by PuckStopsHere on 05/04/12 at 02:09 PM ET
The GM of the Year award is a new NHL award. It first came into existence in 2010. This award is problem for the same reasons the coach of the year award is a problem but those reasons are much stronger for GMs. It is very hard to determine the impact of a coach or a GM in a short period of time. There is a tendency to give the awards to teams that improve by a significant margin and it is often hard to link that improvement to the coach of GM getting an award.
Last season Mike Gillis of Vancouver won the GM of the Year Award by barely beating out Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The case for Yzerman was that Tampa Bay improved significantly from 80 to 103 points. Yzerman is a likeable guy who earned a lot of good will in his Hall of Fame playing career and by GMing the 2010 gold medal winning Canadian Olympic Team.
Tampa’s improvement was largely predictable. There was a dysfunctionally run team as the Oren Koules and Len Barrie ownership regime ended and Jeff Vinik took over and brought in some stability. The team had significant talent in Steve Stamkos, Martin St Louis, Vincent LeCavalier and others. It was clear that this team was on the rise as long as it was competently run. That isn’t an endorsement of Steve Yzerman as a GM except to say that he is competent and that is a significant improvement over Brian Lawton who wasn’t.
The problem is Yzerman inadvertently took it all apart with a bad move the next summer. He chose 42 year old Dwayne Roloson as his number one goalie. Roloson had been a good goalie in the past and backstopped Tampa during their 2011 run to the semifinals. The problem was he had little left for the future.
Another candidate to be Tampa’s starting goalie was Mike Smith. Smith was developing into a top goalie who some considered for the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team before running into concussion problems. He spent several years trying to return to form but he had not been the same goalie. Tampa Bay chose to let him go as a free agent.
Smith wound up in Phoenix and returned to his earlier form there. He has been one of the biggest stories of the playoffs so far and likely narrowly missed out in a Vezina Trophy nomination.
Tampa Bay struggled under poor goaltending and missed the playoffs this season. That poor goaltending is a direct result of Steve Yzerman’s decisions. Yzerman screwed up Tampa’s goaltending this season and likely will attempt to fix it this summer.
There is no costlier mistake for a GM than giving up a top player for nothing or next to nothing. There is no better move than adding such a player. Don Maloney schooled Steve Yzerman, who looked like an inexperienced GM. The 2010 GM of the Year schooled the almost winner in 2011.
In that one move Yzerman undid all the good he did in the 2010/11 season and then some. It will take some work for him to try to fix the problem. This case clearly shows that GM of the Year is hard to judge. A GM who looks like he is doing a good job can and has undone it all in one mistake. As a result it is hard to take this award seriously. One year is too short a time frame to judge a good GM. A GM takes several years to build a franchise. I expect that in a few years we will see several cases of GMs who built top teams and were never seriously considered as GM of the Year in any single year. Steve Yzerman is an example of a player who almost won this award and in one mistake has reduced his team to a non-playoff squad.
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