BUILDING A WINNER

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.

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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.

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CHIARELLI….

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?  

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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.

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***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? 

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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? 

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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. 

WRAP UP…

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.

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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.

Package #1:

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  • An XBox One…Courtesy of Etelligent Solutions.
    It comes with: Console, Kinect sensor, wireless controller, one chat headset and wireless networking capability.

Package #2:

  • 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.

 PACKAGE #3

  • 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.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 


  • DaveChamp

    I’m quite sad to admit that I have a real fear that the Oilers are on the path of the Islanders or Thrashers and not the Penguins or Blackhawks. There is so much work to be done on this roster and so many gaping holes. That said, if Nurse and Klefbom develop to their potential, that could be a great first pairing and would solve the biggest problem on the team. Even still, it will take them a few years in the NHL to become great, and that really sucks.

    • reaperfunkss

      You dont have to Fear it happening my friend. We are the Islanders and Thrashers. A team with no success over an extremely long perios of time amd clueless management inept GM and a lost in the woods coach. Overrated talent poor development.

      6 years under Katz has to this point been an unmitigated disaster. The Oilers are now the laughing stock of the NHL. this isn’t just my opinion either just look at the lack of repect from opposition

  • Rick Stroppel

    REALITY CHECK

    The NHL record for missing the playoffs is ten years in a row. Happened in Florida, a city with zero hockey history and absolutely minimal fan support. Missing the playoffs this year makes eight years for Edmonton. We are currently 28 out of 30 teams with very little possibility of improving significantly, let alone making the playoffs.

    This past summer some reporters had the temerity to ask Kevin Lowe a couple of hard questions. He responded with a hissy fit. One of the many dumb things he said was “half of the teams in the NHL would trade their roster for ours”. If that is true, why are we third last?

    I consider myself a loyal fan, but this whole situation is getting out of hand. McTavish is facing a terrible dilemma. If he makes the miracle trade for a proven #1 goalie or “stud” defenceman, he has to give up significant current (and possibly future) assets. Given the state of this team, probably all that does for this year is elevate us into the “twilight zone” ie no playoffs and no lottery pick either. On the other hand, I am sensing profound frustration from fans, and also from some of the more important players on this team. If this goes on much longer, Taylor Hall is going to ask for a trade faster than you can say “Rick Nash”. Yakupov has the obvious option of the KHL. Free agents will avoid the “Islanders of the west” like the plague.

    IMHO, for the sake of the fans, and for the long-term health of the franchise, McTavish has to start making the “bold moves” he so brashly promised not so long ago.

  • Ducey

    The Bruins can have all the character, size and truculance they want, but if they don’t have Chara playing 30 minutes a night, they wouldn’t be nearly as successful.

    If fact, you plunk Chara on the Oilers, and they are a playoff team.

  • reaperfunkss

    This team will never have consistent success under these circumstances.

    Lowe has no clue. he thinks bluster and bullying is how one manages. look at his reaction to getting money from comrie, hios reation on the radio to Al strachan’s pronger story

    Mact talk out of both sides of his mouth but does it in a way that the media loves. Same as when he coached. MacT is knows that bulls&^t baffles brains. If one wants stability at a position then why did he fire Krueger and not hire him help? Sadly that is all he knows and when you take the entirity of his post playing days this guy has done nothing that resembles long term success.

    Howson brought back in after being completely unremarkable in Columbus.

    bucky and Smith….jeez what can be said that hasn’t already

    Frederic Chabot. Which Oiler goalie has he made better?

    Islan..err um Oiler mangement has been lost in the desert for so long all they see are mirages

  • Zarny

    On November 3, 2013, as we turned our clocks back from daylight savings time, @Fake Oilers GM tweeted:

    “Attention fans: don’t forget to turn your Edmonton Oilers rebuild clocks back 4 years.”

    I thought it was hilarious, but I wasn’t taking it seriously at the time. I was still hopelessly deluded. I have now lost all hope, and now I realize that the above tweet is about right.

    The Tambo years, aided and abetted of course by KLowe, are now being revealed as utterly disastrous. The Oilers braintrust clearly were operating under the assumption that because Pittsburgh and Chicago sucked for a few years, drafted elite players as a result, and then won Stanley cups, that all that was necessary was to tank, draft first overall, and voila, plan the parade. I’m convinced that is as far as they were looking. They forgot that Chicago was drafting and developing elite dmen, and Pittsburgh had a generational talent that wasn’t going to be coming around every draft. And it takes more to build a winner than skilled forwards.

