Joe Sakic and Jim Rutherford. Image by: Getty Images
We created a survey asking people to rank each team’s front office in six different categories. The results are in, and not overly surprising.
The results are in. Just over 1,300 people took our annual Front Office Confidence survey, voting on how they view every team’s ability in six categories: roster building, cap management, drafting and developing, trading, free agency and their overall vision.
Of the over 1,300 voters, not everyone will have workable knowledge of every team’s management group and we ended up with around 800 to 1,000 votes per team. Sample size matters with something like this and we feel we have enough responses here to make a fair ranking based on their votes. The 95 percent confidence interval is +/-0.06 on average, meaning we are 95 percent sure the true results are within a very small range of roughly 0.12. If there’s a team’s spot you disagree with, know that their ranking could be a couple spots higher or lower based on that, but not much.
The overall ranking is determined by a weighted average of the score in each category based on how important survey respondents felt each category was in last year’s survey. Drafting and developing was viewed as the most important front office skill, followed by roster building, vision, cap management, trading and finally free agency. For the Vegas Golden Knights, each category was weighted equally.
What’s different about this year’s edition is that we added team filters to the survey. While the overall rankings will be decided by public opinion, beside that will be the difference in fan base opinion to see how much more or less confident fans of that specific team are in what their team is doing.
The big issue with this (and the reason teams are ranked by public opinion) is that there are large differences in fan base size which creates an imbalance in voters among the 31 teams. Some teams (Toronto, Detroit, Vancouver) had way more fans than others (Florida, Los Angeles, Dallas) meaning a lot more confidence in the results from certain fanbases than others. Even dividing 1,300 by 31 gets you nearly 45 votes per team which isn’t nearly enough to get a reliable answer and many teams have even less. The confidence intervals with the fan base vote are much larger because of this, making a ranking based on those results nearly useless.
There’s also the issue of homerism and bias with fan bases grading their own teams. This is pretty evident by the fact that the average team rating is 3.1 while the average team rating by just that team’s fans is 3.5. Only four fan bases are less confident than the public thinks they should be. This is the main reason I think it’s better to get an outsider’s perspective because there’s no emotional attachment, but I know there’s a number of people that disagree with that. As mentioned in the survey outline last week, the goal of this isn’t about how happy fans are with their own team, it’s about finding out where public opinion stands on how each team operates. Regardless we’ll still show how fans differed from public opinion as well as a chart at the bottom showing the fan rankings, just keep sample size in mind with each fan base.
Finally, here are the rankings. Vegas is included in the overall rankings meaning there’s 31 spots, but not in the category ranking since they didn’t exactly share the same categories. Each category is out of 30.
31. Colorado Avalanche
In what is perhaps the least surprising result of the survey, last season’s last place team – a team that couldn’t even crack 50 points – comes in last place here, too. And they’re last in every facet except cap management. When a team is this bad, you lose confidence in everything they do. No team lost more confidence over the last season than Colorado.
30. Vancouver Canucks
The team that finished with the least confidence last season moves up this season – kind of. They’re not last anymore, but they’re still 30th. Vancouver’s own fans are a bit more optimistic than the rest of us, but based on the downward spiral this team is heading in, mixed with the fact they don’t seem to know what direction they’re going in, it’s hard to give this group much faith. They actually made some decent off-season signings this year, but what’s the point of moving a little farther away from the basement if it’s not going to get you in the playoffs?
29. Detroit Red Wings
This is the most interesting result of the survey. Remember that just four teams are less confident than the public and one of those teams happens to be the team in 29th, and it’s by the largest margin too. The other fun fact? Detroit had the second largest group of fans in the survey, and boy are they pissed. Of all the fan bases, they have the least amount of confidence in what Ken Holland and co. are doing. It seems that the good will earned from The Streak is mostly over in Detroit. A look at their cap situation and who they’ve committed big money to is bleak – and they gave most of those players no trade clauses, too. The Wings had 25 seasons of success, but there are dark times ahead with little confidence from anyone that the crew at the helm can steer the ship out of it.
28. Montreal Canadiens
The Subban-Weber swap was a win now swap so seeing Subban and the Predators march to the Cup final had to sting for a lot of Habs fans, especially after their own first round exit. This off-season was a weird one for Montreal as they made a lot of moves to give the team a jolt, but it felt more like moves for the sake of change not improvement. Is this team any better than the one from last season? Did they properly replace Alex Radulov and Andrei Markov? It’s tough to say at this point, but it doesn’t really seem like it. Montreal has a good team, but they seem a bit misguided on how to turn it into a great team.
