When you look at the roster of current GMs in the NHL, it’s uncanny how one thing stands out. What you come to realize is that the Old Boys’ Network™ is rapidly shrinking and is being replaced by young executives who have done their time in the industry, but don’t necessarily come with long hockey resumes as players.
There are currently 28 men occupying the top job in hockey operations departments around the league – the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks are currently seeking replacements – and for 20 of them, this is their first GM job. Twelve of them were brought in from outside the organization for which they currently work. Of the 28, it’s pretty much split down the middle in terms of those coming from a high playing background – 15 of them played at least one game in the NHL and 13 did not. (I’m including Joe Sakic in that list, even though technically Greg Sherman is still the GM of the Colorado Avalanche in title.)
Even a member of the Old Boys’ Network™ has bought into this concept. Instead of recycling one of his cronies, Brian Burke went out and got Brad Treveling from the Phoenix Coyotes, a hiring that was seen around the league as a very astute one. Tim Murray was recently hired to turn around the fortunes of the Buffalo Sabres, Marc Bergevin has done a masterful job in Montreal and Jim Nill has had an immediate impact in Dallas. And if you look at teams that have recently had success, three of the past four Stanley Cup champions – the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins – were all led by young GMs in their first jobs with no significant playing background.
Which brings us to here and now and some of the others waiting for their big chance. The three most prominent of the new breed of future GMs is – in no particular order, Los Angeles Kings co-director of amateur scouting Michael Futa, Boston Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning and Nashville Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton.
Here’s a quick look at each one:
Michael Futa, 46: Futa has had a history of good work and success at a lot of levels of the game. Prior to coming to the Kings, he was the GM of the Owen Sound Attack and helped transform the franchise from a small-market wasteland to a destination for top players and a contending team. He was named co-director of amateur scouting for the Kings in 2007 along with Mark Yannetti and while they whiffed on their first pick – Thomas Hickey fourth overall – they managed to get Wayne Simmonds, Alec Martinez and Dwight King later in the draft. They got three NHL players out of the next two drafts and took Tyler Toffoli in the second round in 2010 and Tanner Pearson 30th overall in 2012. When many were urging the Kings to take Zach Bogosian second overall in 2008, the Kings went with Drew Doughty, who at the time was a little overweight, and it has worked out brilliantly.
Teams continue to call on Futa, the most recent of which are the Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
Probable destination: The hunch here is GM Dean Lombardi offers Futa a more prestigious job title and more responsibility to keep him in the organization for the next couple of years.
Jim Benning, 51: Despite having never been a GM in the league, Benning has a long history of working in the NHL, having scouted and worked in management capacities with the Anaheim Ducks and Sabres before joining the front office of the Boston Bruins as Peter Chiarelli’s right-hand man.
As director of amateur scouting for the Sabres, Benning was responsible for a department that regularly mined NHL talent in the later rounds of the draft. Under his watch, the Sabres got Ales Kotalik, Ryan Miller, Paul Gaustad, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Dennis Wideman, Clarke MacArthur and Jan Hejda after the first round.
He has been beside Chiarelli through the entire process in Boston and has played a significant part in the Bruins becoming a perennial contender for the Stanley Cup.
Probable destination: The Canucks are pushing hard and will likely get him.
Paul Fenton, 54: The time has come for Fenton to find work as a GM because there is basically nothing he hasn’t done in every other capacity.
Fenton is supremely confident in his abilities to run an NHL hockey department. Earlier this season he told thn.com: “I helped build Anaheim from the bottom. I’ve broken down this team when ownership declared that they were going to sell the team and move and then built it back up to hopefully a contender. I believe that I’m ready and I hope that somebody else does. There’s nothing that I haven’t done in this business to say that I’m not ready to be a manager,” Fenton said. “I make decisions. I have been put on the spot to make decisions on everything from free agency to drafts to trades to any type of acquisition. I live it every day, so for me I think it’s a natural progression.”
His previous experience with the Ducks and 16 years with the Predators has been marked by a lot of success in player procurement. He could probably dine out on the Predators 2003 draft alone, when they got four defensemen – Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Kevin Klein and Alexander Sulzer – who have all ended up playing in the NHL.
Probable destination: Predators GM David Poile, at some point, moves aside and Fenton takes over.