The 2016-17 NHL season is coming to a close and what better way to cap off the year by taking a look at the front runners for the NHL Award winners? The Awards ceremony, held in Las Vegas, does not take place until after the Stanley Cup has been hoisted, but there is no harm in getting our predictions in now.
The GM of the Year is awarded annually to the National Hockey League’s general manager who has been judged to have the greatest impact to his team’s success. There are multiple worthy candidates, but these stand out among the rest.
Predictions for the 2016-17 NHL GM of the Year
Fletcher has made some very understated, but smart, moves to put the Minnesota Wild in the position they are currently in. At one point in the season they were challenging to be atop the NHL standings, and while that is a dream long gone, they have been one of the biggest success stories of the 2016-17 season.
The first extremely smart move that Fletcher made was by hiring Bruce Boudreau as the head coach of the Wild. Boudreau is widely held as a top-notch NHL coach, and he has proven just that this season with the Wild. Minnesota has clinched a Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance due to the hiring of Boudreau and the signings they made in the off-season.
On top of the fantastic hiring of Boudreau, the Wild and Fletcher have made some great roster moves to improve their depth throughout the last year. Among those are the signings of Eric Staal, who the Wild signed to a three-year/$10.5 million contract before the season. Staal has made good on that relatively cheap contract and has 15 power play points, and 64 total points on the season. This was just one of the multiple great signings Fletcher made, and that’s exactly why he is in the NHL GM of the Year conversation.
It wasn’t long ago that management was a problem for the Toronto Maple Leafs, how times have changed. There can be criticisms to Lamoriello and his decisions for depth players, but overall he deserves his fair share of credit for the turn around the Leafs have experienced this season, resulting in their first playoff appearance in four years.
A great move that Lamoriello and the Leafs made was acquiring goaltender Frederik Andersen. While Andersen hasn’t exactly been elite, he can be credited with shoring up the former worries of whether or not someone would stop a puck. And with a good team in front of him, Andersen has done just that.
The main argument against Lamoriello for GM of the Year has been his questionable moves in the depth of the roster. A big contract for Matt Martin, and acquisitions like Ben Smith have gotten some criticism. While this hasn’t hurt the Leafs too significantly, it has left many scratching their heads from time to time. All of these factors have Lamoriello as a candidate for NHL GM of the Year, just not coming out the winner of the award.
Kekalainen has done quite the job in turning an organization that has been a perpetual bottom dweller since coming into the league. The hiring of current head coach John Tortorella, while widely criticized, has turned out to be one of the best decisions the Columbus Blue Jackets organization has made in the last two years. The players have responded to his style of coaching, and his ability to coach the incoming youth has been pivotal to the depth of the squad.
On top of good personnel hiring decisions, Kekalainen has done a fantastic job in drafting, and not just in the first round. Some of the most important players on the Blue Jackets roster this season have been Columbus draft picks under Kekalainen, which is not at all surprising, given the scouting reputation Kekalainen has made for himself. Players like Josh Anderson (95th overall, 2012), Lukas Sedlak (158th overall, 2011), and Calder Trophy hopeful Zach Werenski are just a few of the Kekalainen-era draft choices that have made a massive impact this season.
While much of this fantastic season in Columbus can be attributed to the Vezina-esque play of Sergei Bobrovsky, Kekalainen deserves credit for the moves the team has made. It is because of the drafting, the faith in young players, the personnel hirings, and multiple other moves that see Kekalainen as the predicted winner of the NHL GM of the Year.