Vulgar Statistics: Anyone Can GM A Stanley Cup Winner
Yesterday evening I challenged a week-old tweet (whose sentiment had resurfaced) by Jeremy White where he proudly exclaimed that he didn’t care who the next GM was and that the top pick was all that mattered. I expected him to deny that he said it, or to claim he was misunderstood (I even had a great “well then the professional articulater should articulate better” retort), but nope, he clung to the notion like glue. In fact, he expanded upon it saying that even he or I could win a Stanley Cup with top picks. (Note that he didn’t go into any more detail on this particular point so in a very severe scenario like having picks #1-#5 for ten straight years, it might be true. Although you’re still going to reach a point where who you sign and what you sign them to matters a lot so you’re still probably boned.)
Maybe his argument is that he wants the deck as stacked as possible for the new GM, who may or may not be an idiot, and that top picks certainly make it easier to win. But you can make that point without saying that you don’t care who the GM is, or insinuating that it doesn’t matter at all. Anyway…
With some shallow digging I counted 15 out of 45 #1 picks from 1963 to 2007 that won Stanley Cups (some of them multiple cups) which would seem to suggest that the ultimate success is not as simple as picking at the top. (Surprise!) Since so much of a GM’s job now is assembling the best team possible within the constraints of the salary cap, it probably really only makes sense to look at the cap era, that being 2005-present, and since it’s tough to judge recent draft classes, better make it 2005-2010, and top 5 picks only. Here’s what you have:
- Seven players won 9 cups post-2005 (Crosby, Ryan, J. Staal, Toews, Toews, Kane, Kane, Doughty, and Seguin), and yes I know there weren’t 9 years in that timeframe, I decided to count player-cups instead of total cups. Someone call Anna Kendrick.
- Six of those cups were won with the GM that drafted them (Ryan with Burke, J. Staal with Shero, Toews and Kane with Tallon, Doughty with Lombardi, and Seguin with Chiarelli). Crosby was drafted by Craig Patrick and Dale Tallon only won one cup with Chicago. This is “GM is just as, if not more important than simply picking high Exhibit A“
- Those GMs themselves have won 15 Cups total over their tenure, 19 if you count their time as Assistant GMs. (Maybe I shouldn’t have counted Pre-cap cups. More on that next.) This is Exhibit B.
- Those GMs won 12 cups post-2005. Jim Rutherford drafted Jack Johnson, won cup with Carolina without him. Peter Chiarelli drafted Phil Kessel, won a cup without him. Dean Lombardi drafted Thomas Hickey, won a cup without him. Brian Burke drafted Luke Schenn, Dean Lombardi drafted Brayden Schenn, Dale Tallon drafted Erik Gudbranson…….you get the idea. Those GM’s aren’t winning cups because they’re picking high, they’re winning cups because they’re good GMs (and because they picked high, it doesn’t have to be one or the other, I just framed it that way to White to see where his head was at). This is Exhibit C.
Obviously playing within such a small timeframe produces some problems, particularly in having such a small sample size and in forcing you to wonder how much less of a factor (if at all) GM talent played into cup winning pre-salary cap. And some of those players may yet go on to win Stanley Cups changing the numbers above. However (and it’s worth nothing for many of the players above that have already won cups), at that point contract negotiations are still a major factor. Chicago didn’t win a cup just because they drafted Kane at #1 one year and Toews at #3 another, they won a cup because Kane and Toews and Sharp and Hossa count for less than $24M against the cap combined allowing them a great deal of freedom with the rest of their roster.
It’s also worth noting that Pittsburgh didn’t win a cup just because they picked high. They won a cup because they too had a deep roster, and because Malkin and Fleury had playoff performances they’ll likely never repeat. If you want to be a contender for an extended period of time, you need to have things that help you win hockey games that are sustainable and repeatable. Players playing out of their minds is not sustainable and repeatable. (Hello 2006 Carolina Hurricanes who’ve been a tire fire since.) A GM that can consistently sign good players to good contracts is. The former gets you Pittsburgh and the latter gets you Detroit. As much as I hate the Red Wings, I would much rather have their body of work than Pittsburgh’s.