Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s brand new daily bulletin, covering all the latest news in the NHL and highlighting the content you need in your lives.
On today’s Inside The Box we’re going to take an early look at the main contenders for the 2020-21 Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award with the new NHL season starting on Wednesday.
New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello, who is one of the best to have ever done it, won the honor last year after transforming the Isles into a team that made a run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019-20.
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But who is best placed to win the Award in 2020-21?
Lamoriello will no doubt be in the running again and we’re going to take a look at the other executives who could be crowned the best General Manager in the National Hockey League at the end of the 2020-21 season.
Let’s delve right in…
Lou Lamoriello, New York Islanders
We’ll start with last year’s winner and could Lou Lamoriello win the Award for the second consecutive year?
I mean, it is entirely possible and feasible given that Lamoriello has pretty much rewritten the blueprint when it comes to how to be a General Manager in the NHL, and he has turned around the fortunes of the New York Islanders.
A laughing stock of a franchise not that long ago, the Islanders are now a respected and incredibly well-run organization, and they are on the cusp of moving into a state-of-the-art arena at Belmont.
Then, when it comes to the on-ice product, the Islanders can now be considered a legit contender thanks to the savvy roster construction put in place by Lamoriello, coupled with the brilliance of Head Coach Barry Trotz.
Granted, the Islanders aren’t always a lot of fun to watch but, with two impressive postseason runs in as many years, does it really matter if they aren’t the most fluid, mouthwatering team in the league?
It won’t to Lamoriello if he gets another Stanley Cup ring to add to his collection and, being someone who has always gone for substance over style, that is just how he builds his teams and he has a Head Coach in Trotz who preaches from the same gospel too, so it is a match made in heaven.
And, after finally re-signing star forward Mat Barzal to a new contract on Saturday, the New York Islanders are setup to be competitive again and their meat-and-potatoes-style of hockey could actually flourish in a 56-game shortened season, while it is built for postseason hockey so expect another deep run from this team and expect Lou Lamoriello to be among the frontrunners for the GM of the Year again too.
Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche
Is Joe Sakic the best General Manager in the National Hockey League right now?
There is a strong argument to be made that Sakic is indeed the best in the business as of right now, and that argument could only get stronger over the course of the 2020-21 NHL season.
For instance, not just satisfied with carving out a Hall of Fame career as a player with two Stanley Cups, Sakic is now attempting to create a dynasty with the Colorado Avalanche.
Constructing an elite roster around franchise cornerstone and superstar center Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche boast a young and very exciting core that can compete for years to come.
A lot of that is down to Sakic’s savy and genius in the NHL Entry Draft, where he has developed a reputation for not only selecting high-end studs and developing them, but also unearthing unpolished gems and turning them into elite NHL players, coupled with his brilliance in Free Agency and via the trade market too.
His fingerprints are all over this current Avs roster, from MacKinnon to Gabriel Landeskog to Mikko Rantanen to 2019-20 Calder Trophy winner Cale Makar, and there is also a new wave of talent set to take the NHL by storm for Colorado in 2020-21 in defensemen Conor Timmins and Bowen Byram and forward Martin Kaut.
Those high-end studs will only add to what is already a team on the cusp of greatness in the NHL and, if they can go all the way and win what could be the first of many Stanley Cups, then expect Joe Sakic to get the recognition he deserves at the end of the season.
Julien BriseBois, Tampa Bay Lightning
Maybe he didn’t win the General Manager of the Year Award in 2019-20 despite his team winning the Stanley Cup because, frankly, the 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning team had former GM Steve Yzerman‘s fingertips all over it.
However, if the Lightning are able to repeat as champions in 2020-21, then Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois will deserve his due.
After all, despite going into the offseason facing the stark reality that he may have had to break up this core due to salary cap constraints and the $81.5 million flat cap, BriseBois somehow worked some cap sorcery to keep the gang together.
Yes, Kevin Shattenkirk was allowed to walk in Free Agency and sign with the Anaheim Ducks and, yes, superstar forward Nikita Kucherov going on the LTIR certainly helped too, but BriseBois made a plethora of clever moves and trades that allowed him to re-sign franchise cornerstones in the ilk of defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and forward Anthony Cirelli while retaining veteran center Tyler Johnson and getting cap compliant.
So, with all the pieces back in place and with a fully-healthy Steven Stamkos, coupled with the fact that Kucherov could be back for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, don’t be surprised if the Tampa Bay Lightning defend their crown in 2020-21 and, if they do, Julien BriseBois should get his due for creating an absolute juggernaut.
Kelly McCrimmon, Vegas Golden Knights
Similar to Julien BriseBois with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights General Manager Kelly McCrimmon has benefitted largely from his predecessor’s work, with now President of Hockey Operations George McPhee putting together one hell of a team in Sin City from Day One.
However, McCrimmon has proven already in his short time in the top job that he’s not afraid to make ruthless moves, firing popular and hugely successful Head Coach Gerard Gallant and replacing him with Pete DeBoer, who was previously behind the bench for loathed rivals the San Jose Sharks.
McCrimmon then went all out at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline and acquired an elite goaltender in Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks, despite already having one of those on the roster in future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury.
Then, if those moves weren’t enough to prove that McCrimmon was in no mood to mess around, he risked upsetting a number of Vegas’ core during the offseason when he tried to move whatever piece he could in order to land elite defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in Free Agency, with original member of the “Golden Misfits” Nate Schmidt the unlucky one to make way.
Now with an absolute horse on the backend in Pietrangelo, the Vegas Golden Knights will be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2020-21, and don’t be surprised to see Kelly McCrimmon make another big move at the Trade Deadline in order to ensure his team goes all the way this year.
Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens
It is fair to say that Marc Bergevin has shared somewhat of a bit of a love / hate relationship with Montreal fans in recent years due to his inability to put a winning team out on the ice.
However, all that could change in 2020-21.
After making some trades to acquire high-end prospects in the ilk of Nick Suzuki, in addition to finally hitting in the Draft himself with the likes of Alexander Romanov and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Bergevin is putting together an exciting young core in place in Montreal.
But, with elite goaltender Carey Price still on the roster, the will to win now is still there and, as such, Bergevin was aggressive during the offseason and completely retooled this roster.
He opted to make the Canadiens a stronger, bigger and tougher team to play against, adding size, grit, snarl and tenacity with forwards like Josh Anderson, Corey Perry and defenseman Joel Edmundson, while acquiring a scoring punch in winger Tyler Toffoli.
With a roster built on size, skill and speed, the Montreal Canadiens could emerge as one of the best teams in the North Division and embark on a deep postseason run and, if they do just that, then there is no doubt that Marc Bergevin will fully deserve the 2020-21 Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award.
We will return with our Three Stars on Monday but, for now, there’s some things you should read on this Sunday.
Finally, planning on playing Fantasy Hockey in 2020-21? Well, if you are, then the Colorado Avalanche look to be the best fantasy team in the NHL right now.