The Oilers, and specifically GM Craig MacTavish, must devise a plan on how to build a winner. It is clear the Oilers aren’t any closer to winning now than they were last year or the year before. The coaching carousel has led to instability and new systems which hasn’t helped, but the current roster is not built to win. I’m curious to know how MacTavish plans to build this team, so that eventually they become competitive sometime this decade.
There is no guaranteed path to success, but every successful franchise maintains some core values and a solid foundation.
Do the Oilers know what their foundation is?
Do they have core values?
MacTavish has only been in charge for eight months, so it is too early to say if his plan is working, but he has shown a willingness to share parts of his plan with his fan base. He wanted to make bold moves this past summer, and while some of his moves were solid, none of them registered very high on the "Bold" scale.
I believe the biggest challenge for MacTavish is to create an identity for the Oilers. They don’t have one, and they haven’t had one for years.
Teams like Red Wings, Penguins, Blackhawks and Sharks are skilled and responsible defensively.
The Kings and Ducks are built on size.
The Canucks have skill, but they are chippy, chirpy and aggravating.
The Bruins are big, tough, rugged and skilled.
The great teams all possess different qualities of course, but most of them have one obvious trait.
Right now the Oilers identity seems to be based on youth, and that is not a recipe for success.
I had the chance to speak with Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli when the Bruins were in town last week, and we started off asking him about his philosophy on how to build a winning team? (my thoughts will be in italics)
Chiarelli: For me it’s about finding character guys and sometimes you have to sacrifice in other areas, other playing attributes, even skill. You can’t ignore skill; it’s a very important component of building a hockey team. I like to say to our scouts, ‘find character in skilled guys, they express their character in other ways, not traditionally, like a huge puck battle or a huge hit or those kinds of traditional ways you’re used to seeing.
That’s really the common denominator. A sometimes guys that don’t buy in, you have to move guys like that and sometimes you have to sacrifice some skill for character. So that’s kind of what we try to do. Sometimes as a result of that we lose a little bit of speed and I always seem to be trying to find more speed, either in how we play or in personnel. So, we don’t have a magic formula, we just get good guys that want to play and compete hard, and have a good goalie. [Laughs]
***He mentioned sometimes you have to sacrifice skill for character. You wonder if he was referring to Tyler Seguin, however, that philosophy is exactly what MacTavish will need to emulate in the not to distant future. It is evident that having a lot of offensive skill is great, but if you don’t have a good blueline or complementary players surrounding your skill, it is extremely difficult to win.***
Gregor: When you came over from Ottawa and took over, you signed free agent Zdeno Chara. You guys didn’t have instant success right away, but was your plan to build around him?
Chiarelli: I wanted a defensive pillar more or less. A dominant defensive player and then we were fortunate in Boston, and that certainly was no plan of mine, was that when [Tim] Thomas started hitting his peak later in his career. That gave us two significant defensive players, but following the first year I had to fire Dave Lewis, a very good defensive coach.
I was fortunate that Tim was hitting his peak, that Claude (Julien) was available and that we had one of the best defensive players in the league in Chara. So you have a large part of your team and concept already in place. Those were kind of our stepping stones. [Patrice] Bergeron was already there, a terrific two way player and so the two-way component, the character component was largely in place, or at least the majority of it was in place in the beginning years.
***Chiarelli is being very humble. Bringing in Chara solidified the foundation for this team. Without him, I doubt the Bruins become the dominant team we see today.***
Gregor: The Bruins have drafted many of your core guys in Bergeron, [Milan] Lucic, [Brad] Marchand and [David] Krejci, but interestingly enough on your back end, aside from Dougie Hamilton, you built through trades and free agency. Was that by design, or is that just how it worked out. How come you seem to build your team forwards within the draft, but build your blueline through trades and free agency?
Chiarelli: You have to draft well and use those pieces as either pieces in your team or pieces to acquire other pieces. I think when they dissect our team; you see a lot of the trades that we’ve made. A lot of the trades that we’ve made, we’ve either used draft picks or drafted players. We’ve had to draft well so that those players have some value.
On the defensive side, I’m just going back over my head acquisitions after… [Dennis] Seidenberg is a player that we really tracked and wanted because of his hardness. And [Adam] McQuaid was an earlier trade, but you can say that we drafted him because he was still in junior when we got him.
I don’t know if it was planned out, but maybe we didn’t have those defensive players and out of necessity we had to look harder to find those types of players. You make due with what you have, you work hard and where you think you can find those players. Traditionally drafting and keeping those players is the ideal way, and every GM wants to do that, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.
***Chiarelli has moved Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin out of Boston. Those are two very skilled players, but the Bruins are still one of the best teams in the league. He isn’t afraid to make tough decisions.***
Brownlee: I’m wondering in the case of Chara was there some cross over between your time in Ottawa and Boston where you knew something specific about him, and were you feeling pretty good that he would become the dominant force he is?
