They did it. The Edmonton Oilers fired President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli late Tuesday night following their loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
The heat had been on the organization to fire Chiarelli for quite some time now, and there hasn’t really been a known short-list of names to replace him. Fans just wanted him out and then they would go from there.
Well, it’s now time to ‘go from there’. Who should be the next GM of the Edmonton Oilers? Who should be tasked with taking this below average, top-heavy team and turning them into the Stanley Cup Contender they should be with Connor McDavid?
I’ll preface this by saying that I am not an Insider, and you should know that. I will not pretend to have any behind the scenes knowledge, this is simply a list of people working in hockey who have been talked about as future General Managers and who would make sense here in Edmonton. Let’s get started.
There are three ways the Oilers could go about doing this:
HIRING FROM WITHIN: This would end with the fan base being even angrier than it currently is if you can believe that. They have a few former GM’s sitting in-house like Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish, but that can’t be the answer. It simply cannot. But it might. This could also mean Keith Gretzky taking over as General Manager, but to really bring back the fan base, the organization needs to start fresh with a new regime. Still, the possibility of them doing the ‘classic Oilers’ thing and promoting from within still exists.
GET A GOOD HOCKEY MAN: There are plenty of former GM’s who are currently without jobs but have connections to organizations like Hockey Canada, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but when someone gets the job based purely on connections and not merit, you should be concerned. I’m not saying that hiring someone with experience or who has worked with Hockey Canada is a bad thing, there are plenty of good candidates that could come from there. I just worry a little bit about someone like Dean Lombardi becoming the next GM because they “know how to win”. The Oilers need to avoid hiring the next Peter Chiarelli, and there are names out there who could be exactly that.
GET AHEAD OF THE CURVE: I’m not saying you need to go out and hire the next John Chayka or Kyle Dubas but the Oilers should be considering some names that are considered “up and comers” in the NHL world. Find a fresh name, someone who won’t follow old trends and make the same mistakes that Chiarelli did. That doesn’t mean go find someone inexperienced, but find someone who can be an impactful GM and knows the direction of the new NHL.
The problem with going this route is that a lot of these names currently work for other organizations, so hiring them mid-season would require the Oilers to get permission from their current clubs before interviewing them. That could be a problem and could mean that it’s best to wait until after the season to fully begin the interview process.
With all of that being said, here are some names that I think could be in the running for the next GM of the Edmonton Oilers:
KEITH GRETZKY (EDM): Generally considered to be Peter Chiarelli’s right-hand man, Gretzky is considered to be a very good scout. He’s a big reason why the organization has slowly started to see some talent build up at the AHL level. Out of all the internal candidates that will be thrown around (Lowe, MacTavish), Gretzky is the only one who makes a shred of sense. I still think it’s unlikely.
STEVE YZERMAN (N/A): I had to put him in here because everyone will be asking, but I cannot see him coming to Edmonton. He left the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018 because he wanted to be closer to his family and just step away for a bit. I don’t think he’ll be willing to move to Edmonton less than a year after making that decision. Many believe he will be the next GM of the Detroit Red Wings.
KEN HOLLAND (DET): He has held the position of GM of the Detroit Red Wings for over 20 years, but I believe his time there may be coming to an end. If Steve Yzerman eventually takes over as GM in Detroit, then Holland may be out. He has obvious ties to Bob Nicholson and Hockey Canada as well. Expect to hear his name talked about a lot.
KELLY McCRIMMON (VGK): He’s currently the Assistant GM of the Vegas Golden Knights and he gets a lot of credit for how well they were built through the expansion draft. He has been linked to the new Seattle franchise as well.
RON FRANCIS (Hockey Canada): He was fired from his role as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes last year because he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Owner Tom Dundon. He made some bad moves in Carolina (Scott Darling) and some great moves (Teuvo Teravainen). He recently co-general managed Canada’s Spengler Cup team with Sean Burke, so that gives him the Hockey Canada connection.
SEAN BURKE (Hockey Canada): He’s spent time with both the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens on the scouting/development side of things. He’s considered a bright, young, up and coming mind in the hockey world. He built the 2018 Canadian Men’s Olympic team and also teamed up with Ron Francis to help build this year’s Spengler Cup team.
MARK HUNTER (London Knights): He’s currently the GM of the London Knights of the OHL, but there was a time that many believed he would be the next GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. They went with Kyle Dubas instead and Hunter left the organization. I have no doubts he will be a GM of an NHL franchise one day.
BILL ZITO (CBJ): He started his hockey management career as an agent and then moved into the management side of things. He currently serves as an assistant GM in Columbus and also oversees their AHL affiliate. He’s one of the names on this list that has seemingly been linked to every open GM job over the past two years. Expect that to happen again with the Oilers job.
TOM FITZGERALD (NJD): He won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins as Director of Player Management and was eventually named their assistant GM. In 2017, he left the Penguins to become the assistant GM in New Jersey, where he is still currently employed.
MIKE FUTA (LAK): Since being named assistant GM of the LA Kings back in 2017, Futa has been linked to pretty much every GM job. Like Paul Fenton, who got his first GM gig with the Wild in 2018, it’s only a matter of time before Futa gets his chance to run a team. He has a strong player personnel background.
LAURENCE GILLMAN (TOR): Currently an executive with the Leafs, he’s previously spent time with the Vancouver Canucks as their assistant GM. Before that, he spent 13 years with the Winnipeg Jets/Arizona Coyotes franchise serving as their assistant GM for a time and also as GM of their AHL affiliate.
RON HEXTALL (PHI): He lost his job as GM of the Flyers earlier this year for “philosophical differences” Basically, he was too patient. You should hear his name mentioned a lot over the next few months. Not sure if he is a perfect fit here in Edmonton though.
DEAN LOMBARDI (PHI): Built a two-time Stanley Cup winner in LA, but I think his days as an NHL GM are over. It might be enticing to hire a guy like Lombardi who has done it before and won, but that’s exactly what they did with Chiarelli. I fear Lombardi would just be Chiarelli 2.0.
DAVE NONIS (ANA): He’s worked in some tough markets, serving as GM of both the Canucks and Leafs in the past. He could handle the pressures of being a GM in a Canadian city, but I don’t think he’s the right guy to build a team in the new NHL. He would be a “good hockey man” hiring.
BRIAN BURKE (Sportsnet): Nope, not a chance. He would be an awful hiring. He’s stuck in his ways and is obsessed with ‘heavy hockey’ and doing things his own way. The NHL is getting faster and more analytics-based. That’s what works. Burke wouldn’t work. I hate that I even had to put him on this list.
That’s 15 names, and I know I probably missed some. Either way, we are in for a very entertaining few months around Oilersnation.