(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There are three NHL teams with General Manager vacancies: The Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Canucks found success under Mike Gillis. They missed the playoff just once (2013-14) under his tenure and were one game away from hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2011 before losing Game 7 to the Boston Bruins.

The Capitals parted ways with longtime general manager George McPhee after the team failed to reach the postseason for the first time in seven years. Washington never really threatened for a championship, failing to advance past the second round in the Alex Ovechkin era.

Pittsburgh fired general manager Ray Shero three days after the Penguins were eliminated by the New York Rangers during the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, after taking a 3-1 series lead.

So if you are a general manger looking for work, which opportunity is best?

To make a valid determination, the following criteria were selected to compare and contrast each team:

In terms of talent, it is hard to get better than Pittsburgh. Their top five players in Point Shares — an estimate of the number of points contributed by a player — occupy the top six slots among the three teams, and only Ovechkin can crack the top three. Vancouver, on the other hand, is the weakest.

It isn’t all doom and gloom for Vancover. Of the three, they are the only one trending in the right direction in terms of puck possession. Ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations, they have gotten better at putting shots in their favor in each of the last three seasons.

With Pittsburgh, what you have is likely what you will get. With great talent comes great cap hits, and the Penguins don’t have much flexibility to work with. According to CapGeek, Pittsburgh has 14 players under contract for the 2014-15 season and just $1.8 million to spend per slot for the other nine, leaving Vancouver and especially Washington in much better position to either pursue or acquire talent either via free agency or trade.

Team  Payroll  Space  Current Contracts  Opening Players Needed
Washington $56,173,462 $14,926,538 20 $4,975,513 3
Vancouver $59,391,111 $11,708,889 18 $2,341,778 5
Pittsburgh $55,119,167 $15,980,833 14 $1,775,648 9

The double whammy for Pittsburgh is that they are also the oldest team of the three (and sixth in the league overall) in terms of weighted average age, which weights the age of each player by the number of games he has played.

The Capitals had many players make their NHL debut last season (led by 19-year-old Tom Wilson, who payed all 82 games for Washington) which helps reduce their average age, and while many were likely rushed into NHL service, it helps that they at least got a taste at the NHL level. However, they don’t have much left in the funnel.

The most recent Fall Hockey Future rankings have Washington ranked 25th out of all 30 NHL clubs in terms of strength and paints a bleak picture for the future.

Outside of [Evgeny] Kuznetsov, there is very little in terms of high potential among [Washington’s] forward prospects. There is not much in the way of depth or talent at the center position. The blue line has been augmented by clever drafting and free agent signings, but the defensive prospect pool lacks a blue-chip talent.

Vancouver is only slightly better at 24th:

Like many perennially successful teams, the Canucks have not had the luxury of stockpiling high draft picks and lack quality depth as a result. While the additions of Horvat and Shinkaruk strengthen their top-end talent, there is a drop in quality after that. They have very little in the defensive pipeline as well, and even Corrado, their top defenseman, has questionable staying power at the NHL level.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has “a bevy of talented defensive prospects led by blue-chippers Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot” but “most project to be a few years away from playing in the pros, let alone the NHL.”

Each club has its pros and cons, but if you are a new general manager in a “win now” league, you are probably best served taking your chances with the best players in the NHL and placing your bet on Pittsburgh.

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