Each year, the National Hockey League hands out a “general manager of the year” award. It’s rather silly.
Judging an executive on a team’s single-season success is a rather myopic assessment of overall effectiveness. For example: Ray Shero won the award in 2013 for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was fired in May 2014. Over the course of one season, a general manager might sit upon a throne of unparalleled accomplishments; but after a few bad trades and even worse luck on the ice, that same general manager can have his bottom planted firmly on the hot seat.
Here are seven general managers currently feeling the heat in the NHL, either because they followed up great seasons with stinkers or because they’ve been marinating in their own stink for some time.
GM since: May 2014
Why his seat is hot: The Canucks are 77-101-28 since making the playoffs in Benning’s first season with the team. He arrived in the smoldering aftermath of the John Tortorella disaster, and has presided over a team that’s transitioning from the Sedins Era to being the franchise of Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.
Team president Trevor Linden was non-committal about extending Benning at the team’s midseason press conference: “I like the job Jim’s done. But beyond that, I think we’re focused on the next couple of months and the deadline, and then finishing and having a good season.”
Does he deserve it? Benning has had his misses. The Erik Gudbranson trade was a dud, as Benning sacrificed a de facto first-round pick (33rd overall, technically in the second round) and a fourth-rounder in the 2016 draft for a “foundational” defenseman that will be shipped out of Vancouver before his second season there is complete. But he’s had his hits too, like his 2017 trade deadline, when he acquired promising prospect Jonathan Dahlen for what was left of Alex Burrows, among other moves
Benning has made some smart personnel decisions, brought on a terrific coach in Travis Green and presided over a number of solid draft classes that have already produced Calder Trophy leader Brock Boeser with talent like Elias Pettersson, Olli Juolevi and Thatcher Demko on the way. He’s earned a couple more years at the helm.
Final seat temperature: Lukewarm but cooling, like a mug of coffee left at the rink.
GM since: April 2016
Why his seat is hot: Because the Senators are a hot mess. Ottawa went to the Eastern Conference Final last season, losing in seven games to the Penguins. This season, they’re 14-17-9, having gone 8-15-4 following Dorion’s blockbuster move to acquire center Matt Duchene. Coach Guy Boucher has somehow mutated from coach of the year candidate to the first guy on the firing line. Goaltender Craig Anderson, whom Dorion signed through 2020, has been a sieve. And the future of franchise defenseman Erik Karlsson, a free agent in 2019, remains as unsettled as the team’s financial future.
Does he deserve it? No, and his removal would only happen if his boss, the Mad Titan Eugene Melnyk, decided the best course of action was to sweep out his coach and GM when it’s the coach whose status needs to be re-evaluated. This season was a bust, and Dorion contributed to it with some of his moves. But he deserves a chance to navigate through this funk … even if it might be difficult to do so within the constraints of his franchise.
Final seat temperature: Chilly. He’s only in Year 2 as the big cheese. And besides, who wants to rush into this messy situation in Ottawa now? Like, besides Tim Murray?
GM since: May 2016
Why his seat is hot: Because the Coyotes are terrible. Again.
Does he deserve it? Probably not. Chayka is always going to get extra criticism because of his age (28) and because he’s seen as a standard-bearer for the analytics movement — to hope for his failure is to hope for the failure of that ideology.
His team this season has had some crushing bad luck — like injuries to defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and goalie Antti Raanta, both offseason acquisitions — but it’s also … not good, with a 10-27-6 record. It’s another lost season for the Coyotes, and another year closer to free agency for star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. But hey: the draft lottery beckons!
Final seat temperature: Surprisingly cool for a team in the desert. Chayka’s virtually assured of another season to see if this group can grow together under coach Rick Tocchet. Plus, why add any more instability to a franchise that’s been the epitome of it?
GM since: May 2009
Why his seat is hot: Fletcher is in the final year of his contract. After consecutive first-round exits from the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Wild missed the cut entirely last season for the first time since 2012. Last season, Fletcher made a bold but unsuccessful move in acquiring center Martin Hanzal at the deadline for first- and second-round picks. Owner Craig Leipold said he regretted the deal, and said the team took a step back. As of Wednesday morning, the Wild are not in a playoff spot.
Does he deserve it? Yes. It’s been one step forward, one step back for the Wild for too long. Fletcher deserves kudos for acquiring players like Eric Staal (19 goals) and goalie Devan Dubnyk who had been cast aside by other teams; less successful were the diminishing returns of Jason Pominville and his subsequent trade, and the way Vegas ended up with both Erik Haula and Alex Tuch from Minnesota around the expansion draft.
