Several potential GM candidates have been mentioned in passing, and unlike with Brad Treliving, who the Leafs are definitely interested in, the rest are speculative. A lot of weight got put on Brendan Shanahan's original remarks about "experience", but things can change, and the reality of the thin pool of people with NHL GM as a line item on their CV might cause that to change. To that end, I've included some AGM candidates in a casual trawl for candidates.
Botterill had a playing career that included some NHL time, but he was really an AHL star and former captain of his NCAA team. He finished playing in Rochester, affiliate of the Sabres. He moved very rapidly onto the staff pages of hockey teams after his playing career, settling in Pittsburgh. And settle he did. He spent ten years with the Penguins, most of that time as the AGM running the AHL team. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins made the playoffs every year he ran the team.
Botterill also served as interim GM in the month between Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford – the job Brandon Pridham has right now with the Leafs. Rutherford gave him the title of Associate General Manager when he took over, but there's no real indication his job changed. In 2017, he left to become the GM of the Sabres. He was fired by the Sabres in 2020 and is now an AGM in Seattle.
It's notable that a lot of well-thought-of managers came out of the Pittsburgh system before Rutherford gave way to the chaos that it looks like Kyle Dubas might be hired to put right.
Botterill's tenure in Buffalo is tied inexorably to the disaster that was Ralph Krueger's coaching. Krueger – someone who likely wanted a management job – turned the entire team into a soap opera and like all things Sabres, it's very hard to tell what is the ownership making everything worse and what is just the result of their unwillingness to ever spend money.
After Botterill was fired, they made a surprise hire of Kevyn Adams from the business side of the game. Don Granato became head coach, and suddenly the Sabres are the "it" team, nearly making the playoffs, and but for the want of a goalie sowing fear in the hearts of the rest of the Atlantic division.
It's a little too pat to lay all that ailed the Sabres on Krueger or on Botterill. But Botterill's tenure in Buffalo is a mixed bag of good and bad signings and trades, but with largely successful drafting.
He might be someone the Leafs should consider, but he seems like he's too unproven for a team that appears to want a new Ken Holland who can run a storied franchise for decades. This is always the problem – until you've done a job there is a large constituency who will believe and agitate for the idea that you aren't qualified for the job. And while he's been a GM for a few years, he didn't cover himself in glory.
Mellanby's name got mentioned by Elliott Friedman because he interviewed in Philadelphia and seemed to impress people. Mellanby is currently a senior advisor in St. Louis after spending ten years in Montréal with Marc Bergevin where he was the Director of Player Personnel and then the AGM in charge of the Rocket. He left the Canadiens in 2021 after the season had begun in what was reported to have been a situation much like what led to Dubas's firing. He was in the running to replace Bergevin, and then suddenly he wasn't as the Canadiens began the process to hire Jeff Gorton.
Okay, so not the same, the Habs actually had someone in mind before they started sweeping out the old staff.
Mellanby's tenure is hard to judge because for the period he ran the Rocket, they were very bad. However, the problems in Laval stemmed from the Canadiens' history of atrocious drafting and worse development. Some of that process was Mellanby, and a lot of it wasn't, but I can see why other teams might be a little leery of his record.
Chayka is on this list because he interviewed in Pittsburgh, and it has been reported that he interviewed there because he's got ties to people in Fenway Sports, the new Penguins owners.
The improper evaluation of prospects that got him fired in Arizona was such a dumb move, and then the fight with Gary Bettman when he tried to get a job in New Jersey was even worse. There's no way the Leafs want that can of worms. Evaluating his tenure in Arizona – General Manager in Charge of Deck Chair Arrangement – is pointless to really judge him as a GM of a hockey team that actually exists for hockey playing reasons.
I think Bowman is who the Leafs want. Not in the specific, but in terms of his reputation and experience and the familial connection to Brendan Shanahan's old coach. If it weren't for that pesky problem of his past as the man who chose to ignore sexual abuse, and then aided in denying it until he couldn't keep telling the same lies, he'd be in the executive suite already. As it stands, he's never going to get a look in.
His record as a GM in his later years is not outstanding, but he ran the team well when the stars were young and in their prime.
I'm throwing in another name who isn't in the running. Blake signed an extension in LA recently, but he was Shanahan's number two at the Department of Player Safety, and I think he'd have the job now if he was free.
Darche has been part of the Tampa organization for four years, but only had the AGM title this season. His reputation as part of the machine that keeps the Lightning serious contenders through the most trying salary cap years is huge. His experience is not.
It seems like he is blocked in Tampa by Julien BriseBois. Is an established franchise where he's going to go? Or is he going to go somewhere with more problems to solve than how much to pay Auston Matthews?
Here's a thought: Kyle Dubas as GM in Pittsburgh with Darche as his AGM.
Like Darche, no one seems to want to take a chance on hiring Tulsky and have him take on the full range of hockey management responsibilities. He's going to have to go the Dubas route of taking a job in a team in the trough of a rebuild and proving himself. He's in the same boat as Darche – not considered to be a complete player at the game of management.
I hesitate to join in this game of hearing Armstrong's name and then repeating it, since this likely is just a case of where there's smoke, there's a smoke machine. But Armstrong, older than all the rest of the candidates in serious contention, even Treliving, has decades of experience.
He is the kind of safe, conservative, famous GM of long standing that everyone assumes the Leafs are looking for. His first AGM job was in Minnesota – the other Minnesota – and then he stayed in Dallas after the move for 15 years. He's been in St. Louis for nearly as long. His career spans so many dramatic changes in the nature of NHL hockey, it's hard to even imagine how much of what went on in Dallas is relevant to what he does today.
The Blues, however, are a particular kind of team – one very unlike the Leafs in almost all ways. It seems like a strange fit beyond the superficial need the Leafs seem to be expressing for gravitas and a promotion of work ethic.
We've all focused on the first part of Shanahan's press conference, when maybe what's more relevant is the ending where he strongly and repeatedly expressed the kinds of sentiments you usually hear from fans who are convinced the players aren't trying hard. Maybe Shanahan wants old school – but there's not a lot of evidence to suggest that Armstrong hasn't changed as the game has changed. He isn't Lou Lamoriello, and maybe that's why the smoke won't clear. He's all the schools, old and new.