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Cleaning House

Spring cleaning has to take on a whole new meaning for the Edmonton Oilers in April and beyond as those left behind and those yet to arrive have to tidy up the mess left behind by Pete Chiarelli. It’s going to be a big job. That much we already know.

What we don’t know, what’s up in the air, is who stays, who goes and, before any of that is decided, who comes in to survey the job at hand and calls the shots? Many fans, and understandably so, are calling for the Oilers to clean house from top to bottom in hockey-ops – and, in the case of Kevin Lowe, outside of it. Other fans, a group that’s far less vocal, don’t see the need to tear things down to the studs.

Those who fall into the clean house category want anybody with membership in the OBC, the Old Boys Club, gonzo-alonzo, outta here, down the road. The sooner the better. OBC members have been part of the decision-making process to one degree or another since the team’s appearance in the 2006 Stanley Cup final and the track record since then is dismal. Time to go. Buh-bye.

We know who the most-often mentioned candidates to be the new GM are and that Keith Gretzky holds the job now on an interim basis. We know that CEO Bob Nicholson was working the room at a meeting of general managers in Florida looking for talent earlier this week and that interviews to fill the big chair will begin in the next couple of weeks.

Whether this turns out to be a full-scale house cleaning, a quick makeover at the top (that’ll never sell) or something in between – I believe it’ll fall into that category when everything is said and done – it isn’t going to happen by simply having owner Daryl Katz rub his pinky ring and wave his hand. Questions? Yes, I’ve got a few.

WHO MAKES THE HIRE?

A mentioned, Nicholson is putting together the short-list of candidates and is in charge of doing due diligence in sorting out who best fits the job. That’s something he’s admitted he didn’t do when hiring Chiarelli, who became the apple of Nicholson’s eye the moment he was cut loose by the Boston Bruins. There was no competition for the job whatsoever.

Do you trust Nicholson to make the hire, as it appears he will? Some think he should’ve been sacked with Chiarelli, but that obviously didn’t happen. If you’re willing to have Nicholson call the shots, does he do it by himself or should he consult with anybody else within the organization? Does anybody want Craig MacTavish or Scott Howson or Katz chiming in on making that call? I’m guessing not.

ONE OR TWO?

Chiarelli was both POHO and GM. I’m wondering if Nicholson is going into his search looking at splitting those duties into two distinct jobs, keeping it as one or if it’ll depend on who grades out as the best candidate? If, for example, the Oilers land somebody with a solid resume as an assistant GM but no NHL experience as a GM like Kelly McCrimmon, does it make sense to split the titles?

Seeing as Vegas hasn’t given anybody permission to talk with McCrimmon during the season and that he looks like he would be a fit in Seattle, where it won’t be as much of a fishbowl, I think he’s a longshot here despite some solid credentials. Bottom line, unless there’s somebody with a track record as a GM at the NHL level, I’m thinking splitting duties might be the way to go. I don’t want a first-time GM learning the ropes on his own with a team that needs considerable changes in player personnel.

FREEDOM?

Edmonton Oilers general manager, Peter Chiarelli, speaks at a season ending press conference.

Whether it’s one hire at the top as POHO and GM or two people, whoever comes in has to have absolute freedom to make changes from top to bottom within hockey-ops as they see fit and to do it without interference or anybody leaning over their shoulder “making suggestions.” That kind of influence and interference, be it real or imagined, is what drives fans around here to distraction more than anything. With good reason.

If the new boss wants to bring in new assistant GM’s, then it happens and the old ones are gone. The new boss gets to hire a new head coach – he will need one because I don’t see any way Ken Hitchcock is coming back — and the new coach hires his staff of assistants. Maybe somebody from the old staff, Glen Gulutzan or Trent Yawney for example, stick around, but only if the new coach wants it that way. This is how it’s supposed to work, even if that hasn’t been the case here for a long time.

THE WAY I SEE IT

I completely understand all the angst fans have about what they perceive as influence and interference by the OBC and why they want to see a purge of same. What I don’t want, though, is to see the proverbial case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in the name of optics. Optics matter, but not as much as winning.

Be it somebody like Keith Gretzky or members of the scouting staff, as examples, if the new boss wants to retain some people in hockey ops – because he believes they’re the best person for the job, not because some old player from the glory days tells him it’s a good idea – then he should. If he wants to blow them out, then he should. That’s the only way it works.

The Oilers have to get this right, and right now, before they can get on to the business of putting together a contending team on the ice. To do that, they need to move away from how they’ve done things for decades on end. The last Stanley Cup from 1990 is a distant speck in the rear-view mirror now. It’s past time to stop looking back and start looking ahead.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

    • McHitch

      If Bob cant convince Stevey Y or Holland to take the job what good is he? He has decades of experience working with those two.

      If he doesnt secure one of them for the next job he should be fired immediately.

  • Goaltender Interference

    Everyone on the Oilers management team short of Joey Moss needs to go.

    Who are these fans who think otherwise? Where have they been the last dozen years or so?

  • A-co

    Fire Nicholson and let his replacement search for the new GM. After all he admitted to not doing his job right the 1st time when he hired Pistol Pete, he is part of the problem. And when he talks he just doesn’t seem like he knows what day of the week it is, he’s clueless. This team has been a mess ever since Katz took it over and if he’s not willing to take it down to the wood screws and gut hockey ops nothing is going to change in Oil country.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    i said long ago that the Oilers need to clean the house from management on down, but I agree if anyone is thinking those that are connected to the OBC is going to be shown the door, it just aint going to happen, Katz is way way too chummy with the OBC to boot any of those characters, as much as they deserve to go. The problem is the culture and philosophy of the OBC ands their loyalty to stick with who they know is too damn entrenched to make Katz want to change it.

