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.
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.