In January 2012, I ranked the 30 NHL teams based on the strength of the two most important positions in the franchise: general manager and head coach. In the 19 months since, 13 teams have made organizational changes, but not surprisingly, those hirings and firings have taken place on teams at the bottom of this list.
We’ve celebrated two Stanley Cup champions and endured another lockout, so which team has the top GM/coach combo in the NHL now? Let's break it down:
1. Chicago Blackhawks -- ninth in 2012 (Stan Bowman/Joel Quenneville)
Two Stanley Cup championships in a four-year period. The Chicago Blackhawks have overtaken the Detroit Red Wings as the NHL’s gold standard. Bowman has secured his core players, while adding key contributors like Bryan Bickell who excelled in the postseason. Quenneville is easily one of the league’s top five coaches and has never had a losing year in 16 NHL seasons.
2. Boston Bruins -- second in 2012 (Peter Chiarelli/Claude Julien)
Chiarelli and Julien have been together for six years and have made the playoffs each year including a Stanley Cup in 2011. The team did not skip a beat after goalie Tim Thomas elected to sit out the season. Chiarelli re-signed top center Patrice Bergeron, added Jarome Iginla and traded for Loui Eriksson as part of the biggest blockbuster trade this offseason. Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton give the franchise a promising future on defense.
3. Detroit Red Wings -- first in 2012 (Ken Holland/Mike Babcock)
The Red Wings fall from the top spot as they continue their transition from the Nicklas Lidstrom era. They remain highly competitive, but they’re simply not in the upper echelon of teams right now. However, the move to the Eastern Conference should give the Wings an easier road through the playoffs, where they have failed to reach the Conference Finals in each of the past four years. Holland and Babcock are both top five on their own merits.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins -- third in 2012 (Ray Shero/Dan Bylsma)
Shero went all-in last season in his effort to bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh by acquiring Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen in midseason trades. However, the Pens were soundly swept in four straight to the Bruins, scoring just two goals, leaving many to wonder if Bylsma should be back. Instead, Shero extended his coach and locked up Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to long-term deals while bringing back Rob Scuderi in one of the league’s best offseason signings.
5. Los Angeles Kings -- 19th in 2012 (Dean Lombardi/Darryl Sutter)
The Kings make the biggest leap after winning the organization’s first Stanley Cup championship in 2012, and reaching the Conference Finals in 2013. Lombardi has one of the league’s top goaltenders in Jonathan Quick and an excellent group of young defensemen around him with Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez. Tremendous depth at forward. Sutter took over for Terry Murray in midseason, and the Kings have thrived ever since.
6. Ottawa Senators -- 20th in 2012 (Bryan Murray/Paul MacLean)
MacLean on his own could be top three on this list as he managed to guide the Sens to the postseason despite a rash of injuries to key players, and earned the Jack Adams Award as league’s top coach. At least on the ice, Murray made up for the loss of Daniel Alfredsson by negotiating a trade for Bobby Ryan, who could score 40 goals this season playing alongside a healthy Jason Spezza. Murray also acquired Cory Conacher in a trade with Tampa. Patrick Weircioch is a player on the rise to go along with their dynamic superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson.
7. St. Louis Blues – 13th in 2012 (Doug Armstrong/Ken Hitchcock)
Armstrong has built arguably one of the best blue lines in the entire NHL with youngsters Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and the acquisition of Jay Bouwmeester. The team clearly bought into Hitchcock’s defensive-minded system in 2012 when it finished with 109 points while allowing the fewest goals in the league. St. Louis started out slow in the 48-game season before losing out to L.A. in the playoffs.
8. Washington Capitals – 10th in 2012 (George McPhee/Adam Oates)
McPhee almost runs the Capitals like a small-market team, very selective when it comes to free-agent spending. Adam Oates was a solid hire and, after struggling early, the team finally adapted to his system. The Capitals caught fire and finished 15-2-2 to win the Southeast division. More importantly, Oates helped Alex Ovechkin rediscover his superstar form.
9. San Jose Sharks -- sixth in 2012 (Doug Wilson/Todd McLellan)
The Sharks have displayed a remarkable string of regular-season consistency only to underachieve come playoff time. The Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau tandem is entering their mid-30s, and Wilson seems intent on riding this pair until they can no longer play effectively, and the Sharks have been trending downward as a result. McLellan has maximized the team’s talent, but unlike his predecessors, he’s been unable to advance past the Conference Finals.
10. Phoenix Coyotes -- 14th in 2012 (Dave Maloney/Dave Tippett)
Put this GM/coach combination on a large-market, free-spending team and Maloney and Tippett could have seasons of success. Now that the situation in Phoenix has stabilized, the Coyotes can breathe a little easier. Tippett would have been the No. 1 coaching candidate this summer, but Maloney wisely extended his contract. Tippett has exceeded expectations leading the Coyotes to the Conference Finals in 2012 before missing the postseason in 2013. New ownership should put the organization at ease moving forward.
