In the past few weeks, I’ve looked at some prospective General Manager candidates like the Colorado Avalanche’s Assistant GM Craig Billington or TSN analyst Pierre McGuire. Today, I’ll be taking a look at another Western Conference Assistant GM who is drawing considerable praise around the Interwebs.
For years now, the Nashville Predators organization has been credited for its ability to stay competitive in a strong Western Conference despite being burdened with a self-imposed cap limit that is significantly smaller than the NHL’s cap ceiling. They are the hockey equivalent to baseball’s Oakland Athletics – although it should be noted that there’s nothing to suggest that the Predators attribute their success to advanced sabermetric hockey statistics.
Much of Nashville’s success is dependent upon a successful draft record and their ability to cultivate, develop and procure inexpensive talent that can produce at the NHL level. But it has been the organization’s innate ability to find legitimate goaltenders like Dan Ellis, Chris Mason, Tomas Vokoun, Pekka Rinne, Chet Pickard and Anders Lindback that really stands out to me. Considering that Sens fans have waited for almost twenty years for a franchise goalie (note: The Robin Lehner era starts tonight in Long Island. Right now I’m knocking on wood.), it’s easy to look at the list of aforementioned names be a little envious.
By pursuing a mind like Fenton or Billington, The Euge would be getting in on the latest trend that has seen organizations like Columbus (Scott Howson) and Minnesota (Chuck Fletcher) try emulate the success that Pittsburgh and Boston have had hiring young assistant GMs like Ray Shero and Peter Chiarelli.
Such a hire would not be without its inherent risks however. There is that fear of the unknown. It’s not Fenton’s fault that he doesn’t have actually have NHL General Manager experience, nor is it his fault that his organization is unwilling to spend anywhere near the salary cap ceiling but it’s this latter point that really makes me question whether or not Fenton is the best choice for the job.
At the most basic level, Ottawa is not Nashville. Unless the Senators start employing a self-imposed salary cap limit, you cannot replicate the circumstances or expectations that Nashville has. Here in Ottawa, we’re fortunate enough to have an owner who has demonstrated a willingness to spend to the salary cap threshold to put a competitive product on the ice. In Nashville, they aren’t afforded this same luxury. Much of the mystique about the Nashville situation is that on an annual basis, the organization spends little but still manages to make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.
Interestingly, one of the criticisms of the Moneyball philosophy has been that it’s a strategy that hasn’t generated much in terms of postseason success. A simple glance at Nashville’s playoff history paints a similar picture – a career record of 6 wins and 16 losses. Although they have faced perennial powerhouses in the Red Wings and Sharks, in their four postseason experiences, Nashville has failed to win more than two games in any quarterfinal series.
So although Nashville’s track record for maximizing the value of their draft picks, if their front office personnel are not accustomed to spending towards the cap limit, there’s also no guarantee that they can maximize the value of this extra money any better than this current Senators brain-trust. (Note: Maximizing the draft value of their picks is generally accepted as one of the few things that the Bryan Murray regime has done well.)
Ultimately, the biggest concern that I have is that once a new variable like money has been introduced to the Nashville equation, there’s no certainty that Fenton wouldn’t frivolously spend that money on players. Getting back to my Oakland Athletics analogy, the Moneyball phenomenon has caught on and many organizations have plucked GMs from the A’s front office. Names like Paul DePodesta (Los Angeles Dodgers) and JP Ricciardi (Toronto Blue Jays) have struggled when given the reins to their own respective franchises.