Ken Holland was the most popular answer, followed by Lou Lamoriello (Devils), Doug Wilson (Sharks) and Brian Burke (Toronto), among others. Because there's been so much focus on Burke over the past week, we needn't bother going over that again here.
Let's take a look at other GMs:
RickPlaysStick: Brian Burke is the Media darling/quote machine, however the number one GM is Ken Holland of the Red Wings. He manages to put a top notch team on the ice year after year. The organization develops and scouts great talent. He hires great people. I am still wishing my Ducks had been able to keep Mike Babcock. Ken is the man!
bektastic: No doubt Holland in Detroit. Top to bottom, the Wings are possibly the best-run franchise in all of sports. Pre-cap, post-cap, free agency, drafting, scouting, you name it. There are a lot of other good candidates over three-to-five year spans, but Detroit has been a rock for over twenty straight.
MSUlion: the question should be who is the second best gm because number one is hands down ken holland. he guided the wings' dynasty through the loss of their captain, coach, and many goalies without missing a step. Now they're back on top without going through the usual 2-3 years of terribleness while rebuilding. awesome job, kenny. thanks for all the cups.
My take: I have long held the belief that Holland was among the best, if not the best GM in the league, but what's interesting to see is how some fans and media have really, really grown to respect the man after the Wings continued to win despite a salary cap. What the rest of the world discovered post-lockout is Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill are a lot more than distributors of Mike Ilitch's pizza money. The Wings draft like nobody's business, but pro scout just as well. Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson were available to the other 29 teams. Four Stanley Cups in the past 11 years. Enough said.
fincognito: No brainer. Lou Lamoriello, Hands Down. Even though the Devils play a defensive system and can't score goals and attendance isn't much like the other NHL teams, he has crafted a very competitive team. He puts players on the ice that fit into the NJ Devils organization and system. The farm system is one of the best in the league. He is very knowledgeable when it comes to the trade deadlines. He is also excellent at discovering talent across the pond. Rafalski, Oduya, & Salmela. Finally, there is no one better during the draft. Daneyko, MacLean, Driver, Brodeur, Rolston, Gomez, Niedermayer, White, Martin, Parise, Zajac, Elias, etc. The list goes on and on. He is simply the best!
Kaesmannevl: With out a doubt, it's Lou Lamoriello. New Jersey is competitive year after year and always makes the playoffs. You may say that the Devils are a "system" team, but Lou always finds the right players to put into that "system."
jerseypollack: Umm ... is it even a question? Lou, duh. The man's been stellar for New Jersey, there's no debate required.
My take: Lou's three Cup rings are enough evidence to his brilliance, but what I love the most about the way he does things is how clean and structured his organization has always been. There'd be no Sean Avery on this team.
It must be said, however, that Lamoriello appeared to struggle only slightly at the onset of the new salary-cap environment after the lockout. Liberalized free agency saw him suddenly needing to battle other teams to keep Scott Niedermayer, who chose to follow his brother to Anaheim. The signings of Vladimir Malakhov and Alexander Mogilny were ill-advised and put the Devils into cap problems.
But like the great GM he is, Lamoriello figured this new CBA out, and today, the Devils remain a playoff-bound team year after year despite free-agent defections and this season's massive injuries, including goalie Martin Brodeur.
sbrhwkp3: Darcy Regier. It's easy to be a GM in a city where you can spend a lot of money. It's not so easy in Buffalo. This guy landed Daniel Briere for Chris Gratton. He knows how to build teams from within. Buffalo is struggling right now, but once they lose their dead weight and are able to spend some money this summer, they'll be contenders. Mark my words.
My take: I certainly have Regier in my top 10, as well. Money is something the Sabres have never had in bountiful amounts, and yet, because of shrewd drafting and developing, they've been able to compete. You can't blame Regier for how things ended with Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. That's from people above him, but I can't get into it. Just trust me. He's a terrific GM, one who is soft-spoken and doesn't seek the spotlight.
polishiron: Maybe a little off the map with this one, but Rutherford does a great job in Carolina. Not a lot of star power, not a lot of revenue, small hockey market, and the Canes are somehow always a competitive team. They always have a great blend of young guys, solid veterans and a few goal scorers to help them out. With Washington getting better each year, it seems like they'll have to step it up if they want to win a division title, but I just feel like Carolina always has an outside shot of making the playoffs. Rutherford must have something to do with that (oh, and don't forget the Stanley Cup ring, either).
My take: When the lockout ended and the big-market teams were maximizing their cap room with big signings in August 2005, Jim Rutherford made some low-profile signings that barely anyone noticed. Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen, etc. ... Next thing you know, there's a Stanley Cup parade in Raleigh 10 months later.
Rutherford, like Regier, is limited by team finances. The Hurricanes aren't allowed to spend to the max. The other thing I like about Rutherford is he's gutsy, and makes big trades and moves. Firing coach Peter Laviolette today and replacing him with former coach Paul Maurice? Gutsy!
lindo1905: Ken Holland is amazing, by all means. But think about this: Doug Risebrough took control of a team from its creation and molded it into a team that competes year in and year out. The growing pains were minimal, and for a pure expansion team that is unreal -- in 8 years he took a team consisting of an 18-year-old phenom and a bunch of mediocre journeymen to a hardened core of exceptional young talent and effective veterans. Say what you will of the coaching structure of the Wild; their GM is one of the best.
judy.rixe: doug risebrough, without a doubt, he does so much with so little in a small market like minnesota. especially this year with the mysterious gaborik injury and the loss of demitra and rolston and the general lack of top end talent, but just like clockwork they are in the top half of the western conference.