11. Anaheim Ducks -- 23rd in 2012 (Bob Murray/Bruce Boudreau)
Year on, year off -- that’s been the trend of the Anaheim Ducks, who finished with the third-best record in 2013 after previously missing the playoffs. As a result, Murray locked up his two top players Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to eight-year contracts, and has a stable of talented young players led by Cam Fowler and Jakob Silfverberg. It’s hard to dispute the (regular season) results of Bruce Boudreau, a Jack Adams finalist, who has won a divisional title in the five full seasons he has coached in the league.
12. Toronto Maple Leafs -- eighth in 2012 (Dave Nonis/Randy Carlyle)
It’s hard to assess the work of Nonis, considering he’s now painting with Brian Burke’s palette, but his first major move was bringing in goalie Jonathan Bernier from Los Angeles to help stabilize the team’s situation in net to go along with the big free-agent signing of David Clarkson. Carlyle brought the Leafs back to the postseason for the first time since 2004 with a tough-nosed, gritty attitude and the offseason moves should only complement this team.
13. Vancouver Canucks -- fifth in 2012 (Mike Gillis/John Tortorella)
Gillis has been highly criticized, and rightfully so, for the way he has handled the Roberto Luongo situation. After failing to trade the goaltender, the Canucks' GM instead dealt Cory Schneider to the Devils for a first-round pick. He’ll also have an interesting decision with the Sedins, who are entering the final year of their contracts. Following a first-round sweep to the Sharks, Gillis fired coach Alain Vigneault and replaced him with former Rangers coach Tortorella.
14. Philadelphia Flyers -- fourth in 2012 (Paul Holmgren/Peter Laviolette)
The Flyers fall 10 spots after the Bryz-asterous goaltending saga that resulted in the organization buying out the final seven years of Ilya Bryzagalov’s contract at $23 million. Watching Sergei Bobrovsky win the Vezina Trophy had to sting, as well. The Flyers are one of three teams (Maple Leafs, Blackhawks) to utilize both compliance buyouts this summer. After coming up empty during the 2012 offseason, Holmgren made up for it this summer by signing Vincent Lecavalier, Mark Streit and Ray Emery.
15. New York Rangers -- 12th in 2012 (Glen Sather/Alain Vigneault)
Sather has been at the helm for 13 years now. His best team lost to the Devils in the 2012 Conference Finals. He acquired Rick Nash from Columbus and shipped out Marian Gaborik to the Blue Jackets in a separate deal. Sather replaced Tortorella’s abrasive defensive-minded approach with a more easy-going Vigneault, who should open up the offense which in turn should benefit skill players like Brad Richards and Rick Nash.
16. Nashville Predators – seventh in 2012 (David Poile/Barry Trotz)
The longest-tenured GM/coach combo in the league (together since 1998) finally hit a rough patch in 2013. They fall nine spots after finishing with the second-worst mark in the Western Conference after reaching the playoffs in seven of the previous eight seasons. While Poile matched the Flyers' offer to defenseman Shea Weber and locked up goalie Pekka Rinne, they have done very little to turn around their anemic offense. With Ruff no longer in Buffalo, Trotz is now the longest-tenured coach in the NHL. Last year was his first losing season since 2003.
17. Montreal Canadiens -- 29th in 2012 (Marc Bergevin/Michel Therrien)
The Canadiens finally got it right with the hiring of Bergevin in May 2012, and he has been busy cleaning up the mess created by Pierre Gauthier. To some surprise, he hired former Penguins coach Therrien, who led an overachieving Montreal team to the best record in the Northeast division before losing in the first round of the playoffs. Can they sustain that high level of play over an 82-game season? Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher comprise a solid nucleus.
18. New Jersey Devils -- 11th in 2012 (Lou Lamoriello/Pete DeBoer)
The Devils drop seven slots even after reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. They had to forfeit a first-round pick (2014) which could have been a top-10 selection as a result of the contract signed by Ilya Kovalchuk, who’s no longer with the team. Lamoriello replaced David Clarkson by signing Ryan Clowe, seemingly overpaying for the 30-year-old left winger. DeBoer will have a challenge building a playoff-caliber team following Kovalchuk’s sudden departure.
19. New York Islanders -- 28th in 2012 (Garth Snow/Jack Capuano)
After finishing last in the division for five straight seasons, the Isles returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Snow bought out Rick DiPietro’s mammoth contract. The team lost captain and top defenseman Streit to the Flyers, but they were able to retain goaltender Evgeni Nabokov for one more season. Capuano’s style has really helped Tavares flourish into an elite player.
20. Minnesota Wild -- 25th in 2012 (Chuck Fletcher/Mike Yeo)
Even after spending $196 million on the top two free agents (Zach Parise/Ryan Suter) of 2012, fair to say, the Minnesota Wild are still a marginal team that barely squeaked into the playoffs during the final week of the shortened season. Fletcher also gave up a lot to acquire Jason Pominville and the Wild were manhandled by the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. This is a crucial season for Yeo, and a change could be made if Minnesota struggles early.
