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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?

WHAT HE SAID

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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?

“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. 

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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.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • ---schadenfreud---

    The fact that Nicholson admits that they never performed due diligence has warmed my heart a little bit. Calgary and Vancouver never put up with this . Edmonton always has, and always will.

  • bcoil

    I think a very positive move by Nicholson as to showing leadership would to also recognize that Hitch was also a mistake and get him out of here for the rest of the season..He is doing real damage to that dressing room . Let Manny run the team the rest of the season and let him put some positivity back into that dressing room .Let these kids have some fun again for 25 games.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      Hitch is a good coach, but I think the issue is the game has evolved more and more and yes defence needs to be a component, but it cant be the be all end all, the Oilers right now are way too tentative in the offensive zone, they arent aggressive enough on pucks, fa fa too many times they get a puck in deep and then you see two of the forwards either turn back and start to go into defensive mode o they hang fa too back leaving the lone man in to get the puck who easily gets knocked off it and the opposition gabs it and stats the puck the other way, the style of play and defensive mode thinking is killing the offence right now

      The Oilers dont hit enough and they just arent aggressive enough in pursuit of the puck, they are far far too easy to play against.. I dont see Hitch being coach here next year the players dont seem to respond to Hitch, so I think he is not going to be the coach next year. Whoever the Oilers hire is going to have their hands full because these guys are way way too disconnected to play together, I hate to say this but I think there are some players who want do anything more than they have to

      • BasementDweller

        The Oilers have the 3rd most hits per game in the NHL this season. They don’t need to hit more, they need to have the puck more – it’s not an issue of a lack of aggression, it’s a matter of a lack of skill.

      • slats-west

        Go tell Barry Trotz and MET leading Islanders that defence and “old” coaching style doesn’t work. He did that in 1 year with Tavares. Completely disagree Hitch is the issue here.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Good column. However, while it’s interesting to note the Oilers’ tradition or non-tradition of actually interviewing GM candidates going all the way back to the Sather era, the practice of hiring-from-within with little or no “hunting” was definitely “industry-standard” for decades.

    I’m not defending this practice, by the way, but it is important to note that it has been very much league tradition. For the most part, players (though not necessarily NHLers) became coaches and they matriculated to become GMs. The “outsiders” were the GMs who didn’t play the game at all.

    Positions were almost always passed down to those who had served the teams for a long time, without much fuss or muss. I certainly don’t remember there being much coverage about “hiring processes” of GMs in the 1980s or even the 1990s. Heck, as I recall, Sather’s ascension to GM in 1981 was probably more of a bloodless coup than a natural succession (why would Larry Gordon want to leave that job?).

    I didn’t realize that Chiarelli was the product of a largely-bypassed GM search. That’s disappointing, but only with the benefit of hindsight. Chiarelli was certainly highly-regarded around the league – he’d won a Cup and was part of a group of GMs who were Ivy-League-educated with hockey backgrounds. I didn’t bat an eyelash when he was hired, but I suppose many on here will say they did. Again, hindsight.

    As for the other guys? Tambellini was considered an up-and-comer around hockey circles for years – very highly regarded. MacTavish was a cerebral player and coach and no one was surprised when he was deemed ready for the GM role.

    As for Lowe, I can remember there were stories in the 1980s about how well-suited he’d be in either coaching or as a GM. In fact, when he stepped from coach to GM, I remember Jim Matheson writing an article that quoted none other than Lou Lamoriello as saying that Lowe was born to be a GM and exactly what the game needed. High praise.

    Oiler fans, of course, would probably take Lou to task on that assertion and rightfully so. But to say that the Oilers’ hiring practices over the last 40 years have been their own unique model of failure is a stretch. Two of the last five Oiler GMs, going back to Sather were people they’d brought in from the outside. Two others were former players who’s worked their way up.

    Again, not defending these processes. The results speak for themselves (post-Sather-era). And I am glad the hiring processes will evolve.

    • Steveland Cleamer

      He reminds me of Gil Gunderson from The Simpsons.
      “Oh boy, your whole life you work and you slave and scrimp and you steal just enough to get a sweet, sweet lick of that shiny brass ring. Where’s Gil’s lick, doesn’t Old Gil get a lick?”