My take: No question Risebrough deserves mention. The Wild have been a stand-up organization ever since their inception and he's a big reason why. A patient approach to drafting and developing with the odd free-agent signing has helped the team remain in the playoff mix for the past half decade. Of course, his best move was hiring Jacques Lemaire as coach. Perhaps the best coach in the business. Risebrough's biggest test yet comes in Marian Gaborik. You know the story already. We'll see how it ends.
danman121289: There's no questions it's Ken Holland. But I think George McPhee deserves a mention. He's been with Washington since the mid-'90s. Yes, Jagr was a debacle, but both he and Leonsis realized that free agents weren't the way to put together a team. So McPhee started from scratch and has done an excellent job building through the draft. Obviously you can't screw up a pick like Ovechkin, but he also gets credit for Semin, Backstrom, Green and some good role players such as Fleischmann and Laich (who he locked up for a few years). And he's brought in some good veterans with reasonable contracts (Kozlov and Fedorov). Again, there's no doubt that Ken Holland is the answer to this question, but the Caps system is loaded with talent and McPhee deserves a lot of credit for that.
My take: You know, it's funny, a couple of years ago after the Jaromir Jagr fiasco, I was beginning to wonder if McPhee was going to work out. But did he ever prove us wrong. Once he got the green light from owner Ted Leonsis to properly take down and build up the Caps the old-fashioned way through draft picks and youth, you now see what kind of hockey acumen McPhee has. Everyone looks at Ovechkin and Semin, but the Caps are stacked up and down throughout the organization with youth and skill. I'm not sold on their goaltending right now, but otherwise, this is a team that's in great shape for years to come.
sharksngiants08: Doug Wilson, no doubt. He develops new young talent every year. (Past 3 years can show Clowe, Pavelski, Setoguchi, Vlasic, and Mitchell on the roster, among others.) He keeps his young, superstar core together with Marleau and Thornton. He wisely got rid of Vesa Toskala, and made the move of the decade to swing Joe Thornton. Oh, I almost forgot his best call of all. Dumping Ron Wilson and bringing in Todd McClellan.
odecker7482: Doug Wilson has done a phenomenal job with San Jose. He has put a good team on the ice and usually gets what the team needs. Losing Brian Campbell was a blow, but he goes out and gets Rob Blake and Dan Boyle, and now they have the highest scoring for defensemen in the league. Drafting young talent has also been a boon for the sharks who keeps drafting quality players i.e. Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Eduard Vlasic. Oh yeah, that Joe Thornton trade turned out alright, too.
My take: A Stanley Cup ring is the only thing that separates Doug Wilson from being mentioned on the same level as Ken Holland and Lou Lamoriello. I think the Sharks are on their way to delivering that ring this season to their much-deserving GM. There's plenty of homegrown talent on this team, but Wilson also added to the mix with key trades and signings. Few people even knew Joe Thornton was on the trade block when he beat the rest of the league to the punch and got him from Boston. When Brian Campbell walked out July 1, Wilson acted fast, swinging a deal with Tampa to get Dan Boyle. He also had the fortitude to fire a good coach in Ron Wilson, sensing that a new voice was needed behind the bench. And I can tell you this, Doug Wilson's name was right up there with Brian Burke on the Toronto Maple Leafs' short GM wish list. But only Burke was available.
jiann8: Paul Holmgren.
1. Traded Peter Forsberg for Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, first and third rounders
2. Braydon Coburn for Alexei Zhitnik (now bought out)
3. Marty Biron for a second rounder (the Leafs got Toskala for a first, second, and fourth rounders)
4. Joffrey Lupul, Jason Smith for Joni Pitkanen (on another team), Geoff Sanderson (not playing)
5. Signed Hartnell and Timonen by giving back Nashville their first round pick
6. Signed Danny Briere
7. Resigned Mike Richards, Jeff Carter to extensions
My take: "Homer," as other hockey types call him, has definitely hit the ground running. First of all, imagine having to replace a legend like Bob Clarke. Great post by jiann8 underlining some of his moves. Like execs in other traditional hockey markets, such as Boston, Montreal, Toronto or Detroit, Holmgren won't get elevated to Holland or Lamoriello status until he wins the big one.
100Habbie: Bob Gainey. I appreciate the annual success of the Wings lends the natural response at Ken Holland. ... Detroit had the foresight to scout and draft heavily in Europe and Russia. Gainey was handed a mess. He has drafted and traded well, has the respect of anyone and everyone who wears or has worn the CH and conducts himself professionally. The fans and media in Montreal love him, and that's no small feat. He had the brilliance to put Carbonneau in charge on the bench. The Habs were Leaf-like for several years (too good to draft high, too bad to contend), but after Gainey's stamp, they've become one of the East's powerhouses. Detroit's had more success, but Gainey's done the best job from where he started!
My take: You certainly could not have this kind of debate without mentioning Mr. Gainey. His Stanley Cup championship in Dallas and the impressive rebuild in Montreal are massive elements on his GM résumé. But his biggest tests are yet to come. The Habs want to win now, and badly, and yet I can sense Gainey isn't satisfied with the current makeup of his team. It will be interesting to watch whether he can land Mats Sundin or whether he makes a trade for a top-four defenseman before March 4. Gainey's most noteworthy acts as an NHL GM may be yet to come, such as bringing the Cup back to Montreal for the first time since 1993.
The last word ...
David Poile also got some mention by readers, as he should. His teams in Washington and Nashville have always been competitive and well-built through the draft. Not winning the big one obviously is what is missing on his résumé, though.
My No. 1 GM? Holland.