21. Dallas Stars -- 17th in 2012 (Jim Nill/Lindy Ruff)
Dallas is the first rodeo for Nill, who spent a majority of his front-office career helping construct the Red Wings' dynasty. He made his first major move by acquiring Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins, and if Seguin can commit to being a pro, this could be a great swap for Dallas. Ruff was the NHL’s longest-tenured coach until he was cut loose last season in Buffalo. Together, Nill and Ruff could be the perfect pair to get this franchise back to the postseason for the first time in six years.
22. Winnipeg Jets -- 26th in 2012 (Kevin Cheveldayoff/Claude Noel)
The honeymoon is wearing off as Cheveldayoff has taken a patient approach since the team moved to Winnipeg in 2011. The Jets have missed out on postseason play in their first two years, but they have a good crop of young players to build around with Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler, plus Captain Andrew Ladd. The Jets still allow too many goals. As a franchise, they need to turn a corner or the passionate fan base in Winnipeg will grow impatient. Noel has been the Jets' only coach and has yet to guide this team to the playoffs.
23. Florida Panthers -- 15th in 2012 (Dale Tallon/Kevin Dineen)
Perhaps no team struggled more through the lockout-shortened season than the Florida Panthers, who went from Southeast division champs in Dineen’s first season to worst record in the NHL. The 2013-14 season should be a better indicator of where this franchise stands. It’s time for Jacob Markstrom to take that next step and prove why the organization passed on acquiring Luongo.
24. Buffalo Sabres -- 16th in 2012 (Darcy Reiger/Ron Rolston)
Reiger has held his current post for 16 years now and perhaps it’s time for a change. The Sabres have missed the playoffs in four of the last six years. Ville Leino has proven to be a bust, and defenseman Tyler Myers has regressed from his rookie season. Outside of Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson, the Sabres are thin at forward. Rolston did an admirable job after replacing Lindy Ruff in midseason as the Sabres finished 15-11-5 under the new coach.
25. Tampa Bay Lightning -- 18th in 2012 (Steve Yzerman/Jon Cooper)
It appears Yzerman has made some decent moves over the past few years, it just hasn’t come together for the Lightning. They’ve missed the playoffs the past two years after reaching Game 7 of the Conference Finals in 2011. Yzerman bought out the remaining seven years on Vincent Lecavalier’s contract and signed Valtteri Filppula as a cheaper alternative. Cooper is a proven AHL coach having won a Calder Cup, but turning around Tampa Bay will be a big challenge.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets -- 30th in 2012 (Jarmo Kekalainen/Todd Richards)
The Blue Jackets ranked dead last and appeared to be going nowhere, but credit former GM Scott Howson for acquiring Bobrovsky and giving this team the building blocks with three first-round picks. Kekalainen has made some bold moves, acquiring Marion Gaborik from New York and signing free-agent Nathan Horton. The Jackets still need a legitimate No. 1 center. In his first full season, Richards nearly guided Columbus to the franchise’s second playoff appearance.
27. Carolina Hurricanes -- 24th in 2012 (Jim Rutherford/Kirk Muller)
Carolina has failed to reach the playoffs now in four straight years, and that goal will only get tougher moving into the new Metropolitan Division. Is Jordan Staal really worth $60 million over 10 years? How about Alex Semin, who was locked up for $35 million over five years? Rutherford continues to dump money up front when his defense, outside of Justin Faulk, needs an overhaul.
28. Colorado Avalanche -- 21st in 2012 (Joe Sakic*/Patrick Roy)
The Avalanche want to return to the glory days, so they brought the glory days back with Sakic and Roy, and while they are two of the best guys on the ice, there’s no proof they can produce those same results off of it. Even though Greg Sherman remains GM, clearly Sakic is in charge of making all personnel decisions as the organization’s executive vice president of hockey operations. There’s potential with youngsters Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
29. Calgary Flames -- 22nd in 2012 (Jay Feaster/Bob Hartley)
The face of the franchise is gone, and Feaster, who won the Cup as GM in Tampa, has yet to make any quality moves to inject life into this team. He made a futile attempt to try and sign Colorado restricted free agent Ryan O’Reilly. The Flames are more of a flicker entering this season and already have the look of a team that will miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. The Flames finished 13th in the Western Conference in Hartley’s first season in Calgary.
30. Edmonton Oilers -- 27th in 2012 (Craig MacTavish/Dallas Eakins)
Despite having the first pick in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts, the Edmonton Oilers have barely budged their way up the standings. They lack toughness and grit and the result has been seven straight years without a playoff appearance. Former GM Steve Tambellini was fired in the offseason and replaced by MacTavish, who needs to give this franchise a much-needed identity. Eakins has the daunting task of trying to mesh a lot of young, unproven talent.