Top Five General Manager Candidates

Earlier this month I took a look at the top coaching candidates available with a focus on the likely vacant position with the Buffalo Sabres at season’s end. When hiring a coach it’s sometimes best to hire based on what you’re trying to accomplish in the short-term and how capable they will be at getting the most out of the current roster. However, when it comes to hiring a general manager you don’t have to take any of that into account. A GM is almost always hired to produce both short-term and long-term results, while they’re also expected to be able to get the most out of the current roster and modify it accordingly via trades, the draft, and free agency. Therefore all five of my selections for this blog entry could very well apply to any team in the NHL needing a GM and not just the Sabres when Darcy Regier is booted at the end of the season (if he’s not then may God help us all).

Paul Fenton

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Currently the assistant general manager of the Nashville Predators, Fenton has a ton of experience in a multitude of areas in hockey. He played professional hockey during the 80’s and early 90’s for ten seasons scattered throughout the AHL and NHL, his best season being 89/90 when he scored 32 goals with the Winnipeg Jets. Shortly after retiring from hockey he joined the expansion Anaheim Ducks as the team’s pro scout. He helped the Ducks draft a number of NHL regulars, such as Paul Kariya, Oleg Tverdovsky, Matt Cullen, and Ruslan Salei, while also being instrumental in organizing the trade for Teemu Selanne in 1996.

In 1998 he decided to move on to another expansion team, this time joining the Nashville Predators as director of player personnel. He remained in this role for eight seasons, overseeing the drafting of key Predators contributors such as David Legwand, Martin Erat, Scott Hartnell, Dan Hamhuis, Jordin Tootoo, Pekka Rinne, Alexander Radulov, and Patric Hornqvist. Even better, during the 2003 Entry Draft he proved amazingly successful, landing two superstar defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to go along with two more NHL regulars in Kevin Klein and Alexander Sulzer. On average he landed the Predators just over 2 NHL regulars per draft over eight seasons, a very impressive number.

All of this quality work earned him a promotion to assistant GM in 2006 and the Predators have failed to miss the post-season only once since then while operating on a modest payroll. He’s also been a key architect of many of the Predators key trade acquisitions, such as those for Peter Forsberg, Mike Fisher, Hal Gill, and Paul Gaustad, as well others that helped shed salary, such as unloading Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Tomas Vokoun, and Jason Arnott. He’s also serving as GM of the Predators’ primary developmental affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, a team that has made the playoffs in ten straight seasons, won four division titles, and brought home the league championship in 2004.

Fenton’s resume speaks for itself and though he hasn’t been behind the scenes of a Stanley Cup Champion just yet, maybe he merely needs the opportunity to be the #1 guy to accomplish this. In Nashville he’s stuck behind David Poile and there doesn’t appear to be any danger of Poile losing his job in the foreseeable future, a position he’s held since Nashville joined the league in 1998. If Fenton wants a GM job in the near future then he may have to look elsewhere and plenty of teams should be knocking at the door.

Pierre McGuire

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Everyone in hockey knows Pierre, from casual fans to team owners. Obviously it’s his career in broadcasting that has made a name for himself, being the voice of hockey on TSN for nearly ten years, but also working as color commentator for the Montreal Canadiens English-language radio broadcasts for five seasons prior to that and currently working full-time with NBC Sports as their lead ice-level reporter. However, McGuire has been around hockey his entire life and has moderate experience in playing, coaching, and scouting.

As a player, McGuire never had much success at all really, never ascending any higher than lower division college hockey in the US. However, he soon turned his focus to coaching and slowly worked his way up the college ranks, eventually becoming an assistant coach at St. Lawrence University. After two seasons there he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as a scout in 1990 and later became an assistant coach with them in 1991. He won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins during that short period of time, then moved on to being an assistant coach and assistant general manager with the Hartford Whalers. He didn’t have much success with the Whalers though, even when he replaced Paul Holmgren as head coach for most of the 93/94 season, as the team missed the playoffs and finished near the bottom of the standings. Holmgren then stepped back into the coaching role, relieving McGuire of his duties.

From there McGuire joined the Ottawa Senators and spent time with them as both a scout and assistant coach for two seasons. After that he decided to once again take a stab at being a head coach, joining the Baton Rouge Kingfish of the ECHL. Once again he didn’t fare well as the Kingfish missed the playoffs and McGuire’s contract was not renewed. At this point McGuire once again made a change in his focus, deciding to put his talents into broadcasting and the rest is history.

Pierre’s enthusiasm and intensity for the game comes off as overbearing at times and his many catch-phrases have been mocked or parodied ad infinitum, but you simply cannot deny the man’s vast knowledge of the game. He’s an astute observer, picking up on the most miniscule of details that others miss time and time again, while his grading of talent is generally well-received. There have been plenty of rumours of McGuire wanting to get back into the management or coaching side of things in the NHL, but to this point there hasn’t been a lot of interest, though it’s thought that he was an early candidate for the Canadiens last year. I strongly believe that McGuire could be an excellent general manager (but not a coach) if given the opportunity and with recent non-traditional GM’s such as Mike Gillis and Garth Snow having moderate success it’s likely that McGuire will have his chance soon enough.

