazing job.

• Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues. He hit a bunch of home runs over the past year and brought St. Louis its first Stanley Cup. What else do you have to say?

Not even worth discussing job security at the moment

• Chuck Fletcher, Philadelphia Flyers. Say this for Fletcher: He has given the Flyers’ front office exactly what it wanted in terms of roster moves. I just don’t know if they are any better because of it. With only one year on the job he is nowhere near the hot seat. Yet.

• Julien BriseBois, Tampa Bay Lightning. He inherited a great situation with the Lightning (a team he helped build as the assistant general manager) and should be in a pretty good position. Getting Brayden Point re-signed will be a big issue.

• Kelly McCrimmon, Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights had a general manager change far sooner than anyone expected, but he was a top candidate for a lot of teams in need of a new GM this offseason and the Golden Knights did not want to let him get away. His first big test: Handling a salary cap crunch and the Nikita Gusev situation.

• Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers. Even though he has two of the best players in the league on his roster he still has what is probably the most difficult job in the league. He will get a few years to try and fix the unbelievable mess left behind.

• Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings. This will not be an easy rebuild, but it will be an extensive honeymoon period.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Playoff-desperate Canucks sign Micheal Ferland

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In a vacuum, the Vancouver Canucks signing brawny-yet-reasonably-skilled forward Micheal Ferland is perfectly sensible, as TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that the four-year deal carries a $3.5 million cap hit (so it would total $14M). As with most free agent signings, Ferland carries risks, but those worries are soothed by a manageable price and term.

Unfortunately, when you examine the overall contents of this Canucks’ roster and offseason, it looks like GM Jim Benning is making a real mess. Will Ferland be enough to freshen this group up for a truly credible playoff run? The bigger picture is fuzzy, at best.

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When you consider some of the worst gambles in NHL free agency, it’s crucial to realize that the people making the moves aren’t thinking about how those contracts will look in a few years. The teams they’re running are probably lucky if they’re even thinking about tomorrow.

So far, this offseason continues the Canucks’ baffling pattern of mostly-shrewd work in drafts, followed by reckless free agent spending sprees that light a lot of that draft-weekend goodwill on fire.

During the 2018 offseason, Jim Benning spent as if the Canucks were a team on the cusp of a playoff push, and even then, it was tough to defend a combined $6M cap hit for marginal veterans Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. If you saw even a portion of the Canucks’ 2018-19 season, you’ll recall that they were quite far from the cusp, let alone a Stanley Cup.

And, while Ferland’s a respectable (if imperfect) investment, the bigger picture of the 2019 offseason is that Benning isn’t really learning lessons. Or, perhaps even worse, Benning just doesn’t care, because he’s panicking with his job on the line. The Canucks’ buddies in Edmonton can tell them all about how difficult it is to clean up after a GM who’s just sort of throwing money at everything, sometimes seemingly blindfolded.

The Tyler Myers contract smells so much like the defensive version of the Loui Eriksson debacle, it even shares the same frightening $6M AAV.

It’s questionable enough handing a $6M cap hit to Alex Edler for a mere two years, but Myers received five. If the Canucks are wrong in rolling their eyes at the many people warning that Myers simply isn’t very good, then they’re stuck with another Eriksson-type contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Benning’s strange calls mean that the Canucks are stuck with Myers, Beagle, and Roussel for a combined $12M, and for a troubling stretch of time. Again, those contracts don’t just look bad down the line; it’s doubtful that trio is worth anywhere near $12M in 2019-20 alone. Not good.

To reiterate: the Ferland bet is one of the most reasonable risks Benning’s taken in free agency, but there is some risk involved. Injuries were an issue for him during the Carolina Hurricanes’ push through the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and may have factored in him lingering on the free agent market until July 10. It’s also fair to bring up just how great his linemates have been, likely inflating his value:

But that affordable $3.5M cap hit does lower the stakes quite a bit.

If you must add “heavy hockey” to your mix, at least Ferland fits that bill while actually possessing some skill. Ferland is coming off of consecutive 40-point seasons, and hit 21 goals in 2017-18. There are certain analytics markers that indicate that he can at least keep up somewhat well in the modern game, despite being a big body, such as CJ Turtoro’s visualizations of Corey Sznajder’s zone entry and exit data:

Personally, I’d rather target quicker players to keep up with the increasingly speedy modern game, or perhaps even see if Jake Gardiner could be had at a cheaper rate, but there are far worse bets than Ferland.

