The Winnipeg Jets’ Kevin Cheveldayoff, Vegas Golden Knights’ George McPhee and Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steve Yzerman have been named finalists for the GM of the Year award, as voted by a panel of league executives and members of the media.
Unlike the league’s other notable awards, the GM of the Year honor isn’t decided following the regular season. Rather, the conclusion of the second round is the cutoff for the top GM honor, which, among other things, allows for a better understanding of how deadline-day moves made by a GM impacted an organization. Thus, it’s no surprise to see three of the four GMs from conference finalist clubs earn the top three spots in voting. None of the three GMs got to this position the same way, though, which should make for an interesting result. And without further ado, here is the case for each finalist:
THE CASE FOR CHEVELDAYOFF
It wouldn’t be apt to call this a lifetime achievement award, but Cheveldayoff’s candidacy is the result of more than just his dealings across the past campaign. Rather, it’s the Jets GM’s entire body of work since arriving in Winnipeg that sees him in the running for the end-of-year honor.
Since landing the job as the architect of this second go-round for Winnipeg in the NHL, Cheveldayoff and his entire staff have been focused on building a sustainable foundation and long-term success through drafting and developing. That paid dividends this season, too, as four of the Jets’ top five scorers were Winnipeg draft choices — Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor — and leading scorer Blake Wheeler is a player who has taken the greatest strides in his development while with the Jets. Over the past several seasons, he’s grown from a capable top-six forward to a legitimate point-per-game scoring threat and consummate leader.
That’s not to say Cheveldayoff didn’t make the moves necessary to boost his team when the time was right. The acquisition of Paul Stastny at the trade deadline provided Winnipeg with additional depth down the middle and helped play a role in the Jets getting past the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in the second round of the post-season. His signing of Dmitry Kulikov provided Winnipeg with more defensive depth during the campaign, and backup Steve Mason, though he’s had a rocky season, has had a hand in helping push Connor Hellebuyck, who is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and another Cheveldayoff draft choice.
THE CASE FOR McPHEE
Win or lose in the first round, second round, third round or Stanley Cup final — heck, miss the playoffs altogether — McPhee had likely punched his ticket to a spot among the GM of the Year finalists by the time the all-star break rolled around and Vegas was in position to lock up a post-season berth. Nothing was expected of these Golden Knights following the expansion draft, yet they have continued to shock the hockey world.
Really, at this point in the campaign, McPhee’s candidacy for the award can basically boil down to four deals he made ahead of the expansion draft. Those moves include accepting a deal to acquire Reilly Smith from Florida and the subsequent expansion draft selection of Jonathan Marchessault, swinging a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets that resulted in the selection of William Karlsson and the agreement to select Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Those four players, particularly the forward line, were the cornerstone of Vegas’ regular season success, and Fleury has been the backbone of the Golden Knights’ playoff run.
Really, though, the entire roster from top to bottom was seemingly picked with a certain play style in mind, because Vegas plays an up-tempo game with a dogged forecheck that is built around team speed. And one aspect of McPhee’s job in Vegas that can’t be overlooked is his hiring of Gerard Gallant. Where the Golden Knights would be without their bench boss, who has now a 147-88-32 record and 12-7 playoff record over his past four seasons as an NHL bench boss, is anyone’s guess. So, yeah, being the GM of the Seattle franchise may truly end up being the worst job in hockey.
THE CASE FOR YZERMAN
Some might look at Yzerman’s candidacy and suggest he didn’t really do all that much to spruce up his roster. After all, a healthy Steven Stamkos truly is the biggest difference between the roster the Lightning iced for much of the season and the Tampa Bay group that failed to earn a post-season berth during the 2016-17 campaign.
Those interested in giving credit where credit is due, however, will note that Yzerman was active enough to earn his place among the league’s top-three GMs. His summer trade of Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev was quite the deal, particularly when considering the 19-year-old defender stepped right out of major junior and into the NHL and went nearly point-for-point with Drouin. Whereas Sergachev scored nine goals and 40 points in 79 games — as a rookie defender, it’s worth reminding — Drouin finished the campaign with 13 goals and 46 points in 77 contests.
Yzerman’s pre-season dealing helped bring the Lightning some success, to be sure, but it’s his deadline-day move that could potentially bring Tampa Bay its second Stanley Cup in franchise history. As the NHL’s trade freeze set in, Yzerman and the Lightning acquired Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller from the New York Rangers, a move to bolster the blueline and top-six, while shipping Vlad Namestnikov, Libor Hajek, Brett Howden and a 2018 first-round selection the other way. There’s also a conditional pick included, one that could become a 2019 first rounder should the Lightning win the Cup this season or next, which seems like a very real possibility.
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