Top 10 GM candidates for this offseason

Updated: April 17, 2013, 12:10 PM ET
By Craig Custance

When the Oilers announced that Craig MacTavish was replacing Steve Tambellini as the new GM this week, it wasn't really surprising. The Oilers like to keep things in the circle and MacTavish is a good hockey man.

But there were some Edmonton fans who would have liked to at least see the search expand beyond the immediate family. Maybe wait and see if Phoenix GM Don Maloney, who could be the most interesting free agent this summer, opts to leave the Coyotes when his contract expires.

Or as Scott Burnside noted in his post-firing Oilers column, there are talented assistant general managers in other organizations just waiting for a promotion. Probably better prepared for the job, too.

The league is filled with successful general managers who paid similar dues as assistants. Ray Shero was an assistant GM in Nashville and Ottawa for 14 years before transforming the Penguins. Chicago's Stan Bowman had the family pedigree when he was hired but also learned under Dale Tallon as an assistant GM with the Blackhawks.

Two of the best recent GM hires came through the assistant GM route in Montreal's Marc Bergevin and Minnesota's Chuck Fletcher.

Really, it's the most proven way to build a stable, successful franchise.

With that in mind, here's a look at 10 assistant GMs ready to run their own teams for the first time:

1. Jim Nill, Red Wings
In February, colleague Pierre LeBrun reported that Nill's contract includes a six-week out window in which he can leave the Red Wings starting this offseason. The bit of flexibility in his personal services contract with the Ilitch family is something rebuilding teams should take advantage of in the summer. There's not an NHL executive more prepared and ready to run his own team than Nill. He has encyclopedia-like knowledge of every young player already in the NHL or on the way in the next few seasons and the Red Wings' ability to stay competitive without the assistance of first-round picks near the top of the draft is a credit to his ability to identify and develop talent.

"He's got tremendous gut instincts based upon his playing day career and 20ish years of player assessment," wrote Red Wings GM Ken Holland in an email. And there's not a more quality individual in the league than Nill. "He treats people and the game with respect," Holland said. Detroit's CBA expert and salary-cap manager Ryan Martin is another strong mind who deserves consideration, especially with his background on the other side of the table when he worked as an agent with Kurt Overhardt.