27. New York Islanders
This is weird. Usually the team that swindles Edmonton in a trade ranks much higher than this. This team’s worst trait is free agency, and while few people are confident with any team in that category, it especially resonates with the Isles. Last year’s big deal was Andrew Ladd and he already looks like an albatross contract in Year 1. The big thing with the Isles is they have one of the game's best players in John Tavares and they essentially wasted his prime by not properly surrounding him with talent. That’s tough to swallow and likely a huge reason this team is ranked so low. They looked like a future power just a few years ago. These days they barely register as a playoff threat.
26. Boston Bruins
The Bruins move up a couple spots in the rankings, but there’s still not much faith in the Don Sweeney era. I still think the Bruins are a good team, but they should be a lot better with some of the talent they have. Boston is one of the most top heavy teams in the league and it’s on the brain trust to surround those guys with enough depth to compete. They haven’t really done that lately.
25. Los Angeles Kings
It makes sense that the Kings are this low since they just let a lot of people go after a failure of a season. People used to throw the “D” word around the Kings, but that success is a distant memory at this point and it’s left them in a cap bind that observers feel is the worst situation in the league. Kings fans are a lot more confident than the public and this year will be a big test to see if they should be.
24. Florida Panthers
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. In just one season the Panthers have fallen from second in these rankings to 24th. What happened? What didn’t happen is probably a better question. Last season was a nightmare with team-wide regression and injuries to their best players pushing the team out of the playoffs and into a front office power struggle. Dale Tallon is back on top and he’s put in work to change the team back into his liking. For some reason that means giving away two top six players to Vegas (Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith) buying out another one (Jussi Jokinen) and letting another one go to free agency (Jaromir Jagr), replacing them with Radim Vrbata and Evgeny Dadonov. It was a weird off-season that has a lot of people wondering what exactly this team is doing.
23. Washington Capitals
Another big and unsurprising fall from grace. The Capitals were in the top five last year, but they’re much closer to the bottom five this time around and their fan base is even less impressed with what they’ve done lately. The cap is the biggest sticking point here as Washington has had a lot of trouble maneuvering it this off-season thanks to some onerous contracts on the books and a monster deal to T.J. Oshie that many feel was the wrong call after an unrepeatable season. That meant losing Marcus Johansson for next to nothing and letting Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner walk in free agency. They still have a good, even great team, but they’re nowhere near as good as they were last season.
22. New Jersey Devils
The Devils have been making some really good trades lately, but there’s more to team management than robbing some GMs blind. The team is still extremely far away from being competitive and it’s going to take a lot more talent from within to get there. The few Devils fans who voted are much more optimistic though and think they have a top 10 front office. Maybe they do, but the rest of us want to see them actually build something first.
21. San Jose Sharks
Stanley Cup final good will only lasts so long. Maybe that’s because it’s the end of a window in San Jose, one where they should’ve had more than a single Cup final berth to show for it. That’s apparently enough to drop them from top 10 to bottom 10, and their fans don’t think that’s low enough either with special attention to how bad their drafting and developing has been lately. This is the definition of an average confidence front office with threes across the board, but ‘just average’ isn’t good enough.
20. Buffalo Sabres
Not many people know what to make of Buffalo since last year and their change in confidence had the most mixed results. There was some optimism before last season, but the team preceded to finish near the bottom of the standings again causing some changes in the front office. Jason Botterill’s tenure has been short, but he’s been very proactive in that time, acquiring Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella to shore up the defense, Jason Pominville and Benoit Pouliot to provide depth up front, all while not giving up much of value to other teams. These are good moves and I think Sabres fans have noticed with one of the higher fan-public differences. It won’t be long until the rest of the hockey world notices, too.
19. New York Rangers
Slowly, but surely, the Rangers are moving up the rankings. I’d guess that part of that is them getting this year’s big fish in free agency as their highest rank was in that category. Finally buying out Dan Girardi was another step in the right direction, too. Their window to win won’t last much longer, but this team seems to be doing some good things to extend it as much as they can.
18. Philadelphia Flyers
Flyers fans aren’t happy about the lack of respect they’re getting here. Maybe they’re a little overzealous, but they’ve been doing some underrated work since Ron Hextall took over and fans love his vision. Their biggest strength is drafting and developing, something that wasn’t always true in Philadelphia. Flyers fans are a lot more confident in their prospect cupboard then most people are, we’ll see if they were right really soon.
17. Ottawa Senators
After reaching the conference final, Ottawa has moved up six spots and is pretty close to an average front office. The Sens didn’t have a very good team in the first half of the season, but credit to their management team for improving where they needed to at the deadline in order to make them more formidable in the playoffs. It worked out pretty well for them.
16. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks had the model front office for a number of years as they seemed to have it all figured out. Even when they were in cap hell, they managed to ship out the right players and recuperate lost value from within. But after two straight first round losses some of that lustre has worn off, especially after some questionable off-season moves. Things have been tougher since the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane contracts kicked in, but it’s the Brent Seabrook contract that’s really hurting them. He’s nowhere near the player he used to be and is only getting worse. The team is learning the price to pay for loyalty, but that goes both ways as they’ve been able to snag some decent alumni on cheap deals for a chance to relive former glory. Whether they have a team that’s capable of doing that anymore is the real question though.
15. Edmonton Oilers
Winning does a lot for confidence and the Oilers are seeing that with a big jump from last year. The team made some bold and questionable moves and it paid off with their first playoff berth in a decade. There’s a very good argument to be made about the actual causality of that (having the best player in the world, good health, young players developing, an actual goalie), but when you’re finally winning it doesn’t really matter. Wins heal all wounds and perhaps they deserve some cautious optimism for now. Winning the Cup is the next hurdle and that part won’t be as easy, even with the best player in the world.
14. Vegas Golden Knights
The new kids on the block find themselves somewhere in the middle (and with not enough fan response to be included) which seems fair for a mostly unknown commodity that hasn’t even seen their team hit the ice yet. What we have seen so far has been either uninspiring (expansion selections) or very shrewd (entry draft). Our prospect expert Ryan Kennedy was really high on what the Golden Knights did at their first draft and it seems fans agree. Next year will be tough for them, but they’ve got the right idea in place and a decent framework for future success.
13. Arizona Coyotes
There weren’t too many Arizona fans voting, but those that did will probably feel a bit slighted about the results from the public. Coyotes fans really like what John Chayka has done with the place and it sure feels like it won’t be long until this team is finally a consistent competitor. People are more confident than they previously were with Arizona, probably because of their pipeline and the two big summer trades they made, but the team interestingly dropped six spots anyways. The process is there, but what Arizona needs now are some numbers on the board. It looks like things will work in the desert, but we need to see it actually work first.
12. Anaheim Ducks
A lot of people weren’t really sure about the Ducks last season, but they’ve taken a jump thanks to a lot of confidence in their ability to draft, develop and build. Another division title doesn’t hurt either. With Los Angeles and San Jose fading, Anaheim remains atop the California hierarchy and should stay there for awhile thanks to their biggest strengths here.
11. Winnipeg Jets
After proclaiming the Jets as the 2019 Stanley Cup champions, the shine on their future has worn off a bit. There’s still two seasons to go for that prediction to come true, but they haven’t shown much of anything since we made it. Surveyors believe Winnipeg to be a top five team when it comes to developing homegrown talent, but supplementing it from the outside is a weakness. That means the roster has taken a bit more time to build. Will all that patience finally pay off this season?
10. Minnesota Wild
We’ve reached the top 10 and the team’s own fans don’t think they deserve to be here. Minnesota is the last of the four teams where fans have less confidence than the public and they have good reason. It seems fans are mostly worried about the team’s last two trades. The team unloaded Scandella and Pominville to Buffalo for an underwhelming return and traded a kings ransom for Martin Hanzal at the trade deadline. I don’t mind the second move, the process was sound, but the results didn’t line up. The Wild have built a very good team in the West and it’s enough to give outsiders a lot of confidence in what they’re doing, but it’s understandable why their own fans would disagree. It could be much worse though.
9. St. Louis Blues
The Blues are an interesting team to analyze. They haven’t done much to make them a slam dunk top 10 front office, but they haven’t done many bad things either. That’s the key to confidence as the bad moves are always immortalized. Their draft day deals were pretty impressive too as they somehow got anything of value for Ryan Reaves and then replaced a largely ineffective Jori Lehtera with Brayden Schenn.
8. Dallas Stars
The Stars had one of the lowest turnouts among voters, but those that voted felt the Stars were slighted. They might have good reason, too, as the team dropped two spots from last season despite most people being more confident in the team. This has been a busy off-season for Dallas, as usual, and unlike other teams with busy off-seasons, this one actually felt productive. The team missed the playoffs, but they plugged all the right holes and should be a much improved squad next season. They’ll be back to contention real soon and that’s mostly thanks to the work the front office does every off-season to make this team is as good as it can be.
