For anybody with even a faint understanding of the concept of best practices, it shouldn’t be noteworthy that an NHL team looking to fill a position as important as general manager would insist on a proper search of all available candidates and exhaust due diligence in compiling a short list before hiring anybody.
The reality, however, is best practice and due diligence has been neglected by the Edmonton Oilers for decades, dating back to when Glen Sather left town for the New York Rangers and the position was inherited in subsequent years by Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish and the organization’s latest hire, Peter Chiarelli.
Whether Lowe and the others were good, bad or indifferent in the big chair isn’t the point. That none of these hires were the product of a full search for the best available candidates, the compilation of a short list and real competition for the job is the issue. This is how the Oilers have done things during a span in which (if the team misses the playoffs this season) they’ve reached the post-season just once in 13 years and three times in 17 years under ownership by both the EIG and Daryl Katz.
Now, with Chiarelli out the door and Keith Gretzky plugged in as interim GM, Bob Nicholson, the man who kept with Oiler tradition and hired Chiarelli without any semblance of a search for the best candidate, told Mark Connolly of the CBC Tuesday that’s about to change as he looks for a replacement. There’ll be an actual search. The team will insist on due diligence. Fine. Good. What I – and likely you — would like to know is, what took so long?
WHAT HE SAID
Here are some of the snippets of the 12:32 interview Nicholson did with Connolly that stood out for me. For full context, check the link above.
“There’s no question, it’s my responsibility to hire the general manager and that general manager hires the coach, so I have to take a lot of that responsibility (as) the person who hired Peter Chiarelli,” Nicholson said. “When we hired Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan, we thought we were getting a top general manager and a top coach. It didn’t work out in this situation.
“We’re going to go back and this time, we’re going to interview a lot of people . . . even when I look back now, Peter Chiarelli, I worked with him in the Olympics in 2014. I was hired as the CEO and a week later we hired Peter. He’d won the Stanley Cup . . . you go back all the way to Glen Sather and how many people has this organization interviewed to name a general manager?
“Through my research, it’s one person that they looked at . . . I think that we’ve got to make sure that we turn over every rock to make sure that we get all that information, so that’s the process we’re going through now. It hasn’t been done and I feel that this will be a good way to start the new general manager in a position that . . . this team, as I stated earlier, isn’t that far off.” Again, for full context, the interview is here.
Due diligence and process will certainly be a departure from how things have been done here. Going back, Lowe was groomed for the GM’s job almost from the minute he retired. I watched that unfold day-to-day as he went from assistant coach to head coach to Sather’s replacement. When MacTavish, replaced as coach under Tambellini, left the organization and returned, you just knew he’d get the job. Nicholson hired Chiarelli based on their relationship and history without even a glance at other candidates.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
Let’s take Nicholson at his word about what’s next. Fans can expect a proper search, a short list of candidates and a hire based on who is most qualified for the job. We’ve heard Kelly McCrimmon, Mark Hunter, Bill Guerin and Ron Hextall, to name just four, mentioned as possible targets in recent weeks. That’s a start.
What about Gretzky? Does he deserve a look based on how he performs at the interim GM? Sure, but only against a field of short-listed candidates – even if, as you’d expect, there’s cynicism based on his last name. I also think Guerin should be considered based on his work in Pittsburgh, even if there’ll be those who don’t want anybody with any ties to the Oilers. I get the sentiment.
At the very least, the search should start with every AGM in the league, most if not all of whom will have a clause that allows them to take a promotion to GM with another team. The Oilers need somebody with front office experience and a background in scouting and player personnel. They need somebody with real credentials, not the friend of a friend. That doesn’t mean settling on a retread, it means sourcing the best hockey minds, young and old. Line them up. Compare them. What’s their vision of the job ahead?
Whoever gets the job, young or old, established or on the rise, needs to be allowed to do the job without interference from those not directly in hockey ops. They need the freedom to bring in their own people and replace those who don’t fit. They don’t necessarily have to clean house top to bottom, but they need the freedom to do it if that’s what they decide. Do you trust Nicholson to oversee this process and find that person? If not him, then who?
Due diligence and proper process shouldn’t be noteworthy, but with the Oilers it is. This should be standard practice, simply how things are done, but it hasn’t been with this organization since the glory days faded and Sather left for the Big Apple. Here we are.