  • 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

  • Total Points

    Nothing, absolutely nothing will change until Nick, Lowe, Mctavish, Howsen, Gretzky (both) are removed from hockey operations. they can be employed by katz but not at the draft table, any hockey title, etc

  • 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.

  • 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

    I don’t know who the best candidate to do the hiring is, but I have a pretty good idea who is going to do the hiring all the same.
    The hiring of Chiarelli without proper vetting was not a misstep, it was a colossal blunder. That alone should disqualify BN from making the call on this.

    • Die Hard Oiler Fan

      Not to mention that Bobby firmly supported Chia last summer, saying he “believed in Chia’s plan”. No doubt in my mind that the team would be better off if Chia had been replaced before the start of this season. Based on this, I am not sure why Bobby is still with the organization, or at very least, has anything to do with the on-ice product.

  • Spydyr

    Interview as many candidates as you can. Anyone that wants an interview and is remotely a fit interview them. Pick everyone’s mind. Ask hard questions like what do you see as the issues here. What would you do to remedy them and so forth. Get as much information as possible.

  • Gravis82

    What took so long to start writing these articles?

    Everything was clear when he traded picks for Reinhart, and then sealed the deal when he traded hall.

    But the pitchforks didn’t come out across the media (here included) until all signs pointed to a firing.

    Why did normal fans see this for what was almost 2 years before hockey writers did? Is it because of fear of losing access after a scathing article?

    How do we rectify this going forward Robin. I am serious.

    • ---schadenfreud---

      “How do we rectify this going forward Robin. I am serious.”

      Robin doesn’t have the answers. And the people who make decisions aren’t going to listen to him anyway.

        • Gravis82

          And since my comments got tons of likes, he won’t comment either. That’s the way it is around here if you pay attention.

          Gregor loves to chime in a tear a strip off of a critical comment directed at his article, but only if the trashes are in his favour. Critical comments with huge engagement and 90% likes….you’ll rarely see an authors response

          • McRaj

            This website like everything else is about money. Ad Revenue, etc. That is why this site has long been going down the drain since they become more “Corporate”. I went from reading every single article to only reading articles by Gregor, Robin, and Dusty. I even offered to become a part time contributor at no cost (had some good stuff) and never heard back. Media (Bloggers, Newspaper, TV) are all the same. Look at all the game day predictions, I think the Oilers would have 45 wins based off of them already. Such a shame all the kool-aid everyone here drinks.

    • Derian Hatcher

      It took Mark Connolly 12 minutes to ask questions that should have been asked at the Chia firing presser. He pressed Bob until he actually answered whether hiring Chia was a mistake. I have nothing against the media – I read or listen to a variety of the them daily. But I always hear that the media represents the fans and if the organization of player does not talk to the media (See Jones, Terry and the limited media access to the Eskimos under Ed Hervey), then that organization is not communicating with the fans. If this is the case, then the does the media not represent the fans when communicating with the organization as well? Or am I off base?

      • camdog

        Things haven’t changed with Eskimos since Hervey left. Terry Jones may have told you things are different under Sutherland, but that’s just his narrative.,,

        • Derian Hatcher

          That isn’t my point. Perhaps I did not express it well. My point is that the media people who claim they are representing the fans when they are not given access to a team or players are also representing the fans when they DO have access and imo need to ask the tough, direct questions that the fans want answers to. This includes follow up questions when whomever does the avoidance dance in not answering. Couldn’t care less who the communications lackey is at that present moment trying control the situation at the press conference. This group has proven they are incompetent. As someone mentioned above, the fans have figured it out long ago. Fans (of all tiers) deserve answers to tough questions.

          • Derzie

            I’d be hard pressed to think on ANY media outlet as representing the audience or fans. Most of what we see, read & hear is intended to persuade, or even manage us. As consumers, the only power we wield is our time & money. The media are not going to bite the hand that feeds (which isn’t us).

          • ---schadenfreud---

            Derian Hatcher is correct about deserving answers.

            But he’s wrong about them being incompetent. They fear the consequences to their livelihood should they cross Katz and crew and embarrass the organization by demanding answers to the real tough questions.