    So here we are. Back to the beginning. Maybe an NHL dman in Nurse. But is he Duncan Keith? Brent Seabrook? We all know how unpredictable defensemen develop. Look at out great Swedish hope, Oscar Klefbom. 23 games in the AHL, 3 assists, -11. Not exactly looking like Kris Letang. Or even Marc Giordano.

    I guess I should have known the Oilers brass had no plan, when I remember Tambo’s spit-eating grin when the Oilers won the lottery 2 years ago. Brian Burke looked angry he was even there, like he was vowing he would never occupy that chair again. Tambo looked as happy as a pig in slop, like it had taken some kind of skill on his part.

    Maybe MacT can do something over the next 5 years. Maybe not. But the rebuild didn’t start 4 years ago or 6 or 2. It starts now.

      • barry.moore23

        QSB, Why, in the name of all that is holy, can i not stop caring ?? Is there something wrong with me ?? Can’t wait to see my Oilers play in St. Louis early March. This time it will be different …….

        Peace from Illinois.

  • Eddie Shore

    Jason, I think the Oilers do have an identity but need it needs to change. Along with the makeup of the team.

    I think they’re know around the league as a team that generates offense with their speed and off the rush. They cannot handle a game where they have to grind out offense and sustain pressure with zone-time and using the cycle. You hear it all the time, “we don’t want to get into a track meet with these guys”. Unfortunately, this “track-meet” style does not translate into wins in the Western Conference.

    • Jason Gregor

      I see your point, but the Oilers wouldn’t beat any top teams in a seven-game playoff series right now. They are too one-dimensional, I would agree.

      The Oilers can’t sustain the cycle because they are too small, and can’t continually battle against bigger teams down low.

    • ubermiguel

      Agree and disagree. I think they’re known as a team that wants to generate offense with speed. However like you said, in the Westeren Conference teams know how to counter that and close the ice around us. I would like to add a subtext to your identity, “to be a puck possesion team that outworks the opposition for the puck.” At the beginning of the year, Eakins talked about this and how we would be a team that would fight every shift for the puck. That’s a great philosphy right there for a team built like ours. Sadly we don’t have a roster capable of doing that. I would say Perron is one of the only players with that description, maybe Hall and Arcobello in there as well. I would like to see us target guys who may only score 30ish points a season but have that grinding game.

      • Eddie Shore

        As the roster stands now, they are not able to get the puck back after they lose it. That issue is magnified in the defensive zone. This team is too soft and does not play hard enough. Only way to change that, in my opinion, is to change the mix of the players.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Gregor

    I would love to see a similar article with MAcT as the interview-ee. It’s interesting and disturbing that you can get an in depth interview with the Boston GM, but we never get anything of substance from the Oil brass.

  • Spoils

    we live in a bubble. We got first round picks, but we didn’t get a Sydney Crosby or a Wayne Gretzky.

    The guys are good and are going to be great, but we have SOOOOO much work to do.

    Can’t stop thinking about what a Pronger was able to deliver for us.

    Which #1D can we pluck from a team that needs scoring. We need someone who is 23-25, young but a true #1.

    Not really sure who I wouldn’t trade for that.

    Nurse and Klefbom are 2-4yrs away from dominating, if they make it. That is A LOT of losing.

    • Ducey

      Shattenkirk is a player I would be very interested in targeting, or even better Pietrangelo. Eberle is a solid two way player and under the Blues system could probably excel as a responsible two way player. A package cetnered around Eberle for Pietrangelo. I do it in a heartbeat.

      • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

        “Eberle is a solid two way player…”

        Did I just read that right? WOW. Turn on the TV and watch a few games. He is the laziest guy on the ice most night when it comes to back-checking. Its usually either him or Yak.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      Shattenkirk? Blues already have JayBo and Pietrangelo. maybe they could use Eberle? they might be losing UFA Steen at the end of the season and would need to replace him.

  • CMG30

    I have no issues with the Oilers drafting small skilled forwards if they are the best available at the time because they should have the best chance of delivering value in the future.

    Having said that, I fully expect that you will move some or all of those guys for the players you really need.

  • Sean17

    And for everyone that craps on Gagner, let’s remember he is one of the few guys who does give a damn IMO. Remember when he dropped the gloves with Beauchemin?! He will actually stand up for guys even though he knew he was gonna get a beat down. Once the jaw is 100% next year, you will see…