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What Now?

Bob Nicholson didn’t divulge much at his press conference earlier today. There were a few things that grabbed my attention, but what stood out most was he didn’t announce any firings. I thought there was a small chance he might announce some people were no longer with the organization, but instead, he announced that once the new GM is in place he will decide who stays.

I disagree with this approach.

The Oilers pro scouting and management decisions have not been good enough since Nicholson was hired four years ago. The amateur scouting has done their job, and they’ve stockpiled the farm system with some quality prospects, with more lining up to turn pro in the next year or two.

But those on the pro scouting side, player personnel and in management roles, have failed. The results are pretty clear, from ill-advised buyouts, bad trades, and some questionable signings.

So, why would Nicholson not make those changes now, rather than have the new GM make that decision? The new GM, unless it is Keith Gretzky, had nothing to do with those moves, so why waste time and have him spend hours evaluating the results?

So I asked Nicholson: why no changes now?

“I just thought leaving the structure the way it is for now,” said Nicholson. “I will certainly be talking about those weaknesses, because there are some weaknesses, and I want to do that in conjunction with him. So he gets the full picture. There are a lot of people I want to sign right now, 99% they will be signed, but we made the decision to hold everything as it is today and then move forward.”

I didn’t get a chance to follow up on this, but after reading it again I hope he was referring to signing players, like Alex Chiasson, not signing people in management to extensions. That is the opposite of what he said earlier in the press conference, “The new GM will have the final say.”

CHANGE IS NEEDED

Regardless of whom you look at, the Oilers management needs to be overhauled. That doesn’t mean every single person, but it has to be more than Peter Chiarelli. They have not been successful as a group, and when that happens on the ice, there are changes, so that same thought process should be applied to management.

I think Keith Gretzky and the amateur scouts have done a solid job. I could see why they would want to keep him, but does he want to stay if he doesn’t get the GM job?

“I do want to be the GM, and there are a lot of candidates, but as Bob (Nicholson) mentioned there is work he has to do and I have to accept the process and move forward. Right now it is about the team and we have to get ready for the draft. We will discuss it after the draft,” said Gretzky.

That last line makes me wonder if Gretzky believes he isn’t getting the job. Today, that is my sense, and I could understand if after the draft he decides he’d rather go to another organization and have a chance to move his way up to a GM role.

So Gretzky might leave, depending on who the new GM is, but his resume in Edmonton suggests he is one person you’d want to keep. But there have to be changes within the structure of their pro scouting and management, doesn’t there?

The new GM will evaluate Craig MacTavish (Senior VP or Hockey Operations), Duane Sutter (VP or Player Personnel), Scott Howson (VP Player Development), Bob Greene (Director, Player Personnel), Bill Scott (Capologist and Assistant to President of Hockey Operations) and pro scouts Chris Cichocki and Paul Messier.

They all work hard, but the team isn’t winning. The organization’s evaluation of pro players, trades and signings, hasn’t been good enough. I’m not privy to exactly how much say each man has, but Nicholson should. There should be scouting reports to analyze.

I don’t like leaving this to the new GM. Nicholson and Keith Gretzky should know the impact these men had, both positively and negatively, so shed those who weren’t helping. Peter Chiarelli might have made the Drake Caggiula trade for Brandon Manning on his own, with some input from Ken Hitchcock, but Chiarelli did not work alone in the Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle or Ryan Strome trades. There were others in the organization who agreed with these deals.

Oilers owner Daryl Katz should be demanding more from his management team, and he should be empowering Nicholson to make the tough decisions.

It came across as the GM will be the one making the decisions, and if he decides to make change it is him and not Nicholson or Katz. I view that as the organization somewhat passing the buck. It might not be, but that’s how I see it.

ANALYTICS…

Nicholson has admitted the Oilers didn’t use analytics enough under Peter Chiarelli and that will change with the new GM. The fact that occurred is another reason why more changes within management need to happen. None of them stood up and yelled and screamed and said this is asinine? Or did no one listen?