Julien BriseBois

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BriseBois is currently employed as assistant general manager by the Tampa Bay Lightning and is chiefly known as the team’s “capologist”. He manages interpretation of the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement and the salary cap for the Lightning, along with contract preparation, negotiation, and salary arbitration cases. He also serves as general manager for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.

Prior to joining the Lightning, BriseBois spent nine seasons as the director of legal affairs for the Montreal Canadiens. He added director of hockey operations to his duties in 2003 and was named vice president of hockey operations in 2006. Then, in 2007, he also took over as general manager of the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. After a mediocre first season under his command, the team improved substantially over the next two seasons, winning the North Division title during his final season as GM.

After joining the Lightning in 2010, BriseBois was also handed the reins to their AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. They made the playoffs during both seasons he was GM, including their dominate performance last season which included the 28 game win streak and Calder Cup championship. The Lightning’s AHL affiliate then switch over to Syracuse and once again BriseBois has them as the top team in the AHL at present.

BriseBois appears to be the leading general manager candidate for teams looking for more of an intellectual GM. He holds a law degree from the University of Montreal in addition to a Master’s degree in business administration at Concordia. He’s already proven himself quite capable of managing a professional team based on his success in the AHL and he’s also proven to be excellent in handling contracts at the NHL level, having signed a number of players to cost-efficient contracts while trying to juggle the multiple albatrosses (Lecavalier, Malone, and Ohlund) that were left there when he took over. He could end up supplanting Steve Yzerman if things continue to go south in Tampa Bay, but if not he’ll certainly be running another team in the near future.

Jason Botterill

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The current assistant general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Botterill was at one time a highly regarded NHL prospect during the mid-90’s, having been a member of three-straight World Junior Championship teams for Canada (the only player in history to do so for Canada). After his career in minor hockey ended he shuffled around the IHL and AHL mostly, only seeing brief stints in the NHL. Eventually his career came to an abrupt end in 2004 when he suffered a concussion and subsequently announced his retirement from hockey in 2005.

Botterill returned to school at this point and eventually received his MBA from the University of Michigan. He also briefly worked for the NHL Central Registry prior to joining the Dallas Stars as a scout during the 06/07 season. Following that season he was hired by the Penguins as director of hockey administration, with his responsibilities ranging from salary cap management to scouting and prospect development. He’s been a key component in balancing a roster of highly paid stars with bargain priced talent that has had great success during his time there, including a Stanley Cup victory in 2009.

Following that Stanley Cup run, Botterill was promoted to his current position of assistant general manager and since then has helped to maintain Pittsburgh’s success despite the losses of numerous key players, such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, to lengthy injuries at various times. Like many of the previously mentioned candidates, he too manages an AHL franchise, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. They’ve made the playoffs in every season under Botterill, despite a rather lackluster influx of young talent due to Pittsburgh generally drafting late in the first round and trading away handfuls of picks over the years.

For a team looking to employ a GM with recent experience at all levels, Botterill has it in spades. He’s had great success as both a player and in hockey operations, plus he also has the smarts aspect that many teams look for now due to the complex nature of the salary cap world. Botterill is still very young, but Ray Shero isn’t very old himself at this point, so if Botterill is waiting around for a chance to GM the Penguins he could be in for a long ride. It seems far more likely that a team will poach him away from the Penguins before too long.

Allan Walsh

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Finally we come to the most controversial pick on this list, yes, even more so than McGuire. Walsh is a player agent working for Octagon, a global sports and entertainment firm that represents players throughout the world. Walsh’s personal client list includes such star players as Marc-Andre Fleury, Martin Havlat, and Patrik Elias. He’s also known as an avid Twitter user, with over 25,000 followers and close to 15,000 tweets.

Walsh graduated from the Southwestern University School of Law and began his career as a Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. However, in 1995 he left his career in criminal law behind to follow a path more closely related to his true passion; hockey. He co-founder Can-Am Sports Management Group, a hockey representation firm that went on to develop offices worldwide. This company later merged with Octagon to form the basis of their hockey-related division.

But let’s get back to the Twitter thing, as that’s how Walsh has brought much of the attention towards himself and the players he represents in recent years. Based on his Twitter activity you can easily tell that Walsh has a passion for the game and is a die-hard fan that follows every detail of the NHL closely. However, he’s also created a whirlwind of controversy through the medium with his stance on a variety of issues, such as his aggressive jabs at the owners during the lockout and more pointed attacks on individuals such as Scott Arniel and the way he was “mistreating” Derick Brassard.

Obviously he’s a very opinionated man who isn’t afraid of ruffling a few feathers, but can he be a successful GM? I think so, without a doubt, but then the problem becomes who would actually hire the guy? He’s no doubt pissed off the majority of owners, but then it’s rumored that not all of the owners were in agreement during the lockout, so maybe a few of them actually agree with his sentiments. The Vancouver Canucks went and hired a player agent of their own in Mike Gillis, which has proven successful, so it’s not like hiring the “enemy” is total out of the question. Nonetheless, Walsh is probably a long shot at this point, but shouldn’t be counted out. He makes his home in Los Angeles, so if he would prefer a position with a team in his area then the best opportunity at present may be with the San Jose Sharks as Doug Wilson hasn’t been doing himself any favors of late.