What took so long?

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?

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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?

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“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.


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?

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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.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • toprightcorner

    The most important decision will be to hire a separate POHO and GM. POHO can focus on setting up analytics and science departments and GM can focus on scouting departments. This allows bringing in a very experienced hockey mind for POHO and it is easy to hire a first time GM.

    People like Gurien and McCrimmon likely won’t be allowed to interview until after they are out of the playoffs. That means it could easily be mid-June before they are even able to talk to all the candidates they want to. Until then, they should be interviewing anyone and everyone just to gather info because they will start to see a theme after talking with 15 candidates.

    I doubt they announce new hiring until after the playoffs and in all honesty, I would not care if it was after the draft. They will use Gretzky’s list anyway and I don’t necessarily want a new GM making any big draft day deals with only a few days on the job. That’s how Reinhart deals are made.

  • ed from edmonton

    Excellent analysis, especially about how the new guy needs full authority including to bring his own people in. I keep wondering how this fits in with Nicholson’s previous comment about the new guy needing to get with the Oil culture.

  • Zach's Crazy Eyes

    IMO Booby Nic needs to hire a President of Hockey Opps that
    1. Has no ties to the Grumpy Old Men
    2. No Ties to Booby Mac
    3. Have full power to clean out the management team including his Vice President of Hockey Opps, Assistant GM, All the Scouts.
    This President of Hockey Opps, should then be able to hire a GM.
    Unfortunately Booby Mac and KLowe, will not be getting fired!!!!!

  • CMG30

    Due diligence is great if you trust that the guys evaluating the candidates understand the game as it’s played today and in turn what kind of players it takes to win. I don’t have faith that the ‘brain trust’ that Katz has collected are the right people to oversee the search. I’m very much afraid that the next GM be a carbon copy of the losing ideas that have run this club for so long. Instead of prioritising speed and skill we’re going to seek to bring in grit and character. Instead of goal scoring we’re looking for leadership in the room. Not that leadership and character are bad things, it’s just that they can’t take precedence over who’s able to move pucks up the ice and who’s actually putting points up on the board.

  • ed from edmonton

    One of the most critical skills of a successful executive is knowing what your weaknesses are and get people in the organization who have skills you done have. In the Connelly interview BN states that he has been talking to other NHL execs about what is needed in a GM and where the game is going. It’s troubling that the guy making the decision is seeking help with what I would think should be fundamental to make a good decision. Should BN get someone with expertise in these area to advise on this decision. It’s quite common to hire executive search specialists to assist in making these types of a decision. The hockey world is much smaller than almost ant other business you can think of (how many businesses have only 31 players in the space, and from a business point of view they more like partners than competitors). I would think BN would be well served to admit he does not have the background to make this decision and to get some help. What is Brian Burke doing for the next 3 months? I know the BN and Burke go all the way back to their college days, I hope BN is calling on his assistance.

  • polarcap

    The process in hiring key personnel, is critical to success, from the setting of criteria, setting the weightings, picking the selection panel, the interviews, the research and finally a decision. I hope that they will look at the current organizational structures. The lack of oversight was a major problem that lead to current problems. Good organizational design ensures countervailing (opposing), as well as independent (outsider) views are incorporated on a regular basis. Typically, as suggested, the first decision is the GM. As part of review process, short listed GM’s should be given a comprehensive overview of current processes and key persons in the organization. The fact it took as long as it did to deal with the current mess, as a symptom of how deep the problems go. BN has to seriously look at his own role going forward. It is appalling in todays age that the millions of dollars involved that the oilers are still in the darks ages in terms of implementing the latest modern organizational and communication tools

  • PJP

    Are we the worst team ever? No.
    Are we the worst team since 1990? Well…

    Using a system I’ve stolen from https://www.complex.com/sports/2018/04/2018-sports-mistery-index-ranking-worst-frachises-to-root-for-ranked/
    where a winning season is worth 1 point, a playoff appearance is 2 points, each playoff series victory is worth 4 points (Similar to the NBA) and a championship is worth 12 points, lets see how a few NHL teams do:

    Oilers Since 1990
    Winning seasons 9
    Playoff appearances 10
    Playoff series victories 10
    Championships 1
    81 points total

    Flames since 1990
    Winning seasons 15
    Playoff appearances 13
    Playoff series victories 4
    Championships 0
    57 points total

    Leafs since 1990
    Winning seasons 16
    Playoff appearances 14
    Playoff series victories 11
    Championships 0
    88 points

    The Winnipeg Jets prorate to 68 points.
    Montreal got 122. Vancouver 104

    Detroit 258 points.

