Back on March 31st, 2008, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News released these GM rankings. The biggest “eye-catcher” on the list was, of course, Kevin Lowe ranked as the second worst GM in the entire NHL. Well, isn’t it amazing what a little time can do? If these rankings were to be repeated again within the next month, I am pretty sure Lowe wouldn’t be ranked number 29 by THN. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’d probably be amongst the top 15 GMs in hockey.
Now, did Lowe suddenly become a much better GM? Or, was he judged far too harshly on decisions that did not end up being as bad as some originally thought? I would tend to lean towards the latter far more than the former. The fact is, that Lowe is the GM of one of the more up-and-coming teams in the NHL. With a core built around Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Tom Gilbert and a number of other significant young players, the Oilers are a team that is built to contend, not only for the Northwest Division now but, for the foreseeable future.
This is why it is imperative not to rush to judgment on many moves made by managers across the league. When the Oilers traded Ryan Smyth to the Islanders, they were criticized for being cheap and unwilling to cough up the necessary dollars to keep number 94. However, by trading Smyth, they saved themselves a lot of money that would have been spent on a player who has almost certainly already seen his best scoring days. That is not to say Smyth won’t be a productive player for Colorado, but the Oilers saved the long-term salary cap space plus the team received three assets in return (namely Robert Nilsson). Does that trade look so horrible now?
That was not Lowe’s only smart move. He also astutely signed Mathieu Garon to a two-year contract, when most GMs would not have been willing to give him more than one. Garon proved to be an important piece of the puzzle last season at a reasonable salary of $1.2 million and will be under contract next season at a incredibly cheap $1.0 million. Not such a dumb GM huh?
Another transaction that did not garner much attention at the time (aside from the Oilers blogosphere) was the trade of Marc-Andre Bergeron and a third round pick to NYI for Dennis Grebeshkov. Not long after acquiring Bergeron, the Isles dealt him to the Ducks and then the Ducks let him walk to Minnesota. Meanwhile, Grebeshekov finished the season in Edmonton playing meaningful minutes for the team down the stretch and is now seen as a fairly important piece of the team’s defense moving forward.
That is not to say all of Lowe’s decisions have turned out well. His acquisition of Dustin Penner can be criticized because he had to give up draft picks and then overpaid Penner. But at least the big winger is entering his prime and has room for improvement. Lowe didn’t give big money to a player for what he had done, but rather what he could possibly do. And while the Penner decision is the move for which he received the most criticism, the Sheldon Souray signing may be the one he thinks about most.
All the moves we have examined so far were completed prior to THN’s rankings. So, the point has to be made that sometimes you need to have patience before immediately criticizing a GM for what you may deem to be questionable moves. In the end, Lowe’s work wasn’t the second-worst in the league and since the 2007/08 season ended, many critics have commended Lowe on his 2008 off-season work.
That is sure high praise for someone deemed to be second-to-last at his job only a few months ago.
For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.