There's been a large transformation in Major League Baseball's voting for its Cy Young award - given to each league's top pitcher - in recent years. For a long time, win/loss record would be used as one of the major voting metrics, with winners usually recording at last 18-20 wins and rarely losing more than 10 starts. But Felix Hernandez of the god-awful Mariners winning the American League's award in 2010 with a 13-12 record may have changed that for good.
It seems that a similar change is underway when it comes to Vezina voting in the NHL. Not long ago, the bias towards wins couldn't be more obvious. In 2004, Martin Brodeur won the award with 38 wins over Roberto Luongo who had 25. Brodeur's save percentage that year was .917. Luongo's? .931. Nowadays, such a result would be blasphemous even among the mainstream media - look at how many of them reacted to Brodin's snub this spring - and yet still, this bias pervades another award.
The three finalists for GM of the year in 2013 are the Anaheim's Bob Murray, Pittsburgh's Ray Shero, and Montreal's Marc Bergevin. To be clear, none of the three are bad GMs, and their teams all made the playoffs at least partially as a result of their positive transactions, but it's hardly a coincidence that their teams ranked second, first, and second respectively in their conferences this year. It's easy to choose GMs whose teams are currently experiencing success, but judging general managers by wins and losses is nearly as flawed as doing the same for goalies.
Building a team is a process, one that takes years, and the moves that one made in 2012-2013 may not pay dividends until years later. That said, there are ways to judge general managers, and the award is an acceptable one, but it requires more creativity and insight than the electorate of 30 GMs and a small selection of media members have shown.
The way I see it there are two potential criteria for selection. 1) The General Manager who made the best transactions in that year alone, or 2) The General Manager whose team, at the time of voting, looks in the best shape as a direct result of his moves, past or present.
If one uses criterion no. 1, then the best choice in my mind is Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks. Wilson had every reason in the world - and much backing - to blow up his underperforming team and start fresh with a new core. Instead, he added youth to it and, at the trade deadline, managed to pawn one of the worst possession defensemen in the NHL and a forward with zero goals in 2013 into 3 second-round picks and Raffi Torres, a solid playoff performer and capable top-9 player.
If one decides criterion no. 2 is more to one's liking, then how about Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman? Bowman took a mess of a cap situation left by Dale Tallon, recognized the assets worth keeping, and retooled on the fly. Following last season, skeptics were calling for a complete overhaul, but the younger Bowman stuck to his guns, added some parts, and now his team is by far the best in the NHL.
Personally, I think a combination of the two criteria is the optimal solution, and my vote, without a doubt, would go to New York Islanders GM Garth Snow.
Consider this: The Islanders have the third lowest cap hit in the league this year, at $53 million, and about $12 million of that is being spent on Alexei Yashin, Rick DiPietro, and Tim Thomas. Yes that's right, remember. Snow had to acquire Thomas just so the team could reach the cap floor. The Islanders made the playoffs, earned above-average possession stats, and nearly defeated the "powerhouse" Penguins with $41 million of active cap hit.
Go and look at the Isles' cap geek page. I'll wait. You won't find one bad contract there. John Tavares is a stud locked up at $5.5 million for the next five years. Frans Nielsen is one of the most underrated centers in the league, he makes 2.75. Andrew MacDonald, the best player in the NHL you may have never heard of, is an RFA after making $550,000 next year. Lubomir Visnovsky makes $5.6 million, which might be a little steep, but he's been rejuvenated this year, an irreplaceable piece on a young squad, putting up elite possession numbers.
Speaking of Visnovsky, it wasn't so long ago people were laughing at how nobody wanted to play for the Islanders. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was understandably upset when he signed back in the NHL two years ago. He thought he was going to Detroit for a long playoff run, instead he was claimed off waivers and sent to Long Island. He didn't want to report until Snow convinced him the team was going in the right direction, and that he wasn't going to deal the goaltender. Visnovsky was equally unpleased with being dealt, but somewhere along the line, something changed. We don't know for sure what it was, but chances are Snow played a part. ("But wait!" people yell, "Ray Shero convinced Jarome Iginla to come to Pittsburgh!" I don't think tampering should win you an award, maybe you disagree.)
After two straight seasons finishing last in the Atlantic Division, many GMs would have fired their coach, but Garth Snow stuck with Jack Capuano, and now his coach is a contender for the Jack Adams.
Of course, Snow hasn't been perfect overall. He signed Rick DiPietro to an atrocious contract, although it would be a logical assumption that owner Charles Wang mandated it - after all the previous GM was suspiciously fired after only a month on the job. Snow didn't equip this team with a good enough goaltender, but he also didn't overpay for a Bryzgalov, and as this team's window is just opening, that cap flexibility will allow him to find a capable alternative this offseason.
Marc Bergevin made some good moves this year, but the core of his team was largely in place before his hiring, and he has signed some shady extensions. Bob Murray threw a lot of money at his star players and they took it. If this team is still a Stanley Cup threat (were they even one this year?) a few years down the line, I might give him more praise. Ray Shero added a couple of big-name over-the-hill forwards, but also failed to address his defense (Murray doesn't count).
Arguments could be made for many candidates, but Garth Snow, the guy who jumped from backup goaltender to the front office, is my choice. His team has had a hell of a year, and it should have many more to come. But while others have been throwing money at free agents, he's been building through the draft, and using timely trades and signings to turn a perennial laughing stock into a legitimate contender. That's the mark of a GM of the Year for me.