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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?

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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?

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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.

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?

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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


  • camdog

    Robin – I’m pretty sure Nicholson specifically said that the new GM has to fit with the Oilers Executives already in place. The new GM will not have the authority to hire and fire his own people. I think Nicholson said this right after PC was fired.

    • Beer_League_Ringer

      It’s hard to tell when an individual is buying time with words, being forthcoming, or making errors in their speech under duress – and frankly, my judgement depends more on context than individual speaking. That said, everything up to this point leads me to believe Bob’s job is on the line going forward and he realizes it. There is zero reason for him to be forthcoming about his “search” for Chiarelli and the results being his fault, and for him to say he’s botched things if Katz was cool with losing and just collecting cheques like some here vehemently claim. I understand the frustration of the fan base, but the owner spends right to the cap every year and the worth of his Edmonton real estate ventures depend on the Oilers being marketable. That is fact, not conjecture. You don’t have to like him, or believe him, but Bob knows his job is on the line.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Ratt McNuge

    Bob Nicholson should do the honourable thing and resign. That is, if stupid Daryk Katz would even let him. He wouldn’t accept Lowe’s resignation because that would ruin his dream of sipping champagne out of the cup (ha!) with the OBC.

  • ---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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I’m in support of Bill Guerin if he stacks up against the shortlist and is the best option. His work in Pittsburgh speaks for itself and his history with Edmonton should be arbitrary due to his lack of OBC connection.

  • corky

    They should contract a group of three or so unbiased hockey people to do the search, interview and select the new GM. These three would have no ties to the OBC and would offer a pick best suited for an NHL team, not the Oilers specifically. I bet when it comes to executive positions at Katz owned companies, Daryl lets others do the hiring process. Why not put the trust into the hands of capable people.

  • StahmBomb

    Don’t forget we gave up a 2nd round draft pick for a Chia… more salt in the wound. How many better AGMs we could have hired which wouldn’t have required anything…

  • 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

  • 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.

  • tkfisher

    Once Bobby find someone good by doing the unimaginable task of “SEARCHING” for, or having multiple candidates, and “interviewing” more than one person. That person should automatically be given the GM position and then replace Nicholson, thus having a dual role. I think it would be only fitting for the firing to come via SKYPE. The oilers are all about tradition after all. Nicholson needs to go.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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)