What should the Washington Capitals do for their GM search?

Ken Gregg

Ken Gregg

And …. Pittsburgh keeps Jason Botterill because they are not dumb

When looking for a candidate for an upcoming General Manager or head coaching position, one key qualification on the resume is playing a key role in a winning organization. Plenty of candidates have come out over the last three-and-a-half weeks since the firing of George McPhee and Adam Oates, and all of them were on display during the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the Penguins-Rangers game, the most obvious General Manager candidate in the building was 37-year old wiz kid Jason Botterill. The current Pittsburgh Assistant General Manager has had the title since 2009 after former Assistant Chuck Fletcher left to become the main man in Minnesota.

Before having his current title, Boterill was a former first round pick of the Dallas Stars, only to have his 88-game NHL career cut short by a concussion during an AHL game. Afterwards, he received his MBA at the University of Michigan, the same school he helped the Wolverines win an NCAA hockey title in 1996. He would then work in the league offices and then return to the Stars as a scout. Pittsburgh then saw the fruits of his labor and hired him as director of hockey administration in 2007.

Since becoming the Assistant GM, Botterill has been responsible of managing the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes Barre-Scranton along with working on cap management and contract negotiations. Since that summer of 2009, Wilkes Barre-Scranton has never missed the Calder Cup playoffs and has recorded a 60% points percentage since promoting John Hynes to head coach. For AHL rosters, you would expect great teams to develop at least a few memorable NHL players. For Wilkes Barre-Scranton, there really aren’t any. You almost forget that Dustin Jeffrey was supposed to have a bright future as a Penguin. Also, have you even heard of Jason Megna or Brian Gibbons until this year? That goes down to the great job Boterill has had in developing the baby Pens as well as Hynes (another underrated name that hockey fans should pay attention to in the next handful of years) for getting the most out of such a roster.

Thanks but no thanks, Ray!

Along with that, this shows everything that is bad about the tenure of Ray Shero. Funny how four months have changed for such a huge figurehead. Once, Shero was the one of the belles of the ball at the most recent General Manager meetings and was a key member for USA Hockey during the recent Olympic tournament. The next, he was fired after every smart hockey fan realized that five years worth of trading for rentals is not that great once all the trade bait is gone. Russian Machine Never Breaks has already explained why Shero was quietly one of the worst of his era at the draft, so I’ll go a different route. Let’s look back at every one of Shero’s deals at the midseason trade deadine.

2008

Trades a 2008 2nd round pick (Jimmy Hayes) and a 2009 5th round pick (Andy Bathgate) to Toronto for Hal Gill

Trades Angelo Esposito, Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and a 2008 1st round pick (Daulton Leveille) to Atlanta for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis

2009

Trades Ryan Whitney to Anaheim for Eric Tangradi and Chris Kunitz

Trades a 2009 4th round pick (Mike Lee) to the New York Islanders for Bill Guerin

Claims Craig Adams off of waivers

2010

Trades a 2010 2nd round pick (Connor Brickley) to Florida for Jordan Leopold

Trades Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula to Toronto for Alexei Ponikarovsky

2011

Trades Alex Goligoski to Dallas for Matt Niskanen and James Neal

Trades a 2011 7th round pick (Ryan Dzingel) for Alexei Kovalev

2012

NONE

2013

Claimed Zach Boychuk off of waivers

Trades Ben Lovejoy to Anaheim for a 2014 5th round pick

Trades Eric Tangradi to Winnipeg for a 2013 7th round pick (Dane Birks)

Trades Joe Morrow and 2013 5th round pick (Matej Paulovic) to Dallas for Brenden Morrow and a 2013 3rd round pick (Jake Guentzel)

Trades Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski and a 2013 1st round pick (Morgan Klimchuk) to Calgary for Jarome Iginla

Trades a 2013 2nd round pick (Tyler Bertuzzi) and a 2014 2nd round pick to San Jose for Douglas Murray

Trades….nothing? to Carolina for cash and Jussi Jokinen

2014

Trades a 2014 3rd round pick to Calgary for Lee Stempniak

Trades a 2014 5th round pick and a 2015 3rd round pick to Florida for Marcel Goc

Ever since Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Jussi Jokinen and James Neal trades were really the only moves that have worked for Shero for more than one season. Sure, Iginla probably could have resigned with the Pens, so that trade would still be significant, and Ryan Kesler was supposed to come to Pittsburgh if not for some terrible ownership from Vancouver’s end. With that said, many key moves were missing from that list. From 2011-2012, Pittsburgh lost Max Talbot and traded away Mark Letestu, Zbynek Michalek and Jordan Staal for little to show for. Plus, the Ben Lovejoy trade really hurts in hindsight after these playoffs. Lastly, mention the name Douglas Murray to any Pittsburgh native and he or she might want to punch you in the face. It is clear that Shero was running out of ideas and a new man needs to captain this ship.

