The NHL’s GM Award enters its third season of existence. Don Maloney of the Phoenix Coyotes won the inaugural award in June 2010, followed by Mike Gillis of the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. What makes this award unique is that you can’t look only at a 12-month period in evaluating a GM. I believe Gillis, for example, was rewarded for the work he did in building a contender -- work that took a few years. With that in mind, this week in ESPN.com’s Trophy Tracker installment, I take a look at the early candidates through the 10 opening weeks of 2011-12 while incorporating moves over the past few years that have made these GMs candidates:
1. Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota Wild
After three straight seasons out of the playoffs, Fletcher acted with gusto. He made a coaching change and a few blockbuster trades to give the franchise the kind of bolt it needed. He has also patiently overseen the restocking of prospects to restore the organization’s depth. The surprising Wild are first in the overall NHL standings one week into December, and the GM is a big reason why. His bold moves in the offseason are paying off.
2. Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers
Someone has to tell Tallon he doesn’t get paid by the transaction. He’s turned over more than two-thirds of his entire roster since taking the helm of the Panthers in May 2010. This includes another busy offseason over the summer when he changed half his team. Among his inspiring moves, he signed Tomas Fleischmann and acquired Kris Versteeg -- and both are flourishing on the top line this season. But the big picture is Tallon’s loading up with draft picks over the past two years. The future is bright in South Florida, both short term and long term. Almost nobody envisioned this team leading the Southeast Division come Dec. 7, let alone sitting just two points out of the conference lead.
3. Peter Chiarelli, Boston Bruins
This Stanley Cup champion GM did not have to blow up his roster after winning it all. That’s because he carefully planned ahead and deftly handled his salary-cap situation to ensure that his team could contend again not only this season but also for years to come. The Bruins have more than $3 million in cap room that they can still use this season, and that’s with Marc Savard’s $4 million salary still counting against the cap. Chiarelli didn’t get nearly as much credit as he should have for winning the Cup last spring. Maybe he’ll get it this season in the form of the NHL’s GM Award.
4. Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs
Like Tallon in Florida, Burke and his right-hand man, Dave Nonis, have been busy making wholesale changes to this roster since taking over three years ago. Some of those moves are beginning to bear fruit, particularly getting Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner from Anaheim last February. And, of course, the Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie acquisitions from Calgary in January 2010 remain one of the biggest fleece jobs of the past several years. All those moves are finally having an impact this season. The surprising Leafs are two points out of the Northeast Division lead one week into December, and few people foresaw that.
5. Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues
Armstrong’s decision to bring in Ken Hitchcock less than a month into the season has proven to be pure brilliance so far -- the Blues have surged to a 9-2-3 record since the coaching change. But Armstrong also had a terrific offseason that helped the Blues get to where they are now. This includes the under-the-radar signing of goalie Brian Elliott, whose superb play is giving the club a terrific 1-2 punch with Jaroslav Halak. I also liked Armstrong’s decision to bring in some experience with the July signings of Scott Nichol, Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Honorable mention: Paul Holmgren, Philadelphia; Ken Holland, Detroit; Don Maloney, Phoenix; Ray Shero, Pittsburgh; Joe Nieuwendyk, Dallas.