  • TruthHurts98

    This team will never win with guys like Bobby Nick running ‘searches’ for candidates. He along with quite a few others still embedded in this franchise are incompetent when it comes to grasping this new NHL. Records and results speak louder than ‘his plan’ which is a disaster and complete failure. So Katz is going to let this stooges stay on at the helm? The ship has sunk to the bottom of the ocean and isn’t going anywhere. Yet the Oiler media keeps drinking their Koolaid and believing their idiotic assessments. Wake up. Go ahead and trash away, facts are offensive to those who don’t live in reality. Without Connor this team would only win one or two games every 20. It’s beyond pathetic.

  • The future never comes

    Bobby is just another spineless clown that’s directly part of the problem. He should be gone with the rest of those donkeys. This franchise will stink as long as the management is place is here. That’s the scary truth.

  • Rick Stroppel

    “THIS TEAM…ISN’T THAT FAR OFF”

    This direct quote tells you everything you need to know about Nicholson, and the Oilers organization. Haven’t we heard stuff exactly like this before? Lowe: “Half the teams in the NHL would trade their rosters for ours”. McTavish: “The whole league is bullish on the Oilers”.

    When Nicholson gave this interview, the team was in third last overall in the league. They are poised to miss the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons. Does Nicholson have the SLIGHTEST CLUE why that is so? Nope. “Something in the water.” “We’re unlucky.” “We’re close.” “Injuries.”

    This is a classic example of Stockholm syndrome. Having spent 4.5 years with the Glory Boys, and not having a very strong personality himself, Nicholson has adopted their attitude of not taking the blame for anything. For instance, when asked about the obvious mistake of not making a comprehensive search for GM or HC in the past, he tries to slough that off by saying that neither did Sather or any of his successors. It’s the “Oilers way”.

    Nicholson seriously, incredibly, thinks that the team is in good shape. Therefore there is no reason to make big changes. Therefore, next season, K Gretzky will be GM, Gulutzan will be HC, Hitchcock will be retained in some advisory capacity, Coffey will be an assistant coach in charge of the power play. And the circle goes around and around and around.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      what you are seeing is damage control, nothing more. dont really say what is going on, here is what to avoid saying in words to terms to keep the masses from revolting, it’s just spin. 80% percent of the fans know there is way way more wrong here then what we are being told, and most of the fans know this and arent fooled by the platitudes

  • VK63

    I do not think Bob should be leading the team to decide on the new GM.
    My list would include Brandon Pridham from the Leafs. I suspect that the Oilers list includes Don Maloney from the Flames as he fits the nest of nepotism that will be a Katz requirement.
    The decision making structure is rotten and the franchise does not have the cajones to clean house as there are far too many untouchables.

    A better question might very well be. Given the constraints of the teams structure, will anyone with real credibility and integrity even consider this Oilers post? Im not so sure that this is even an attractive gig given the state of this organization.

  • Garry T

    I am a Flames Fan and will always be. I was an Oilers admirer in the good old days. Dynasty, Dynasty, Dynasty.
    I cannot for the life of me understand how this team could draft the 1st and 28,29,30 or 31st position and repeat through so many drafts in virtually the same order and not have a team like you had in the old days. I am not being rude, but it is sad!

    When you hire a new GM. give Mark Hunter a real good look. When you look at the Leafs Roster and look at the Marlies roster which are both loaded, know that work was Hunter. The guy is well connected throughout the CHL.
    And he is methodical. He will turn your club upside down for the next three years and the next thing you know you will be in the hunt again and not look back as long as he is involved. Second piece of advice. Glen Gulutzan …. nice guy, nice hair, well groomed. Do not under any circumstances make him your head coach! He Chia’d the Flames lineup and
    Christ, if you were following the Flames Nation, Blog, it’s a wonder he survived here.

    Looking at your AHL team, you have some guys coming. Trust them like we did with ours. But be prepared for a major shakeup this summer because that is the only way you are going to improve your club. Hunter will find you a terrific coach and assistants. He will get you value for what he has to move out and he will build, player by player and line by line. Your D has some good players but needs improvement and he will do that for you. Good Luck!

    • Derian Hatcher

      @ GarryT – I read your thoughts on FN. Thank you for contributing some constructive thoughts to our plight. It’s hard times here and the attention-seeking trolls who visit are of little brain and even less in the character department.

    • Ratt McNuge

      Thanks, Mr. Flames fan. It seems like an impossible dream that for us to have a good old fashioned BOA in the playoffs like the good old days. The Oilers and Flames should be duking it out for first in the Pacific, but sadly we have a bunch of incompetents running our team.