Jim Benning & Co. represent new breed of NHL GMs

Ken Campbell
Benning

With the Vancouver Canucks hiring of Jim Benning as their next GM, there is an interesting dynamic taking place in the hockey industry. Simply put, the old boys’ network is disappearing, and so is the recycling bin. And that could have enormous implications on the game, since these new GMs will be the ones who have a say in charting the future of what we see on the ice.

When Benning was officially introduced Friday, he became the fourth GM hired this off-season and all four of them – Benning along with Brad Treveling in Calgary, Ron Francis in Carolina and Ron Hextall in Philadelphia – are first-time GMs. With vacancies still open in Pittsburgh and Washington, chances are at least one more first-timer will join the ranks. The prominent candidates in Pittsburgh include Penguins assistant GM Jason Botterill, New York Rangers assistant GM Jeff Gorton, Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois, Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton, Chicago assistant GM Norm Maciver and broadcaster Pierre McGuire.

In Washington, there’s a good chance deposed Penguins GM Ray Shero will get the job, but the Capitals have also interviewed Fenton and Boston assistant Don Sweeney. Former Calgary GM and TSN analyst Craig Button could be a darkhorse in this race.

And when you take into account that four of the most previous recent hires – Tim Murray in Buffalo, Jarmo Kekalainen in Columbus and Jim Nill in Dallas and Marc Bergevin in Montreal – are also taking their first turns in the big chairs of hockey departments, that’s a lot of new blood into the system lately.

As a group, GMs have a lot of sway when it comes to determining how the on-ice product will look. Rules that are passed at GMs’ meetings often end up becoming reality, so with a new breed of GMs, it will be interesting to see where the game will go from here with respect to things like overtime, supplementary discipline and fighting. The best thing about this group is that they have an appreciation for the traditions of the game, but are not bound by them and can be a fountain of new ideas.

Most of them, like Benning, have paid their dues to get where they are. Almost all of them started their careers as scouts and have built their resumes on their abilities to identify and procure NHL talent. From there, they moved up the food chain and increased their responsibilities, with many of them running an American League team, doing contract and salary cap work and basically being the GM’s right-hand man.

Of the 28 current GMs in the NHL, only eight of them are recycled, meaning they worked as GMs for other teams before their current jobs. Included in the first-time list are Ken Holland in Detroit and Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey, who are still on their first GM jobs, and either Joe Sakic or Greg Sherman – who is technically still the GM in Colorado. Another interesting trend is that there are fewer GMs coming from the playing ranks, which is a testament to the fact the job has become so complex.

Of the 28, a total of 13 of them had basically no careers as NHL players. (Included in that list is Holland, who played only four NHL games.) That number goes up to 14 if you include Sherman in the group. Many of them, such as Stan Bowman in Chicago, Peter Chiarelli in Boston, David Nonis in Toronto and Chuck Fletcher in Minnesota are university-educated guys with strong hockey backgrounds and a grasp of both the on-ice and business sides of the game.

It will be interesting to see where this new breed of GMs ends up taking the game. There are still a lot of old-school GMs who hold an enormous amount of power in the group, but it’s clear the new-school is taking its place among the power brokers in hockey as well.