    I’ll let you do your own tabulation on any other team you’d like to rank.

    Just to put things in perspective, using this system, the worst NFL team is the Cleveland Browns
    Winning seasons: 3
    Playoff appearances: 2
    Playoff wins: 1
    Championships: 0
    Misery points: 16.8

    The worst MLB team is the Milwaukee Brewers
    Winning seasons: 8
    Playoff appearances: 2
    Playoff series wins: 1
    Championships: 0
    Misery points: 24

    And the worst NBA team is Minnesota Timberwolves
    Winning seasons: 8
    Playoff appearances: 8
    Playoff series wins: 2
    Championships: 0
    Misery points: 32

    It’s not that we’re better. We are just less worse.

    • PJP

      I let my enthusiasm include 1989-1990…if you remove that season, the Oilers get MUCH lower on this scale…down to like 55 without the Cup, and 3 playoff series victories, etc.

  • Odanada

    Well Robin, if you were to take the comments here as a barometer reading on whether or not Oiler fans find fault with BN, it’s pretty obvious no one is defending him.
    If the OBC are monitoring the sight at all, I’m sure they can see which way the winds are blowing.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    They’ll do their due diligence alright, and stil **** it up. I fully expect one of Lowe, MacT, or Gretzky (does it matter who?) to be the GM next season. They talk about “Loilalty” all the damn time, and they are “Loil”. “Loil” to themselves

  • wiseguy

    You would assume that the Oilers perform due diligence in their pro and amateur scouting before drafting or trading for a player. Based on the results of those, due diligence will not result in a better result for a GM hire because the people doing the due diligence are the wrong people. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s the owner… Since we can’t do anything about that, all hope for this team is lost. (real hope, not Hall, Omark, Paajarvi, Ebs – the last shred of this was traded last year)

  • hagar

    Looks like bob is karyoki singing “dont stop, believing” in that picture. What a discrace… Ladies and gentlemen… I emplore you….. This said everything is going forward the same as before. No doubt about it.

  • slats-west

    A few thoughts on Nicholson and this article:

    – not doing the proper Due Diligence and following a proper selection process is indicative of the management style in place and a serious flaw, that being the organization vastly over estimates it’s “hockey intellect”
    – Bob N should NOT be in charge of selecting anything hockey related. He’s an organizational leader not a Hockey Leader. Go be the Executive Director for The World Cup of Hockey. Not an NHL team.
    – this team has consistently taken short cuts. In the early days they did last minute trades that mortgaged the future and then the “weak hockey intellect” took over and they made bad decision after bad decision. They continue to do so.
    – building an analytics department is important foundation to make decisions but alone it can’t make decisions for you. Presuming otherwise is foolish. Go ask Lou Lamorello if his spreadsheet tells him what to do. He would laugh. Good people debating based on facts and hockey intellect will lead to a product of good decisions.
    – finally and I’ve said it in the past this team needs a new organizational blue print based on a winning template. I’ve said before the Patriots. Not because I’m a patriots or bellichick fan but because they are winners and they know how to operate in salary cap world. For instance McDavid should be a draw for at least one major RFA or soon to be UFA every year. Chiasson will score 20 with McDavid, so did Maroon. Others should want to come here to get more value for themselves and hopefully play for a winner. Right now we don’t get those players. Why?

    The Oilers are at least 2-3 years away from winning and building a successful organization. It starts June 2019 if they make the right changes. Or perhaps never if they have the status quo…..

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Long slow clap Sir. I believe you have it cornered. They need to get a HOCKEY man in charge. Not an OILERS HOCKEY man. That fellow then needs to hire another hockey man to manage the club. The NHL club, and probably not the affiliated organizations. Looking back on it… that seemed like an enormous task to put on Chiarelli. No excuses for his moves, but managing that much personnel seems downright insane. Did it also include the ECHL affiliate? Yikes. If that was a Bobby Nicks decision then he really needs to go. What a bungling bunch of bums.

  • Alf

    Absolute joke. Rehashing the same garbage. Hiring his buddy from the 2014 Olympic team was so bad, he should be fired as well. Maybe that will send a message that this isn’t the local buddies clubhouse.

    How Katz is not completely embarrassed by how this MickeyMouse organization is run is beyond mind blowing.

    There is zero help coming next year. Which means no.playoffs yet again. Yet Bobby Nick will still be doing Oilers sound bites on how he’s doing things differently…. sorry you can’t teach an Old dog/Boys new tricks.