Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
Author’s Note: The term “Silver Blackberry” originated when I was discussing various NHL Awards with a couple of friends after last season. We decided that since none of us could remember exactly what the GM of the Year award looked like, they should give out a Silver Blackberry. It would look pretty cool on a mantle, wouldn’t it?
Up until last season, one of the most overlooked positions in all of hockey wasn’t one that could be found on the ice, but instead one that could be found behind a desk. NHL general managers have always been an important component of a team’s success, but last season was the first time that there was an award dedicated to honoring those that did their job the best. Don Maloney won the inaugural award for his work on turning around the Phoenix Coyotes last year, and this year’s crop brings many accomplishments to the table, both in their careers and just this particular season.
As will be the case for all of the major awards, there will be plenty of talk about who should win, so we’ll just go ahead and ask the question: who should take home the Silver Blackberry this season?
Mike Gillis, Vancouver Canucks
It’s hard to argue against Gillis’ credentials for this award. The team he assembled won 50 games for the first time in franchise history, won the President’s Trophy for having the best record in the league, and managed to overcome a slew of injuries to some top defensive talent to get that top mark.
Gillis is definitely one of the guys in the running for the award that is there not only because of his success with the team this year but because of what he’s done throughout his tenure in Vancouver. He brought in key players like Mikael Samuelsson and Dan Hamhuis, and he also re-signed a lot of the key components of the Canucks, including the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, and Alex Burrows. His fingerprints are evident all over this team, and their success this season can certainly be attributed to the work that Gillis has done.
Key Move of the Season:
To find the signature move that Gillis made this season, you have to go all the way back to July 1st. On the opening day of free agency, Gillis inked both Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra to contracts, and in the process bolstered a defensive group that would eventually help the team to their stellar campaign.
David Poile, Nashville Predators
The only GM that the Predators have ever had, Poile has made his mark on the franchise by helping put competitive teams on the ice while dealing with a shoestring budget. He has been one of the shrewdest drafters in the league by picking guys like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to man the blue line, and he made a very smart decision in the off-season by keeping Pekka Rinne (who was an 8th round pick in 2004) as the team’s primary net-minder and sending former number one keeper Dan Ellis to Tampa Bay.
One of the biggest tests of Poile’s career will occur during the off-season as he attempts to re-sign Weber to a long-term deal. While that certainly won’t play into whether or not he will pick up this award, it is a perfect microcosm of the challenges that he has faced while at the helm of this team’s front office. Along with Barry Trotz he has constructed a team that may finally get over the hump of winning a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, and that would be a testament to the job he has done in his decade-plus in the Music City.
Key Move of the Season:
Poile’s best move came in the weeks before the trade deadline when he acquired Mike Fisher from the Ottawa Senators. Fisher was a solid offensive weapon down the stretch for the Predators, and he has made a big impact so far in the Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring three goals and adding two assists in the team’s first three games.
Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Undoubtedly one of the biggest moves made during this off-season wasn’t one that occurred on the ice but instead happened in a team’s front office. The move by the Lightning to hire Yzerman was met with a lot of acclaim by those in hockey circles, and he immediately went to work in putting his stamp on the club. In June he hired Guy Boucher (a likely Adams contender) to coach the team, and he also acquired several key pieces, including Simon Gagne from the Flyers. To top it all off, he re-signed Martin St. Louis to a new four year contract, and he responded by having a Hart-caliber season for the Bolts.
For a team in transition in multiple areas, Yzerman certainly has done some great work very quickly. He has surrounded youngsters like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman with some very talented players, and he has transformed the Lightning from afterthought to contender very quickly.
Key Move of the Season:
One of Yzerman’s only missteps this off-season was counting on Mike Smith and Dan Ellis to give the team some stability in net, but that backfired as the team was among the league’s worst in goals allowed. Yzerman fixed that issue on New Year’s Day when he acquired Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders. He has been very solid for them and helped them get the fifth seed in the East.
And the Winner Is:
Yzerman and Poile definitely made strong cases for the award, but the Silver Blackberry should go to Gillis. He may not have made any Earth-shattering moves, but the team he has constructed came back from back-to-back playoff disappointments and had the best season of any squad in the league. Underdog stories are always appreciated when it comes to NHL awards (just look at Maloney winning last year and Dave Tippett winning the Adams in 2010), but in this instance, the best team has to be honored.