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Evaluating each NHL GM’s path to management after Craig Conroy’s hiring

The NHL has 25 teams in the United States and seven clubs in Canada, so there are only 32 spots available to be a professional hockey general manager. Whether renewing contracts or drafting prospects, the fans and media grade their performance based on the team’s success on the ice.

Eventually, owners and their leadership teams agree that their franchises must move in a new direction, which leads to a change of the guard within upper management. Usually, these openings go to former players turned executives who build their managerial careers in retirement, hoping to return to the NHL. 

At the time of this writing, the only vacant general manager postings are in Toronto and Pittsburgh now that the Calgary Flames have hired former player Craig Conroy. Interestingly, he now joins a small fraternity of players turned executives who have returned to the franchises they once played for. 

Ultimately, when discussing general managers across the league, four distinct categories separate the 32 names on the list, which include leaders running the team they once played for. Then, we have a lengthy list of players with long careers in the NHL who have since transitioned into management. Finally, we have a handful of executives who played professional hockey but outside the NHL and then many general managers with no hockey experience. 

Here is a breakdown of every team’s general manager status, with Stanley Cup champions* identified.

Related: 4 leading candidates for NHL Conn Smythe Trophy, including Sergei Bobrovsky

Six NHL general managers run the team they once played for

NHL: USA TODAY Sports-Archive
Lou Capozzola-USA TODAY Sports

Interestingly, Steve Yzerman is the only player on the list to spend his entire career with one franchise (Detroit Red Wings), guiding the team to three Stanley Cup championships while serving as their captain for 20 years. 

After retiring in 2006, he served as general manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning for eight seasons. Then, he returned home in 2019 and is responsible for bringing the championship back to the Motor City.

  • Don Sweeney (Boston Bruins) 1,115 games
  • Steve Yzerman* (Detroit Red Wings) 1,514 games
  • Rob Blake* (Los Angeles Kings) 1,270 games
  • Chris Drury* (New York Rangers) 892 games
  • Daniel Briere (Philadelphia Flyers) 973 games
  • Mike Grier (San Jose Sharks) 1,060 games
  • Craig Conroy (Calgary Flames) 1,009 games

Ten former NHL players now serve as general managers

NHL: USA TODAY Sports-Archive
Lou Capozzola-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Francis is one of the most decorated players in NHL history, suiting up for 1,731 games and scoring 1,798 points, with both marks ranking fifth all-time. After retirement, the two-time Stanley Cup champion got involved in operations, eventually becoming the Carolina Hurricanes general manager for four seasons. 

Although Francis lost his job in 2018, he didn’t remain on the sidelines for long, becoming the general manager of the expansion Seattle Kraken in July 2019. During the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, he crafted a team that advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in their second season, one of the best turnarounds for a new team in league history. 

  • Pat Verbeek (Anaheim Ducks) 1,424 games
  • Kevyn Adams* (Buffalo Sabres) 540 games
  • Don Waddell (Carolina Hurricanes) one game
  • Jarmo Kekäläinen (Columbus Blue Jackets) 55 games
  • Jim Nill* (Dallas Stars) 524 games
  • Ken Holland* (Edmonton Oilers) four games
  • Bill Guerin* (Minnesota Wild) 1,263 games
  • Tom Fitzgerald* (New Jersey Devils) 1,097 games
  • Ron Francis* (Seattle Kraken) 1,731 games
  • Brian McLellan* (Washington Capitals) 606 games

Related: NHL’s No. 1 overall picks who won a Stanley Cup with their original team

Two NHL GMs have professional hockey experience outside the league

NHL: 2014 NHL Draft
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Although Kevin Cheveldayoff was the 16th overall selection in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, a significant knee injury prevented him from ever suiting up in the league. Interestingly, upon retirement, he got into coaching, winning the Turner Cup in the IHL, before winning two more league titles as general manager.

After winning the Calder Cup (AHL), he joined the Chicago Blackhawks as assistant general manager, earning a Stanley Cup ring in 2010. Shortly after that season, he became the first general manager for the Winnipeg Jets, who relocated back to Canada after years as the Atlanta Thrashers. As of this writing, he is the second longest-tenured general manager in the league, serving in the role since June 8, 2011.

  • Bill Armstrong (Arizona Coyotes) 543 games in AHL/IHL
  • Kevin Cheveldayoff* (Winnipeg Jets) 203 games in AHL/IHL

Related: NHL’s highest-paid players already eliminated from playoff contention, including Connor McDavid

11 NHL GMs have no professional hockey-playing experience

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Lou Lamoriello is one of the most respected executives in NHL history, winning three Stanley Cup championships with the New Jersey Devils. Historically, he got involved in coaching in the late 1960s, eventually becoming Hockey East’s first commissioner. 

Eventually, Lamoriello caught the attention of the Devils, who hired him as team president in 1987, where he would spend the next 28 years molding the franchise into a winner. Considering he was not ready to retire, he served as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs for three years and now serves as president of hockey operations for the New York Islanders.

  • Kyle Davidson (Chicago Blackhawks)
  • Chris MacFarland* (Colorado Avalanche)
  • Bill Zito (Florida Panthers) 
  • Kent Hughes (Montreal Canadiens)
  • Barry Trotz* (Nashville Predators)
  • Lou Lamoriello* (New York Islanders)
  • Pierre Dorion (Ottawa Senators)
  • Doug Armstrong* (St. Louis Blues)
  • Julien BriseBois* (Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • Patrik Allvin (Vancouver Canucks)
  • Kelly McCrimmon (Vegas Golden Knights)

Related: 2023 NHL mock draft: Latest projections after the NHL Draft lottery

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