- Craig Custance
It’s wise to hire and promote front-office talent from the smartest and most successful franchises. Those executives know exactly what it takes to win, they’ve been raised and influenced by successful mentors with championship track records.
Time and time again, it proves to be sound strategy when looking to turn a franchise around. The Minnesota Wild continue to grow under GM Chuck Fletcher, lured away from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Montreal Canadiens are an Eastern Conference threat again in large part because of the work done by Marc Bergevin, hired after winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
After the Los Angeles Kings won it all, the Philadelphia Flyers were able to persuade Ron Hextall to return to Philadelphia, and it’s a safe bet that he’ll one day be the GM there. The Dallas Stars have to be thrilled with the job done by Jim Nill, who developed with the Detroit Red Wings. Same goes for Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For teams that have won a Stanley Cup in the past several years, chances are there’s been a payoff for part of the management team. With one exception.
The Boston Bruins are again favorites to come out of the East. They already have one Stanley Cup in the Peter Chiarelli era and could have had two. They manage the cap beautifully, they develop young talent to complement the veterans and they aren’t afraid to make bold trades to continue to stock their team with the players who fit their identity.
Yet both of Chiarelli’s lieutenants are still waiting for an opportunity to branch out and duplicate this success somewhere else. Assistant general managers Jim Benning and Don Sweeney aren’t self-promoters and they aren’t Hall of Fame former players, which seems to help when it comes to landing the next job.
They are, however, ready to run their own teams.
“These are my two most significant employees that I rely on,” Chiarelli said when we chatted about the future of his two assistant GMs. “You never want to lose any of these guys, but I’ve been asked a lot about them.”
Each brings his own skill set, which is why they are so valuable to Chiarelli. Benning has an eye for finding talent at the pro level. One player, for example, whom he went to bat for was Daniel Paille, who underachieved with the Buffalo Sabres but is now one of those key depth forwards who allow Claude Julien to roll four lines. In a cap era, identifying those depth guys can be the difference in the playoffs.
“He had fallen out of favor in Buffalo,” Chiarelli said. “Sometimes it’s easier to see a really good player, but it’s harder to see characteristics in a player when players are down. That’s what experience does. [Benning] has obviously got a good eye. He’s brought up many guys; there’s a small example.”
Sweeney runs Boston’s AHL team in Providence and helps with cap management, and every time Torey Krug scores a goal, he should get a bonus.
“Donnie has been instrumental in college free agency,” Chiarelli said. “He pounds the pavement for these guys. We’re in on all these guys. When you have a guy who has played a thousand games in the league talking about the character of our organization -- Donnie is right at the top of the list when it comes to that.”
There are currently two GM openings: in Washington and Vancouver. Late Wednesday night, TSN first reported that John Tortorella will be fired as coach of the Canucks, which creates an interesting situation.
Playoffs teams like the Bruins aren’t necessarily going to let their assistant GMs leave in the middle of a playoff hunt, or even before the draft. So the timeline on hiring a GM could be different than hiring a coach if franchises with vacancies want to get a jump on a good pool of coaches.