Sadly for Canucks fans, Benning has made plenty of bad bets, and with Boeser still in need of a new contract as an RFA, Benning still has some crucial calls to make during this summer.

Here’s a sobering question: when you scan the Canucks’ Cap Friendly page and other roster outlooks, do the Canucks strike you as a playoff team? Were they really a Ferland away from giving themselves a strong chance to make it into the postseason, and have a credible opportunity to make waves if they got that far?

From Benning’s perspective, the goal seems to be to survive. If enough of these moves go sideways, the Canucks might not have the greatest odds to thrive, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Could Luongo’s retirement, cap penalty actually help Canucks?

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Hear me out here.

Prior to Roberto Luongo’s retirement announcement earlier this week, the Vancouver Canucks were readying, reportedly, a very large (and very ridiculous) offer to free agent defenseman Tyler Myers.

Then the Luongo announcement came. And with him not going on long-term injured reserve, a deal that saves the Panthers several million dollars, it instead is going to cost the Canucks just over $3 million per season in what’s called a cap recapture penalty for the next three seasons, thanks to the agreement in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement on back-diving contracts.

Now, Luongo owns the 11th highest AAV on the Canucks and general manager Jim Benning has $17.6 million to play with, per CapFriendly (and after Saturday’s buyout of Ryan Spooner), and some restricted free agents left to sign, including a big one in Brock Boeser.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

While some may think Luongo screwed the Canucks here, planting a $3 million cap hit over the next three seasons as one final dig at the team after a tumultuous end to his tenure in the city, it might be a bit of a blessing in disguise.

Now, it’s not a literal blessing. The move still sucks for the Canucks, who would rather have that cap flexibility, but if it prices Benning out of a move to bring in Myers, that could save the team a lot more in the long run.

Myers may be a serviceable third-pairing defenseman, but $7 million or more for him is top-pairing money that would be better set on fire as it would at least provide some warmth in that dark hour.

Benning appears to want to have his cake and eat it, too. The Canucks seem to be putting together a nice little rebuild, but he’s already traded a first-round pick to take J.T. Miller off the hands of the cash-strapped Tampa Bay Lightning.

Miller is a great get, but the price is what is puzzling. First round picks are gold in today’s NHL, the cornerstone of re-building a franchise. Seeing as other teams are getting quality players from cap-crunched teams and not having to spend first-rounders to do so, it would seem like that trade was less than ideal.

Further hurting the future would be adding Myers for seven years in the $50 million range. Similar defensemen, at least statistically speaking, could be found for a fraction of the price.

Rebuilds hardly have shortcuts, and cutting corners only adds unnecessary risk.

If Luongo prevented, inadvertently, the signing of Myers, his final parting gift didn’t just come in a newspaper ad.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

Canucks risk ‘Russian Factor’ with Podkolzin at No. 10

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Hockey fans learned some answers to some interesting questions during the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday.

  • Big players seemingly were valued more than small, as big center Kirby Dach surpassed his projections to go third overall to the Blackhawks, while spritely sniper Cole Caulfield slipped to the Canadiens at No. 15.
  • Spencer Knight did, indeed, become an increasingly rare first-round goalie when the Panthers snapped him up at 13.
  • The Red Wings answered the question of biggest reach, at least perception-wise, in shocking the crowd by getting Moritz Seider as early as sixth. Biggest steal is a matter of perception, as well, though Caulfield is in the conversation.
  • And, yes, a boatload of Americans – actually, the boat needs to be reasonably big – went in the first round. A record-breaking boat.

One lingering, annual question for draft is: how will “The Russian Factor” influence where a prospect goes. In the case of Vasili Podkolzin, the intriguing Russian forward went to the Vancouver Canucks at 10th overall.

As you can see from the video above, some Canucks fans were thrilled:

Others maybe had mixed feelings:

While plenty adorably chanted “Da,” as in yes, in welcoming Podkolzin.

Some fans might be concerned about “The Russian Factor.” In a nutshell, the concern with drafting some Russian players is that it can sometimes be difficult to control their development process, particularly when it comes to the threat of KHL contracts. It’s not just about the current CBA severely limiting what a player can make on entry-level deals, but that’s a factor when you consider the much stronger chances that a Russian player may eye the KHL.

That’s absolutely relevant with Podkolzin, who’s actually already on a KHL contract, and is expected to honor it for two more seasons.