Now Pittsburgh does have $15 million in cap space, but that has to be handed to as many as 13 free agents (with Brandon Sutter and Simon Despres being restricted) and a solid amount of money may have to go to resigning your choices of Niskanen, Jokinen, Stempniak, Goc, Tomas Vokoun and Brooks Orpik. No matter how you look at it, Botterill is going to have to find a way to keep some form of NHL talent at a reasonable amount and be able to field a significantly deeper roster. Certainly, that is better said than done.

Jeff Gordon? No, Jeff Gorton!

While Botterill was among the top candidates to receive a General Manager position from somewhere else, there was another one at Consol Energy Center that nobody has been talking about. Now that the New York Rangers are in their second conference finals in three years, we really need to start paying attention to how this team became really good.

From 2000-2004, Glen Sather’s tenure as general manager was a disgrace. He did not have a single winning record, let alone a playoff appearance and every one of Sather’s draft picks either did not pan out or worked while playing for other teams. That was until Tom Renney coached the team and Jaromir Jagr was acquired and decided to play harder after leaving DC. The assistant at the time was Don Maloney and he would go on to become the general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007.

Maloney was replaced by two men who would go on to embrace Sather after their game seven win last Wednesday. They are ex-Capitals head coach Jim Schoenfeld and Jeff Gorton. Despite being more in charge with player personnel and the Ranger’s AHL affiliate, Schoenfeld is 61 years old. With all due respect to Schoenfeld, if Leonsis is envisioning having a successful General Manager to keep for the long-term, Schoenfeld would hypothetically last in DC until he hits his early to mid 70s. Only Sather and Senators GM Bryan Murray are that old with General Manager positions right now and you would not consider any one of them superstars in the NHL front office world.

That leaves us with Gorton. At 46, Gorton is right at the average age of all the current GMs when they were hired at 46.8. One interesting tidbit was that he was the interim general manager for the Boston Bruins before Peter Chiarelli arrived. In his four months of work, he made one trade that was critical to the current Bruins setup. He traded starting goaltender Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for the draft rights to 2005 first round pick Tuukka Rask. Even when you look at what the past thinking was for this trade, it was still an absolute steal for Boston. Even though Raycroft’s career save percentage was 90.8% (0.7% higher than the 2005-06 league average) in 108 games at the time, his save percentage in his final season as a Bruin was 87.9%. That was the lowest of any goaltender with 30 games played or more. Meanwhile, Rask was not only giving up less than 2.15 goals per game for Finland at the 2005 World Juniors, but he did the same thing at the SM-Liiga (Finland’s best pro hockey league) at Ilves Tampere.

On that same day was the NHL entry draft. The first three picks were not too shabby in Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Lastly, on July 1st, Gorton would sign Zdeno Chara on the first day of free agency. You would think Gorton has every right to drop his microphone and get the promotion he deserves. But instead the Bruins thought it would be best to go after an assistant GM from Ottawa in Chiarelli.

After joining the Rangers front office in 2007, Gorton was promoted to Assistant GM in 2011. The blueshirts may have never had the same drafting success as the Bruins, but the biggest strength in the last three years was signing under-appreciated players that have played critical roles on the team like Anton Stralman, John Mitchell, Dominic Moore, Benoit Poulliot and Mats Zuccarello. Even with all the chaos of major signings over the years, seeing those pieces produce and having timely drafting is why New York is up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals.

There has been a rumor that this could be Sather’s last year and every Ranger fan is clinging to the hopes that Gorton will be his successor. This is why Washington needs to stop at nothing in interviewing him, especially if Sather is actually not leaving anytime soon.

Jim Benning, Don Sweeney and Boston’s MENSA

One trend that you see with very successful teams, as you saw from the Rangers example, is that one man can not do it alone for the success of a championship team. The coaching staff and front office have to work as one and even the assistant’s and minor league coaches have to pitch in.

So many examples are included in this. This year, it has been mentioned time and again by Pierre McGuire how former GM Rick Dudley has been a role model and great asset to Marc Bergevin’s front office in Montreal. Speaking of Bergevin, Stan Bowman had him and was instrumental in putting the finishing touches to the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks (Kevin Cheveldayoff, not so much).

Before becoming the Flyers General Manager, Ron Hextall was under the tutelage of Dean Lombardi and worked with not only head coach Darryl Sutter, but also assistant coach John Stevens (a former Flyers head coach) and even Manchester Monarchs coach Mark Morris, one of the more successful head coaches in the AHL. Now Rob Blake is getting the same apprenticeship and is already the general manager of Canada in this year’s World Championships. In Detroit, Steve Yzerman and Jim Nill were working under of Ken Holland and worked with Mike Babcock and his former assistants Todd McClellan and Paul MacLean. Now Babcock has former head coach Tom Renney on the same bench and Kris Draper and Chris Chelios are now the new assistants to Holland.

There are tons of more examples to this proverbial meeting of the minds and Boston is no different. According to the Score and Elliotte Friedman, Don Sweeney has interviewed for the General Manager position in DC.