Either way, it isn’t good. Darcy Mcleod is someone I’ve come to trust when it comes to analytics and how teams see them. He tweeted this earlier today.

Not good. But outside of analytics for on-ice use, I’d argue if we came up with a formula to evaluate trades during the past four years they’d show weaknesses similar to how analytics can point out on-ice deficiencies.

I asked Gretzky about the pro trades that haven’t worked out.

“On the pro side a little bit has to do with us trying to fit on the go, with the injuries, and on defence we were really shorthanded. We overpaid and the players didn’t pan out and it looks bad.  We have to use all of our tools of analytics, or all our scouts and depend on each other to make smart decisions,” answered Gretzky.

I appreciated his honesty. They overpaid. It looks bad, and it does. And his last line is very telling. Trust and use each other. That wasn’t happening enough under Chiarelli, and that’s a sign of dysfunction.

That has to change moving forward. Nicholson doesn’t scout. I don’t expect him to, but he is in charge of the organization and he needs to clear up the dysfunction. The Oilers have been plagued by it for years.

They have too many people pulling in opposite directions. They need a clear chain of command. You have an issue, you go to the GM. None of this garbage texting to the owner, and offering up alternative points of view. It creates turmoil and the Oilers have too much of it.

It is another reason why more changes need to be made within hockey operations.

I did ask Gretzky if some of the pro scouts or management need to be changed, similar to when they change players who have negative analytics?

“For me to say if things need to be changed that isn’t my call today. That is the GM’s call, and he will go through and sift through all the scouts and everybody in the organization. He will make his decision on what he needs to do to improve any areas,” said Gretzky.

Would he make changes if he was GM?

“If I’m the GM, I would sit back and evaluate it. I have a plan, but I can’t tell you my plan,” he replied.

LOOKING AHEAD…

When should they have a new GM in place? Ideally, it would be early May, but there has been the odd occasion where the new GM gets hired in June.

The Pittsburgh Penguins hired Jim Rutherford on June 6th, 2014. Jason Botterill had been the Interim GM since they fired Ray Shero on May 16th, after losing to the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs. Rutherford made a minor deal on June 24th, but then on the 27th he traded James Neal to Nashville for Patrik Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. The Penguins were not a major player in free agency. Rutherford didn’t inherit a team in need of fixing like the current edition of the Oilers, so ideally Nicholson will have a GM before June.

Most are hired well before that, unless they are during the season replacements or getting promoted from within, which often occur in early July, the start of a new NHL season.

Doug Wilson, May 13th, 2003
Kevin Cheveldayoff, June 8th, 2011 (Jets moved from ATL that summer, new owner).
Marc Bergevin, May 2nd, 2012
Jim Nill, April 29th, 2013
Brad Treliving, April 28th, 2014
Jim Benning, May 21st, 2014
Brian MacLellan, May 26th, 2014. *Promoted from within.**
Ray Shero, May 4th, 2015
Don Sweeney, May 20th, 2015
Pierre Dorian, April 10th, 2016
John Chayka, May 5th, 2016
Dale Tallon, April 10th, 2017
Rob Blake, April 10th, 2017
Jason Botterill, May 8th, 2018
Kyle Dubas, May 11th, 2018
Paul Fenton, May 21st, 2018
Lou Lamoriello, June 5th, 2018

Outside of Lamoriello and Rutherford, who have a lot of experience, the rest were hired in April or May.

The Oilers should have their GM in place no later than May 15th, and ideally a bit sooner. If that means one of the guys they want to interview, Kelly McCrimmon for example, is still in the playoffs, then he doesn’t get interviewed.

The most active trade time in the NHL is the two week period leading up to the draft and free agency. I’d want the GM in place for at least six weeks prior to that so they have time to mount a strong plan of attack.

In my view this was the most disappointing season in Oilers franchise history. There has to be more change, and some of it should occur before the new GM is hired.