Canucks GM Jim Benning didn’t seem too worried about that situation in discussing the pick with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shortly after it was made. Benning explained that, in the 10th spot, the player the Canucks picked would probably need two years of development, anyway.

Maybe that’s not true – NBC’s Pierre McGuire stated that an immediate leap wasn’t that far fetched if there weren’t restrictions – but overall, the Canucks have a point.

And they also have a tantalizing situation, as Podkolzin is often described as an explosive talent, setting the stage for Vancouver to have a dynamic talent base including Podkolzin, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes. That must be exciting for Canucks fans, and fans of exciting hockey as a whole.

Interestingly, though, Podkolzin isn’t just a test case for whether teams should be worried about “The Russian Factor” of struggling to get a prospect to the NHL. This could also be a litmus test regarding scouts seeing big skills and potential, versus those who believe that teams are too quick to overlook the numbers.

In a June 12 column about prospects to avoid, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler voiced some concern about Podkolzin’s spotty production (sub required), at least when it came to him landing in the top 10:

Podkolzin, as I’ve written since my preliminary ranking last fall, is a player who catches your eye because he appears heavily involved in games physically and heavily involved in the offence through the way he attacks with the puck, but doesn’t often enough make plays that result in positive outcomes. There’s a difference between catching your eye and winning hockey games. And instincts can only take you so far. I’m all for players who attempt to make plays but there’s a level of awareness required to become a great player at the next level and I fear that Podkolzin may be limited to an energizing third-line role without a steep development of that skill in the next few seasons.

Now, it’s important to realize that Wheeler still penciled in Podkolzin as being worth picking in the 13-20 range, so even those with some mild misgivings believe in him as a prospect.

Overall, there are enough wrinkles to make the Podkolzin pick very interesting.

Frankly, the Canucks have made a lot of puzzling decisions over the years, from a slew of shaky signings in free agency, to the disconcerting notion of adding Peter Chiarelli to a front office that already seems to march the beat of the wrong drummer. Yet, the one area where they’ve had some big recent successes is the draft. Calling Elias Pettersson at fifth overall a steal might feel weird, but you can bet that the Flyers wish they could have gotten him at second instead of Nolan Patrick. (Sorry Nolan.) Brock Boeser was a heist at 23rd in 2015, and Quinn Hughes sure looks like the right call at seventh overall from last year.

Considering that the Canucks got relatively weak draft lottery luck in landing the 10th pick this year, fans have to be absolutely delighted that Vancouver selected Podkolzin. Especially with some of the peculiar decisions that were made before and after they selected at No. 10.

There are ways this can go wrong, however, making Podkolzin’s development very interesting to watch.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks sign Erik Gudbranson to three-year extension

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The wondering can now stop as the Vancouver Canucks have extended defenseman Erik Gudbranson for three more years.

The extension is worth $12 million and Gudbranson’s deal will carry a $4 million cap hit through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season.

“Erik is an important part of our team and provides a physical element to our blueline,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning in a statement. “His leadership qualities help us as we continue to integrate younger players in our lineup. He is a quality person, a great teammate, outstanding in the community and we are excited to have him as part of our team moving forward.”

It was two years ago that Benning, who inked an extension with the Canucks last week, traded Jared McCann and a pair of 2016 draft picks to the Florida Panthers for the defenseman. With the direction that the team is currently moving, and with the Boston Bruins coughing up a third-round pick for Nick Holden of the New York Rangers on Tuesday, couldn’t Benning have flipped Gudbranson for something similar before moving on to a Thomas Vanek trade before Monday’s trade deadline?

The Canucks are currently a weird mix of youth and veterans with big contracts, especially at forward — contracts that last beyond next season. They have all but one of their picks in the next three drafts at the moment, and should at least recoup one with a Vanek trade.

This extension is Benning digging his feet in and standing by a bad deal from two years ago. As Dimitri Filipovic of Sportsnet pointed out last week, flipping Gudbranson, whose minutes and possession numbers have dipped in Year 2 in Vancouver, would be the GM waiving the white towel and saying he lost the trade. Now he gets to stand by it and throw platitudes at the defenseman to convince himself that this was the correct way to go.

The one beneficial part of the Gudbranson deal for the Canucks? The lack of a no-trade clause, as per TSN’s Bob McKenzie. NHL GMs love themselves big defensemen and at 6-foot-6, 220 lbs., the 26-year-old checks that box. So there is a chance to pass this contract onto another team looking to add size to their blue line. But for now, that’s clearly not the plan for the Canucks.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.