7. Calgary Flames
A lot of people are really high on the Flames and they’re firmly in the top 10 after looking average last season. Last season’s return to the playoffs inspired lots of confidence in what this team is doing and a lot of their moves have paid off. It’s clear they like going big as they went hard after Dougie Hamilton a few years ago and did the same this year for Travis Hamonic. Still, there are some missteps. The Troy Brouwer deal is already a disaster and the team’s goaltending carousel continues with the risky acquisitions of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack. That goaltending duo is a gamble and how Calgary is viewed will depend a lot on the outcome of it.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
To me, this was the most surprising result of the survey. After years of ineptitude, one good season has turned the tide completely on how Columbus is viewed. The team jumped from bottom five to borderline top five after one season. Should our opinions have changed that much or is this an over-correction because they shouldn’t have been that low to begin with? It’s interesting to think about and it’ll be even more interesting after this season because the team is due for some regression. One thing to give them credit for is their trades. They aren’t afraid of making a big splash and it’s worked out well for them recently.
5. Carolina Hurricanes
This year’s Fancy Stats Off-Season Champion™ has taken a leap straight into the top five and their fans are even happier with the job the team has done. It’s been a process, but it won’t be long until the team reaps the fruits of their labour. They addressed their biggest need by trading for burgeoning goalie Scott Darling, while filling out some depth throughout the lineup. The Hurricanes are a team on the rise and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see them in the playoff mix this season as a result of what they’ve been building the past few years under Ron Francis.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
As usual, winning is everything and the Leafs getting back into the playoffs is a big reason they’re in the top five. There’s been some questionable decisions made, especially in free agency, and some questions about whether there may be too many cooks in the kitchen, but the Shanaplan is working better than many expected. This team looks ready to take over the league for the next decade and be the next Detroit, Chicago or Pittsburgh. They’ve built a strong roster thanks largely to their ability to draft and develop players. “They had top picks” is a reasonable excuse, but aside from Auston Matthews, few of those were consensus choices and they nailed each pick to create one of the league’s strongest future cores. They’ve also developed a solid supporting cast and pipeline from other picks. The future is very bright in Toronto and a Stanley Cup seems finally in reach. All this team needed was some direction, something that was painfully missing for almost half a century.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last year saw Tampa Bay atop these rankings and they’ve dropped slightly to make room for the reigning Cup champion and Cup finalist. A year outside the playoffs will do that, but many people recognize that was mostly brought on by a plague of injuries. Everything Tampa Bay does seems to be the right move and they’ve signed some affordable deals (perhaps thanks to their state’s income tax) that look really good compared to many other teams. They’re not without fault – signing Dan Girardi was puzzling and they should’ve locked up Nikita Kucherov before he exploded last season – but it’s hard to find many other teams with a better good/bad move ratio as the Bolts.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Back-to-back Cups and they can’t get the top spot. What more does a front office have to do? The current iteration of the Penguins is exactly why star power isn’t enough on its own in the NHL – they need help. For years, the Penguins struggled to go far despite having two of the game’s best players. That changed once the team added a strong supporting cast around them and that’s why they’re currently tops in roster building. Had this survey been taken after the playoffs ended maybe the Penguins would’ve been first, but their off-season was a bit peculiar, especially their trade for Reaves to get “tougher” despite winning two straight Cups with no such philosophy. They’re still No. 2 and the de facto best team in the league regardless, so it likely didn’t really matter, but there were still some people who mentioned their distaste for what Pittsburgh did in the past couple months. I do wonder what the loss of Botterill will mean for Pittsburgh. He’s been long viewed as one of the sharpest minds in hockey and the Sabres have made some smart moves since he joined them while the Penguins have made some questionable ones. Coincidence? We’ll see.
1. Nashville Predators
The Predators made the biggest trade in their history and it paid off immensely. After never seeing the ice past the second round, the team was two wins away from the Stanley Cup last season. That’s got to feel good for a team that hasn’t been shy in making big trades. P.K. Subban has been as good as advertised while Ryan Johansen is the No. 1 center they’ve always been looking for. That’s two foundational pillars acquired through trade and it wouldn’t have been possible without a strong nucleus of talent built from within. This team has the best defensive top four in hockey and that’s despite losing some incredible defensemen throughout the years. What’s perhaps most impressive about this team though is their cap management. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok all signed some incredibly team friendly deals through their prime years. It’s a testament to locking up players early and having faith in their ability to grow as players. It’s a masterful understanding of the age curve that no other team can really rival. Many teams opt for bridge deals and it ends up costing them down the line, but Nashville instead has a bevy of core players locked up on extremely cost-effective deals through what should be their best seasons. There’s few teams doing it as well as Nashville is doing it, and it won’t be long before it pays off for them.
To those who are curious, here’s how the team rankings look if sorted by just fan base votes. Keep sample size in mind. Larger confidence intervals mean less certainty in the results due to smaller sample size and/or more variance in answers.
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