May 15 2014 10:30AM
Something very interesting has been going on with the Edmonton Oilers’ scouting staff, and it’s the kind of thing that really ought to get somebody fired.
Lowetide’s Allan Mitchell brought this up the other day, and it’s hard to disagree with his viewpoint:
Are there signs of MacT getting stubborn now? Sure. Keeping all of the coaches would be an example, and I do think there are leaks again—something that did not happen in the Tambellini era. When you’ve got Jim Matheson telling the world that the Oilers like Leon Draisaitl, that’s information that, if true, puts the club in a position of weakness. That’s a thing. A really bad thing.What should MacT do? Find the leak and shoot it between the eyes.
There is no upside – none – for the team to be leaking parts of its draft list to a local reporter, and Mitchell’s explanation of what MacTavish should do about it is bang-on from an organizational perspective. Where I think he’s mistaken is in saying that these leaks didn’t happen during the Tambellini era.
One example would be Mitch Moroz, the guy the Oilers drafted instead of Matt Finn. After talking about the Oilers’ failure to land a defenceman in the first round of 2012, Matheson specifically cited Finn the evening before the rest of the draft – but then wandered off him to talk up the case for Moroz. It’s pretty hard to say he wasn’t being fed information by someone with knowledge of the Oilers’ scouting process.
But that’s the small story of the 2012 Draft. The much bigger one is Nail Yakupov.
It’s easy to remember what happened here. Oilers fans were overwhelmingly in favour of their team taking Yakupov, the consensus No. 1 pick, in the first overall slot. Meanwhile in the media, there were all kinds of signals that the Oilers would take Ryan Murray instead. Then came the draft and Yakupov was the pick.
Almost immediately, the story started circulating that the scouts had decided on Murray, but had been overruled by owner Daryl Katz, who wanted the team to take Yakupov.
The question came up during Craig MacTavish’s end-of-season press conference, and his answer to whether there was interference from ownership was as illuminating as it was evasive:
We very much targeted Nail Yakupov as an offensive phenom. We felt that he was very deserving of being the number one pick. We felt that his upside was maybe higher than Ryan Murray that Columbus ultimately drafted. We drafted him for the right reasons. We still believe that he’s going to be a great goal scorer and there’s a premium on goal scoring. Colorado did a similar thing last year when they drafted Nathan MacKinnon. There’s lots of upside in Nail, and it’s up to us and our organization to get that from him. But he was a very legitimate number one pick and we still feel strongly that we made the right decision.
That isn’t a confirmation, but it really, really isn’t a denial. It’s not even a ‘you know, there are a lot of baseless rumours that make the rounds and so I don’t comment on them.’ The answer is basically, ‘whatever the process, we did it for the right reasons.’
(Sidebar: The timing of this question is pretty interesting, as it came two years after Yakupov was drafted and the stories started. If it had been asked last season, for example (when Yakupov was the NHL’s leading scorer among rookies) it would have reflected positively on Katz and negatively on the scouts. By waiting two years, whichever reporter asked it basically held on to the question until the point when a confirmation would embarrass the Oilers’ owner. I didn’t see who asked the question, and I don’t know that whoever it was had an axe to grind with ownership, but the timing is suggestive.)
The Oilers really can’t afford to have this kind of information leak. It’s great for reporters – the disgruntlement that accompanies organizational dysfunction often leads to information leaking – but it’s unprofessional for the team and worse than that it reduces their leverage if they’re considering trading down at the draft.
What to Do
Burn it down.
The Oilers’ scouts under MacGregor (and Prendergast before him, as many of the names are the same) have a record that can perhaps best be described as mixed. They haven’t been all bad, but there have been plenty of mistakes along the way and nobody in the NHL thinks “Edmonton” when wondering who the best scouting team in the NHL is.
In other words, they aren’t so good that there isn’t room for change.
Find the leak and fire him. If the team’s lucky, maybe it will be the same guy who pushed for Cam Abney as a top-100 pick, and then the Oilers can kill two birds with one stone.
At least, that is what is best for the team. For people covering the team, the more leaks the better.