Chiarelli: I always go by the rule that, maybe I don’t always apply it, but I try to, that if you are going to sign guys to long terms and big amounts of money you want to know him. I worked in Ottawa and I was a part of the group that acquired Chara in a trade, so I know him very, very well, so certainly I felt comfortable recommending that we sign him. It turned out to be the right move.
***He had the luxury of knowing Chara personally before signing him, and I think it is fair to say that Steve Tambellini’s free agent track record was awful. MacTavish’s has been better, Ference and Gordon, but not perfect, and I think the Oilers need to do a better job when it comes to acquiring NHL veterans.
Do the Oilers have an organizational philosophy? Do they know what type of players and people they want to bring in? Prior to MacTavish’s hiring it looked like they didn’t. I’m curious to see if MacTavish and Eakins will move out some players this season/summer who don’t fit with their plans. They will need to make some tough decisions, and start building a foundation, because right now there doesn’t seem to be one in place.***
Gregor: Jay Feaster being fired in Calgary might impact Boston because a lot of people are speculating about one of your right hand men, Jim Benning, Give us some insight on him. I know that you wouldn’t want to lose him, but most great organizations usually lose guys in those positions to other organizations. What’s his best asset in a management role? What has he done to help you guys out the most in Boston?
Chiarlelli: I’ll address is the first part of your question, and I think that’s a very accurate statement. It’s a compliment to us that they are calling on these guys and we have another one in Don Sweeney who is entirely capable of being a manager in this league. It attracts better younger people to our group. Specifically on Jim, it’s been a lot about gaining experience. He’s obviously an Edmonton boy and I went to school with his brother Mark, I know the Bennings very well.
He has an uncanny book of players. He sees players in a very good way for team building. He understands character, he understands projections, he’s spent a lot of time amateur scouting, he played a significant role in helping us to build our team, he understands how players fit, he understands that you’re not always going to get a perfect player.
That’s the most important thing that most managers know is that you are not ever going to get a perfect player. So you have to see where those assets are going to fit into your group. He is a very trusted component of our management group; I have a lot of respect for Jim. He’d be a good addition anywhere.
***Winning teams usually provide good people for other franchises. Many people believe Benning is ready to be a GM, and I won’t be surprised if he is a finalist for the next few jobs that become available.***
Brownlee: Peter, curious about what you would consider the kind of resume that makes for a successful GM. We have former players that go on and become GM. Some are successful, some are not. You have a law background, and with Ottawa you were an assistant GM for two years and spent five years as part of the front office. What part of your background do you feel has served you the best during your tenure as General Manager?
Chiarelli: I think just the ability to have experience in all facets of the game. Obviously I have a certain skill set that not every GM does, but I know a lot of GMs that can do what I do just as well by the legal side of it, meaning the problem solving we can see and all of that stuff.
My experience has just been contracts, arbitration, scouting and free agent signing and all of those things have given me the ability to have gain experience. I think that is very important. There is not one specific model that’s good. I know a lot of GMs that never had the education that I had, that are smarter than me. These guys have experience and they just have street smarts. I think you need to recognize your weakness, recognize your strength and work hard. For me the experience I’ve learned breaths patience, because you see things in history repeat themselves.
It is obvious that Chiarelli likes big, heavy, skilled players, but he also wants guys who are strong two-way players. He admitted he’d like to inject some more speed into his lineup so expect him to do that before the trade deadline. As he said there is no perfect formula, but Chiarelli has built his team around Chara, and he brings in players who fit their style.
MacTavish won’t be able to build the Oilers to mirror the Bruins size and truculence, but he needs to have a vision and plan for the future and stick with it.
The Oilers need some stability within their organization. They need to find an identity, and they need to find players that fit what they want for the future. They can’t continue to build their team solely around small, skilled forwards. You obviously need skill within your lineup, but the Oilers need to recognize that no team wins with just skill, and the harsh reality is that the Oilers skilled players aren’t significantly better than the skilled players on the elite teams.
The Oilers need more than just skill to win; they need to create an identity.
DAY 12…MONTH OF GIVING…
Big thanks to Larry for bidding and to the Eskimos for supplying Friday’s VIP package.
Today we have three packages up for grabs.
- An XBox One…Courtesy of Etelligent Solutions.
It comes with: Console, Kinect sensor, wireless controller, one chat headset and wireless networking capability.
- A $500 prepaid American Express gift card
- A pair of Club seats (section 134, row 13) to the Oiler/Flames game on March 2nd.
- Courtesy of the good people at Etelligent Solutions.
- Four tickets in the Crystal Glass suite (main concourse) on January 21st.
- Includes two parking passes and complimentary food and beverages.
You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or 1.800.243.1945 between 2-6 p.m. today.
Thanks in advance. All proceeds go to Santas Anonymous.