As fans of National Hockey League (NHL) teams, most of us believe we could do the job of a general manager and much better than most current managers at that. If you're a fan of the Edmonton Oilers and you've got Connor McDavid on your team, you probably believe it wouldn't be that difficult to build a championship contender. You wouldn't have traded Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle and you wouldn't have signed Milan Lucic. As a result, the Oilers would be easily into the playoffs right now instead of staring down the possibility of another first overall draft pick.
But there's a lot more that goes into making those decisions than you might believe. As a GM, you have to answer to the owner and, in some instances, a team president. You also have to consider player contracts and fan reaction. For instance, you might think it's the smart thing to trade John Tavares if you're the Islanders GM and you know he's not re-signing with the team, but the team's owner might not be too thrilled with how that reflects on his commitment to winning, which could ultimately turn fans away from the team. Think carefully about each of the decisions and see if you can put together a Stanley-Cup-winning team.
1Which player would you pick as your first line center?
You can make the case for a No. 1 defenseman and a starting goaltender, but there's nothing more important than having an All-Star center. Look at the No. 1 center on the teams that won the Stanley Cup in recent years: Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron.
2Which player would you pick as your second line center?
While having a skilled all-around player centering your top line is crucial, so is having a capable second-line center who can jump up in the event of an injury and play on both the penalty kill and power play. He should be able to play anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes a night.
3Which player would you pick as your third line center?
Back in the day, the third-line center was primarily responsible for shutting down the opposition's best forwards and, while that's still somewhat the case, you ideally want someone with some offensive capabilities. Generally the team with the most depth at center reaches the Stanley Cup.
4Which player would you pick as your fourth line center?
In a lot of cases, the fourth-line center can be inconsequential, but there's dozens of stories of those players coming up huge in the playoffs and throughout the regular season. Ideally, you want someone who can skate and isn't a liability in either the offensive or defensive zones.
5Which player would you pick as your first line right wing?
Your first line should be comprised of at least two highly-skilled offensive forwards, while the other should help bring some balance to the line. A few years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and James van Reimsdyk that was equally as dangerous in its own end as it was in the offensive zone, meaning they were terrible defensively.
6Which player would you pick as your second line right wing?
Teams nowadays try to make up two or three lines to drive offense. In the past there would be at least a few tough guys or checking wingers on the top three lines, but that's not quite the case anymore. Look for someone with skill and speed in this position.
7Which player would you pick as your third line right wing?
Your team's bottom six wingers generally will play between eight to 15 minutes per night, most of which might be on the penalty kill. While it's important to stress offensive skill, you want at least some of your bottom-six wingers to be capable of killing penalties.
8Which player would you pick as your fourth line right wing?
The penalty-killing aspect especially applies to your fourth-line wingers. You're not going to have superstars on all four lines, so rounding out your team with speedy and tenacious penalty killers on the fourth line can be incredibly beneficial. Hopefully you know your fourth-liners.
9Which player would you pick as your first line left wing?
Who is best going to complement the other two first-line players you selected? Do you want a first line with three skilled players who might not be all that adept at defending in their own zone, or do you want a hard-working grinder on the line to protect against scoring chances?
10Which player would you pick as your second line left wing?
Depth wins championships and if you can have your second-line left winger chipping in with 20-plus goals and providing valuable defensive play then you just might be well on your way to winning a Stanley Cup. Who's the definitive best option out of these four players?
11Which player would you pick as your third line left wing?
Like with the other two third-line positions, you're going to want a stable player who isn't a liability in his own zone, but can also produce offense. Depth is crucial and injuries happen in the playoffs, so chances are your third-line players will play at least a handful of games in second-line roles.
12Which player would you pick as your fourth line left wing?
Again, think about depth when making this choice. While a fourth-line winger isn't as important as a first-line center, he will still play some part in leading your team to a Stanley Cup. He's going to be on the ice for roughly eight minutes per game and you want someone you can trust during that amount of time.
13Which forward would you acquire at the trade deadline?
You have your team in place that you would begin the season with, but that isn't always the team you bring to the playoffs. There's pressure on general managers to load up for a playoff run and in doing so you might need to add another forward or two for depth purposes. Who would you target in this group?
14Which forward would you acquire at the trade deadline?
Teams often go after more than one forward at the deadline. Look at the Boston Bruins; the team acquired veteran winger Rick Nash a few days prior to this year's trade deadline and subsequently added Tommy Wingels from the Blackhawks and also signed free agent Brian Gionta.
15You need help on defense and trade your second-best forward for which package?
As good as your forward group has been, you realize you need help on defense. However, the market isn't quite in your favor so you have to part ways with your second-best forward to land a defenseman. Which of the following package of players and draft picks would you take with the goal of winning a Stanley Cup?
16Which goaltender would you pick to start?
Goaltending is the most important factor in winning a Stanley Cup. Sure, you need a franchise center and perhaps even a franchise defenseman, but if your goalie can't stop a beach ball your team isn't going to go far in the playoffs. Conversely, a good goalie can almost single-handedly win a series for an otherwise bad team.
17Which goaltender would be your backup?
The backup goaltender position is a tough one in that the goalie you select might play at most 12 games in the regular season and might not see a minute of ice time in the playoffs. However, injuries do happen and there have been backups who have come in and led their team to a Stanley Cup; Cam Ward did as a rookie with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
18Your goaltender is struggling. What do you do at the deadline?
You've got an All-Star starting goaltender and a relatively decent backup who you feel like you can trust going into the playoffs, but one - or both - isn't living up to expectations. Do you ignore the warning signs and let your star goaltender rebound or trade assets to acquire another goaltender?
19Which defenseman plays in your top pairing?
Your No. 1 defenseman is going to play at least 20 minutes a night in the regular season and often 25-plus minutes in the playoffs. To understand the importance of a star defenseman, just take a look at the teams to win the Stanley Cup in recent years. In most cases, those teams had two or three defenseman capable of being a No. 1 blueliner on most other teams.
20Which defenseman plays in your top pairing?
Your No. 2 defenseman doesn't necessarily need to be an All-Star, but he should complement your best defenseman and be capable of playing on both the power play and penalty kill units. Look at the Nashville Predators; they arguably have four defenders capable of playing in a team's top pairing.
21Which defenseman plays in your second pairing?
The two defensemen in your second pairing should be skilled puck-movers with the ability to also play on the power play and penalty kill. They need to relieve your top-pairing guys in instances where they're slightly tired or in long, drawn-out overtime games.
22Which defenseman plays in your second pairing?
Again, while you want your top-pairing defenseman to be able to play upwards of 30 minutes per game, there's often a threshold in which you can notice their play drop off. That's why it's crucial to have second-pairing defensemen who can play upwards of 20 minutes a night with relative ease.
23Which defenseman plays in your third pairing?
Let's be honest, it's unrealistic to have a quality third-pairing defense, at least relatively speaking. You're not going to have Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson playing third-line minutes, but you do want someone you can trust to play 10 to 15 minutes per night.
24Which defenseman plays in your third pairing?
Generally speaking, your two third-pairing defensemen will be more so known for their ability to clear the front of the net than their offensive capabilities, but you do want them to be able to move the puck up the ice, especially in today's NHL, which is more speed- and skill-driven than in years past.
25Who is your head coach?
Coaching might not be as important as having skilled players in your lineup, but the right coach can be the difference in winning or not winning a Stanley Cup. There's a reason why coaches like Joel Quenneville, Mike Babcock, and Daryl Sutter are so revered.