Fun fact: Before becoming the remarkably mediocre sportswriter I am now, I was intent on becoming a lawyer.
I have a political science degree and barely-opened LSAT study books to prove it.
Obviously, that did not happen. But one of the main reasons that placed me hot on the path to law school is that my parents always told me, through gritted teeth, that I was very good at arguing.
So, that's what I'm going to do today.
With you lovely readers as the jury, I'm going to select the three leading candidates for the GM of the Year award this season and present a case -- pro bono, of course -- for why each should take home the hardware.
Let's do this, shall we? Court is now in session.
Kyle Dubas - Toronto Maple Leafs
Record: 47-18-6, 100 points, Second in Atlantic Division
Key Offseason Moves: Michael Bunting (2 x $900,00), Ondrej Kase (1, $1.25), David Kampf (2 x $1.5 million), Petr Mrazek (3 x $3.8 million)
Key Midseason Moves: Morgan Rielly (Extension, 8 x $7.5 million), Mark Giordano, Colin Blackwell, Ilya Lyubushkin
Look, everyone makes mistakes. It's how fast you realize that and work to remedy said mistake that separates the good GMs from the bad.
Kyle Dubas is a good GM.
Did the bespectacled executive whiff on handing Nick Ritchie, a player who did not fit the Leafs' uptempo style of play and had just one somewhat decent season under his belt to that point, $2.5 million for two years? Absolutely. And badly. Ritchie stuck out like a sore thumb in Toronto immediately, and, despite being given every conceivable opportunity to succeed in the lineup for 40+ games, simply could not put it together.
Instead of leaving Ritchie to languish in the AHL while taking up valuable cap space, Dubas managed to flip him to the NHL's thrift store in Arizona without retaining salary, and, in the process, upgraded the blueline by a pretty significant margin with the addition of Ily Lyubushkin.
Lyubushkin has been phenomenal since coming to Toronto, bringing with him a physicality and steadiness that seems to be contagious.
Turning a glaring error into a bonafide boon is the work of a GM of the Year candidate.
Nabbing future Calder-winner Michael Bunting for around league min through 2023 is one of the tidier pieces of business in the league. Factor in David Kampf's revelation as the perfect depth center, and Ondrej Kase's pre-injury performance, then, and Dubas put together an offseason for the ages.
Fast forward to the trade deadline, and Dubas followed that up by adding Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell without surrendering a first-round pick or top prospect.
That's on another level.
Bill Zito - Florida Panthers
Record: 51-15-6, 108 points, First in Atlantic Division
Key Offseason Moves: Sam Reinhart (Trade, 3 x $6.5 million), Aleksander Barkov (Extension, 8 x $10 million), Anthony Duclair (Extension, 3 x $3 million), Sam Bennett (Extension, 4 x $4.425 million), Carter Verhaeghe (Extension, 4 x $4.166 million)
Key Midseason Moves: Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot, Robert Hagg
The Panthers are not in Win-Now Mode. They're in If-We-Don't-Win-Now-We're-Royally-Screwed Mode, jettisoning practically their draft capital for the next two years at the trade deadline this year in order to form arguably the deepest team, on paper, in the entire NHL.
Bill Zito is going for it. And, for both the Panthers organization and the sport of hockey, that rules.
Zito's offseason was largely defined by retaining his own talent, which he managed to do a terrific job of, locking up nearly Florida's entire top-six to reasonable long-term deals while adding around the margins to complement them.
Reinhart, in particular, has been a revelation since being freed from the shackles of Buffalo, evolving into the point-per-game player his draft pedigree foresaw him as, and fitting perfectly into the Panthers' high flying offensive attack.
Bennett was another reclamation gamble that paid off in spades, truly making me wonder just what the heck Calgary did to the man during his time there.
Barkov for the next eight years is a win no matter what the dollar figure is (within reason).
And then there's the trade deadline, Zito's version of the clip they play for each actor when announcing the Oscar nominees.
To cultivate the NHL's best offensive team heading into the playoffs and then add Claude Giroux into the mix is so good it's legitimately funny. Doing so at the price Zito paid, surrendering only a first-round pick in 2024 and a 23-year-old prospect the Panthers simply didn't have room for, is downright hilarious, and offsets the overpay for Ben Chiarot somewhat.
Sure, Zito paid a steep price for Chiarot, especially accounting for his pending UFA status and putrid results this season in Montreal. But when you're going for it, sometimes you need to bite the bullet. Barclay Goodrow wasn't worth a first-round pick in 2020, for example, but the Lightning saw him as the missing piece to their roster and paid it anyway.
That worked out pretty well.
Clearly, Zito thinks Chiarot's net-front ability is crucial to his team's postseason success. And if he's right, everyone will be too busy at the Stanley Cup parade to care what he cost.
In terms of improving their own team, no GM did a better job midseason than Zito.
Bill Guerin - Minnesota Wild
Record: 44-21-6, 94 points, Second in Central Division
Key Offseason Moves: Kirill Kaprizov (Extension, 5 x $9 million), Kevin Fiala (Extension, 1 x $5.1 million) Joel Eriksson-Ek (Extension, 8 x $5.25 million), Frederik Gaudreau (2 x $1.2 million),
Key Midseason Moves: Marc-Andre Fleury, Jacob Middleton, Nicolas Deslauriers, Tyson Jost
If we were looking to honor the GM who best laid the ground for their team to contend in 2024, then Guerin would obviously not be included on this list. But the GM of the Year award only recognizes roster improvement this season, not when Zach Parise and Ryan Suter's buyout penalties will be taking up $14 million of the Wild's cap.
Getting those two out of town and off the books, at least for the time being, was a move so very crucial to the Wild's success this season -- not to mention long overdue.
The space vacated in the process allowed Guerin to retain franchise superstar Kirill Kaprizov for the next half-decade, keep key contributors such as Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson-Ek and Jordan Greenway in the fold, and even find one of the NHL's best bargains in Frederik Gaudreau.
The Wild, after years of floating in hockey purgatory with no distinct path, are one of the more electric teams in hockey this season, boasting a dynamic young roster supplemented by key veteran pieces that, unlike in the past, all seem to be rowing in the same direction.
Recognizing goaltending as a potential Achille's heel to his team's playoff success, Guerin spent the deadline adding the reigning Vezina winner, imbuing the Wild's locker room with the immaculate vibes that seem to radiate off of Marc-Andre Fleury wherever he goes.
Whereas Cam Talbot and Kappo Kahkonen formed a middling tandem three weeks ago, Talbot and Fleury give the Wild a formidable duo capable of carrying this team over the hump.
The cap storm is coming. But, for now, Guerin has done one of the better jobs at bolstering his roster for postseason success.