One piece that might be missing from the Jeff Gorton bandwagon that I just created for you guys is that Peter Chiarelli was given the General Manager position on May 26th, 2006. On July 8th of that year, he started his first day of work. Before Chiarelli called his office his own, Don Sweeney was hired on June 21st; three days before the Raycroft trade and the famous 2006 Bruins draft class. One month later, Jim Benning joined the Bruins after eights years as the Sabres director of amateur scouting.

During Benning’s time on the job, he drafted an impressive 15 players that would play over 410 games (the equivalent of five seasons) of NHL hockey. A good chunk of those Sabres prospects would go on to shape the core of the team in the mid-2000s. As impressive it was to draft the likes of Dmitri Kalinin, Keith Ballard, Daniel Paille, Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford in the first round, Benning’s magic happened in the later rounds. He would go on to draft Ales Kostalik in the fifth round in 1998, Paul Gaustad in the seventh round in 2000, Derek Roy, Chris Thorburn and Jason Pominville in the second round in 2001 (I think it’s OK to ignore that Tim Gleason went one pick after Jiri Novotny in the first round that year), Dennis Wideman in the sixth round in 2002, Clarke MacArthur in the third round and Jan Hejda in the fourth round in 2003, Andrej Sekera in the third round in 2004 and Chris Butler in the fourth round in 2005. Oh, I forgot to mention that some dude named Ryan Miller was drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 draft; arguably the worst draft in modern NHL history.

Despite Benning’s credentials, Sweeney’s job description is to oversee the player development of all Bruins prospects, according to his profile on the Bruins’ website. You would think that the two masterminds would bump into each other’s heads, like Stewie Griffen and his evil twin brother, but instead they have worked sweet poetry together. It has been set in stone for a while that Benning would take the GM job in Vancouver, but does that mean Sweeney is the guy in DC? It all depends on whether or not Leonsis and Co. have done their research and discovered who was more responsible in the Bruins’ success.

So where does DC go from here?

After Shero was fired, Gormley stated in his most recent piece that he is now among the hottest general manager candidates in the NHL. It has also been stated that former General Managers Jay Feaster, Mike Gillis, Craig Button and Don MacLean As history will show, I would not only avoid Shero, but any ex-general manager completely. In my next piece, I will show that there is enough evidence that hiring an assistant within the hockey operations department for a general manager position is the best way to go by a solid distance.

With that in mind, Nashville’s assistant Paul Fenton has been the only assistant that Washington has interviewed. He has ties to former general manager David Poile, who (as we learned from the Martin Erat trade) still has had a great working relationship with the Caps. Is he the right assistant to go after? Personally, I don’t think so. As much as he is known for drafting solid young players to where they rank highly on hockeysfuture.com, almost none of them have been able to develop into long term contributors. Once you pass Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Kevin Klein, Nashville has never had a draft pick play more than 410 games. And you wonder why this franchise has always made the excuse of being a downtrodden small market franchise.

There are four names that Washington should consider outside of Jeff Gorton. One of them is Tampa Bay Assistant Julien Brisebois. At 37, he is a rising star and already has 12 years of NHL front office experience. His famous accomplishments include building the 2007 Hamilton Bulldogs and the 2012 Norfolk Admirals into Calder Cup Champions. Those two AHL teams are now responsible for developing building blocks to the current Montreal and Tampa Bay teams, respectively.

If Washington hires Brisebois, this also sets up a possibility that Brisebois might want Michael Peterson on his hockey operations staff. Peterson is one of the few statistical analysts to hold a front office job in the NHL and it is no surprise that since his tenure (as long as since Steve Yzerman has been around), Tampa has become one of the better possession teams in the Eastern Conference.

Another name Washington could go after is Craig Billington, Olaf Kolzig’s former backup during the early 2000s. In his last five years as either assistant general manager or vice president of hockey operations, Billington has seen a young Avalanche team take shape and become a potential cup contender, if things break right. Is that enough for him to become a head general manager and would the 46 year-old like to leave Colorado after many years of varying job titles? Or would he want to stay while the ride is still good in Denver?

The last two names on this list are Craig MacFarland of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Joe Will of the San Jose Sharks. Both men have been mainstays since their franchise’s inceptions and are apart of their own proverbial MENSAs. Columbus’ MENSA has only been around for one season, but considering that they have not had a terrible draft since the 2006 lockout and that they are now beginning to sign key veterans, the Blue Jackets rise to the playoffs is no longer a surprise. As for San Jose, we have been expecting their fall for a while as Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau age together, but this team is still turning in 110-point seasons year after year. While MacFarland has more of the scouting background, Will is seen as the numbers and economics guy while 62-year old assistant Wayne Thomas works the eye test side for GM Doug Wilson.

Long story short, the best franchises in the NHL have their own MENSA. Boston has it. Montreal has it. The New York Rangers have it. Los Angeles has it. San Jose has it. Detroit has it. Columbus is starting to have it. Pittsburgh used to have it. Washington doesn’t have it, but they have the makings of one. Ross Mahoney has to be given tons of credit for helping this team build through the draft and Brian McClellan has performed admirably as interim GM thanks to getting a fourth round pick out of Jaroslav Halak. Personally, it is time to steal the knowledge out of one brain trust in order to improve our own.

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