Puck Daddy wrote a piece on the "10 Best GMs of the Last Decade" which is pretty good. I've enjoyed his retrospective series on big stories of the 2000s. My biggest complaint about the list is the omission of David Poile who is nothing short of amazing in terms of contending on a budget. Rather than just complain about Puck Daddy's list, I've decided to come up with a list of my own. I will rank all 30 organizations over the last decade (as opposed to individual GMs) to see which ones were the best managed in that time frame. I will use two criteria 1) salary efficiency and 2) post-season success.
Salary Efficiency Rankings
Every GM competes against every other GM to build a team that can accumulate enough points to qualify for the post-season. The very best organizations get the most for their money. Some organizations bludgeoned their way to the post-season by out-spending the rest of the NHL on a 2-to-1 basis pre-lockout. Other organizations were extremely careful with their money and still qualified for the post-season. I prefer to give credit to those organizations that received the biggest return on their payroll investment. So the first ingredient is regular season salary efficiency which is basically Total Points Accumulated 2000-2010 divided by Total Accumulated Payroll 2000-2010. (For the 2009-2010 season I used projected final point standings and projected final salary numbers from www.capgeek.com).
So which teams have gotten the most for their money? (See the chart below.) The Nashville Predators not only lead this list but have a huge margin over the #2 team. David Poile is simply a master at contending on a small budget (doing it again this year after a rough start). The top three organizations in Wins/Payroll are Predators, Wild and Senators. Most of these teams are clubs that had small payrolls over the last decade. At the bottom are the NY Rangers--which should come to no one's surprise to anyone who followed the team pre-lockout.
Playoff Success Adjustment
Now salary efficiency is just part of the job of a NHL organization. Once you reach the post-season you want to win as many games as possible and putting together a team that wins in the spring also matters a great deal. How should you account for post-season wins? Clearly a post-season win is worth more than a regular season win, but how much more valuable? There is no perfect answer to this question, so I'm just going to copy what Nate Silver did over at Baseball Prospectus a few years ago and count post-season wins as double a regular season win (4 points instead of 2). It is crude perhaps but seems reasonable to me.
First let's look at which organizations racked up the most post-season wins. Cup Winners dominate the top of the list: Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils. Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks, and Pittsburgh Penguins. At the bottom we see three teams which had zero post-season wins in the last decade: Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Now let's see what happens when we include playoffs wins (worth four points, x2 a season win) into our salary efficiency formula. This should provide a bonus to teams with a strong post-season and a penalty for those who were unable to contend on a budget.
The new top 10 includes cup champs Devils, Penguins and Detroit and a few teams that reached the finals (Senators and Flames). But it also includes teams there were extremely well managed in the regular season but came up short in the playoffs like the Predators, Sharks, Sabres, Wild and Canucks. Personally, I think this is a pretty accurate list of well managed organizations over the last decade. It also suggests to me that the Ottawa Senators and the Nashville Predators organizations have probably been under-rated because of their lack of post-season wins.
Who sits at the bottom? Teams that spend a lot of money and fail to win in both the regular season or post-season. In light of the cash expended the Rangers, Leafs, Blackhawks, Leafs, Capitals don't have much to show for it. Then there are the plain old terrible teams like the Blue Jackets and Panthers, Islanders. This part also passes the smell test for me. Some of these teams received a lot of attention because they threw money at problems while more efficient teams flew under the radar. Thrasher fans might wonder why Atlanta doesn't fall into the bottom 10 with 0 playoff wins? The answer is incredibly small payrolls back when Time/Warner/AOL owned the team--the Thrashers actually got some decent "bang-for-the-buck" when they were only spending $18-22 million on payroll before the lockout.
Perhaps I should have made playoff wins worth even more. If they are valued at 3 times a regular season win (worth 6 points each) Carolina sneaks into the top 10 and Calgary falls out. The Devils move up into a tie with Ottawa, and the Thrashers slip down into the bottom third of the rankings (21st) while the Leafs climb into the middle third. Not a huge change but a few modest shifts result.
This organizational ranking is far from perfect. I have tried to anchor this evaluation in more objective data analysis rather than simply give my own personal impression.