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NHL General Manager of the Year: Why Paul Holmgren deserved to be a finalist

"Tallon? Seriously? Cripes."
"Tallon? Seriously? Cripes."

General Manager of the year is a strange award.

For a trophy like the Vezina or Hart, it's clearly about who did the best this year; players who have had strong careers may get a little extra bonus in some voters' minds, but they are still judged predominantly on their actions from this year.

But a general manager's impact is often spread over multiple years. David Poile has been nominated every year, and it's not because he has made incredible moves every year -- I'm pretty sure last year's nomination wasn't an award for acquiring Jamie Lundmark, Ryan Parent, and Aaron Johnson.

Poile gets nominated every year because every year the Predators have finished with at least 99 points despite having a bottom-10 payroll. That certainly is impressive, and at some point he will probably win the award. After bolstering the team with a flurry of in-season moves, I would guess that this will be the year. But when eight of the nine nominees have been from teams with lower-tier payrolls, the award is in danger of becoming a Moneypuck consolation prize rather than a recognition of which GM actually made the moves that did the most for the team that year.

I don't like that. The question voters ask themselves shouldn't be who did the most with the least; it should be who did the most, period (or maybe question mark).

Given how the voters have clearly established a precedent, I can't quite call the omission of Paul Holmgren from the list a snub, but no other GM reshaped his franchise so dramatically or successfully this year.

This isn't easy for me to write. I'm not a big Holmgren fan, and I still don't like some of the moves he made. But there's no question that his impact on this year's team was enormous. Let's go through the significant moves he made this year:

  • Signed Matt Read as a free agent. Read scored 24 goals for the Flyers as a rookie this year.
  • Traded a third-round pick for Ilya Bryzgalov, signed to a 9-year, $51M deal. I didn't like this at the time and I think it still has to be graded as a loss for Holmgren, but Bryzgalov did play some great hockey down the stretch and we know the potential is there for this to pay dividends.
  • Traded Jeff Carter for Jakub Voracek, a 2011 first-round pick, and a 2011 third-round pick. The Flyers got lucky on draft day, but this move would be reasonable even if they had to settle for Dougie Hamilton, and they put themselves in position to have a future star fall to them.
  • Traded Mike Richards for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and a 2012 second-round pick. Simmonds scored 28 goals this year without a particularly high shooting percentage. Holmgren gets full credit for identifying a player who could contribute more than his old team was getting from him. This trade can't be scored as a win until/unless Schenn develops into an upper-tier player in his own right, but for the current year the $2.3M of cap space saved easily makes up for the loss of Richards' defense.
  • Signed Jaromir Jagr to a one-year, $3.3M deal. We projected him to be a 20-goal, 60-point player over a full season; he missed a few games, but his 82-game pace was 21 goals and 61 points. That production alone is worth more than $3.3M, and when you add in the anguish in Pittsburgh, the off-ice hilarity, and the Masterton-worthy focus and commitment, this has to be seen as a great move.
  • Signed Max Talbot to a five-year, $8.75M deal. This seems like a lot to commit to a grinder, so I have mixed feelings about this move for the long run, but he pairs well with Sean Couturier on a shutdown line and scored 19 goals this year. I doubt he'll repeat his 16.5% shooting percentage any time soon, but there's no question that this signing worked out well for them this year.
  • Didn't sign Ville Leino. This is clearly a win.
  • Traded a 2012 second-round pick and a 2013 third-round pick for Nicklas Grossmann. Rentals make me nervous in general, but Grossmann has been solid, filled a position of need, and signed an extension at a reasonable price. This move helped the team.
  • Traded a future second-round pick and a 2013 fourth-round pick for Pavel Kubina. Kubina hasn't been nearly as useful as Grossmann, so this one looks like a loss. Not a Bryzgalov humangous-big problem, but it counts against him.

It wasn't a perfect year. The Bryzgalov contract and the Kubina move don't look great, and there are several minor moves that were frustrating but didn't hurt the team this year (having to release or waive guys like Joonas Lehtivuori, Blair Betts, and Andreas Nodl to make room for free agents like Jason Bacashihua; giving James van Riemsdyk an unnecessarily risky extension; picking Derek Mathers over Tomas Hyka because they seemingly didn't realize until BSH wrote about it that Hyka couldn't be signed as a free agent).

But despite my distaste for his overall approach, I have to admit that Holmgren's series of dramatic moves this year was generally successful. Compared to Dale Tallon improving Florida's goal differential from -34 to -24 by adding $8.8M of payroll, I have to think Holmgren was worthy of a nomination.