    Until the Oilers clean house and get rid of the OBC and the culture that sexists, we wont see any meaningful change. We can change GM’s and coaches and assistants till the cows come home, but its wont help, too many people in the background have too much sway in how things are done and being run, and until that gets changed this team will be doomed because of all the failures happening within the organisation that have been plaguing this organisation for years go unfixed

  • hagar

    It warms my heart to see this article Mr. Brownlee.
    We dont scream and kick over and over, especially as bad this year because we are venting and think there is another way. There simply is no other way around it, it is clear that the problem starts at the top and goes down in a dirty contaminating mud slide. Even the players we hire arent able to escape the inevetable regression this org creates in everyone soul.
    Hopefully more articles question the ability for the team to ever move forward with the current culture.

  • toprightcorner

    The Oilers ABSOLUTELY need to hire a separate GM and PoHO. Where the NHL is currently at, I don’t see a really experienced GM being the right fit, at least from the current availability pool. Analytics and Sports Science are key areas the Oilers need to dive into and the old cronies just don’t have that in them.

    Hire an experienced hockey guy for PoHO, a former experienced GM, then you can hire the best available candidate with the best ideas and not have to worry about their past GM experience.

    Nicholson should hire a PoHO and then together they should hire a new GM. This allows for a wider view to pick the right GM for the job.

  • Sammy27

    New POHO has input to New GM, who throws out MacTavish, Howson, based on their record ( and maybe the cap guy helping negotiating the deals). All the coaches go back into the selection pool with all the other worthy candidates. New Head coach chosen, then choose your staff from that remaining pool. Pro and amature scouting to be determined from best in the pool. I might even give Hitchcock a spot somewhere, if he still looks like a candidate from that pool.
    Please fix the —-show, the 90’s were along time ago. And remember we weren’t the favourite to win in ’90.

  • CMG30

    Very good points. I would add one more thing, the new GM should not have to also GM the junior club. He should be aware of the goings on there but have someone else running the show there. 100% attention on the Oilers.

  • M22

    Without one single, solitary reason to put my faith in this bunch of self-serving incompetents, I’m left with nothing but hope. But, for almost the entirety of the Katz era, my hopes for anything resembling capability, and accountability, have turned to dust.

    Nicholson is still at the wheel. And he’s in charge of steering this steaming dung-heap toward glory – Oilers “culture” intact. Great.

    Sadly, we should expect more of the same, fellow Oilers fans. Prove me wrong, Bob. Prove me wrong – please.

  • mikecomrie89

    Personally, I would leave emotion out of it. I would look at somebody’s job title and hold them accountable to it. Why would anybody except the GM who has already paid pay for what the GM did?

    We don’t have any choice except to trust Bob Nicholson that he will get to the roots of the problems and fix them. Myself, being a worker, know very well how my expertise is never fully utilized by the foreman or the company.

    What we need is somebody who oversees and executes based on skillsets. I mean, why do people hate Wayne Gretzky? What did he do except get lumped in with the “Old Boys Club” by grumpy no-nothing fans? Myself, I like that fact that the World’s Greatest Hockey player still has something to do in the Oilers organization.

    • Lowe enuf

      Uhhh I dunno… maybe because he sat on his ass thinking of new burger toppings while Chia destroyed a team that had beaten the odds and was drafting first overall in 4 of 6 years? Or making unexplainable trades that the Oilers were clearly being fleeced on? Or because he had insight into the state of the team that he fired the GM during the second intermission of a game and then admitted “they had decided to fire him” earlier in the week all the while insisting that he was in charge, not the OBC. Yeah you are probably right, nothing to see here. Barnum and Bailey called they want Bob back to run their circus.

  • Datsyukian

    Can someone tell me what POHO does compared to GM? Can we not have just the GM? I think we have too many big wigs calling the shots and too few “work bees”.

    • Ithompson

      well, considering Chia was POHO as well as GM, the hiring process for GM (more important in day to day operations than POHO) goes to next higher up which is Bob… so yeah he sees himself in that role for the time being. until a new POHO is hired.

  • hockeyartist

    I disagree there needs to be considerable changes in player personnel. Except for Hall the core remains intact. They need a few high end second line wingers. Not easy to get with little wiggle room in cap space, but maybe prospects, draft picks come into play to get one with a cheap contract. They have plenty of decent 3rd and 4th line with a few pushing from the AHL.. Maybe one more 2nd pairing D. If Koskinen can consistenly play the way he has recently he will be fine. I agree there does need to be a major change in the entire chain of command. But patience and little by little with the players, not the same old Rebuild 3.1.2 or whatever its at.

  • HockeyRooster

    I don’t trust Bobby to make the hire. I also don’t want to see what appears to be a good hockey man in Keith Gretzky fired because of his last name (actually, I love me some Gretzkys!!).
    I hope they hire an up and coming GM and a crusty old POHO who will keep Keith on staff as well as keep the assistant coaches. Yawney especially.
    I feel like the chances of BN getting this whole thing right are less than mine to get drafted by the Oilers. So, just like my draft situation, I’ll continue to hope for the best for this Oilers management team.