The Wild have $63 million committed to the cap for next season. Stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter aren’t getting any younger, and certainly aren’t getting any cheaper. Fletcher has overseen a few decent drafts — netting Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin, among others — but he’s been unable to make the key moves, especially at center, to make the Wild a real contender.
Final seat temperature: Like walking on asphalt barefoot in July, but the grass is only a few steps away. In other words, the pressure’s on, but it could be off if the Wild make the playoff cut.
GM since: July 1997
Why his seat is hot: After 25 straight seasons of playoff appearances, the Red Wings missed last season and are on track to miss them again. They also have a perilous salary cap situation, with $62 million committed to next season and with young stars Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha coming off their entry-level deals.
Does he deserve it? Were it up to Red Wings fans, he’d be gone already. In reality, Holland has set up the Red Wings to be average at best through a series of underwhelming personnel decisions and his failure to attract high-end talent to the organization via free agency. While it’s true that Holland has had the unenviable task of keeping the Red Wings successful through a dramatic transition — saying goodbye to everyone from Nicklas Lidstrom to Pavel Datsyuk to coach Mike Babcock — it’s also undeniable that his reaction to this transition was to mire the team in a few seasons of salary-cap hell.
Final seat temperature: Like resting your hand on the engine of a Ford F-150 that’s been running for five hours. Detroit ownership gave Holland a vote of confidence, but he’s on the last year of his contract. The dream for Red Wings fans, as we discussed on the latest ESPN On Ice podcast: Holland gets kicked upstairs, the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup, and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman decides the only thing left to accomplish is to return to Detroit and build a Stanley Cup champion. If only …
GM since: April 2015
Why his seat is hot: The Oilers appeared to be on a steady climb to the top after last season, and then the roller coaster fell off the track this season. The Oilers are 18-23-3, putting them nine points out of a playoff spot and well over 20 points off their pace from last season. One of their biggest failings? A lack of offensive skill, as a team with the best offensive player in the world in Connor McDavid is 24th in team offense (2.68) after being eighth (2.96) last season.
This is on Chiarelli: He traded a first-round pick that turned out to be Islanders rookie sensation Matthew Barzal in order to acquire defenseman Griffin Reinhart, now a minor leaguer with the Vegas Golden Knights; he traded away winger Taylor Hall, a 2018 NHL All-Star, to the Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson; and he flipped winger Jordan Eberle to the Islanders for winger Ryan Strome, a disappointment this season, partially for economic reasons.
Does he deserve it? Very much so, but it might not ultimately matter this season. In the span of three seasons, Chiarelli has created a strange and unbalanced roster that lacks championship offensive depth and remains thin defensively. He also squandered the last year of McDavid’s entry-level deal before his cap hit spikes to $12.5 million next season. The fans are outraged. The media is questioning if he’s the right executive to build this team around McDavid. Since McDavid was drafted, we’ve wondered if the Oilers could screw up landing the generational talent in the draft lottery. Chiarelli sure seems to be trying.
Final seat temperature: Scorching. But as is the case when a general manager is on the hottest seat, this could be a case where the Oilers fire their general manager and end up keeping coach Todd McLellan, who doesn’t shoulder nearly the blame that management does here.
GM since: May 2012
Why his seat is hot: Because the Canadiens are one of the NHL’s biggest disappointments, and Bergevin has made a series of moves that made them one — and have potentially ensured that they’ll remain one. It started with the still-controversial deal that flipped P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. It continued when he didn’t have a suitable Plan B for the departures of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov last summer, and when he used the organization’s best trade asset — rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev — in a trade for Jonathan Drouin, who is a tremendous player, but not the center that should have been acquired for such a prospect.
Does he deserve it? More than anyone else on the list. Bergevin has been rightfully pilloried for the Canadiens’ failures this season, as they’re 18-20-4 and seven points out of a wild-card spot. He’s lost the faith of the fans and lost the benefit of the doubt from the media, which is now issuing outright calls for his removal. From the Montreal Gazette: “But the real reason [Canadiens owner] Geoff Molson has to bite the bullet and give Bergevin his walking papers is because the time has come to radically reinvent this team and given his track record, the last guy you want helming that re-invention is Bergevin.”
Final seat temperature: Have you ever been on the surface of the sun? Picture that, but hotter.