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  • Derian Hatcher

    “Oilers owner Daryl Katz should be demanding more from his management team, and he should be empowering Nicholson to make the tough decisions.”

    Tough to do that when you are hiding under the kitchen table. What a pathetic excuse for a “leader” of an organization. Embarrassing from top to bottom.

  • Danger Pay

    Isn’t the 30th Anniversary of the 89-90 Oilers coming up? The Oilers should put all resources into bringing that team back and have some sort of Banner Raising Ceremony! Problem solved.

  • VK63

    They have no clue.
    Not a sniff.

    As an exercise in inversion.
    Lets say someone walked in and bought the team from Katz outright. Today.
    Who of the existing staff is retained?

  • IceMan11

    The problem starts at the very Top! Katz should be proactive here and make the changes he needs to.
    If he can’t or won’t do that, then he should sell the Oilers to someone who will!
    If this GM hiring is screwed up, his fancy new arena will be half empty, and a lot of fans will be jumping ship!

  • Hemmercules

    Funny how Bobby doesn’t want fire everyone. Pass that buck. Let the new guy deal with it. Its not like the new GM doesn’t have a ton of garbage on his plate already. Now he’s also responsible for firing a bunch guys everyone already knows have terrible track records. And to have KG siting there while they answer GM questions is just insane. The new GM that Bobby hires could step in and fire KG the next day! Bush league. It’s like the Oilers are incapable of just doing normal things. Always have to look stupid one way or another.

    • Oilman99

      Nicholson is like a doddling old woman. Clean house, including him, and start building a professional management team that is no longer the laughing stock of the NHL. It is embarrassing to watch this guy’s press meetings.

  • Randaman

    We shall wander the desert aimlessly for the next 15 years. Katz will give the reigns to his son and another 15 years will begin. He is certainly showing his son how to run a successful business though! LOLOLOL

  • Oiler Al

    Only 2 Pro scouts??? to cover the entire NHL. Paul Messier lives in the Bahamas and manages some hotel[think its Marks hotel.] How many games and teams can he check out on a part time basis?WHAT A CREEPY ORGANIZATION.

  • OldOilerFan

    I’m going to keep posting this one comment because I think it’s just a farce: They had a Director of CAP Management. You had to give the title of Director to a guy whose job was to key in salary numbers into a spreadsheet and ask for the total. And he probably messed up the formula. What a joke. Clean the house….. please!

  • Drinking my Oilers problems away...

    What now? Wait for them to screw up and hire the wrong guy I suppose like they always do. I’ll believe it when I see it when it comes to cleaning house. These press conferences mean nothing to me, nothing interesting said and nothing interesting asked from media. Nothing changes ever with this team.

  • The future never comes

    I did not hear the presser, but from what I read from yours and BM summaries, nothing new was said. What was the point of this, no new information was exchanged. Another slap on the face to the fans. This just confirms BN has no sack and nothing new will be done despite repeated failure. Cool story.

  • Mr.Snrub

    God Emperor Lowe and his cronies will push hard for a new GM who won’t rock the boat and will fit into their “culture” so that why K.Gretzky is still the top candidate. They genuinely believe the team is just a couple pieces away ( A Vezina and Norris trophy winner!) as always and continue putting all the blame on the newest scapegoat while falling over themselves to take credit for any successes. If i’m getting their story right Peter Chiarelli went power mad this year and went full lone wolf explaining all the terrible in season moves we saw, but at the same time Chia miraculously didn’t replace any of the upper management he no longer trusted/respected?? Or was he on the cusp of doing just that this january when they struck first and had him canned?

    Bobby Burgers confirming no President of Hockey Ops hire coming which telegraphs 100% that no one in upper management is going anywhere since even if the team hired Sam Pollocks ghost to be GM, one man cannot possibly handle revamping the Oilers and their 50 pro contracts while at the same time completely replacing the entire management structure in what will also be a short summer. Be afraid Edmonton 12 out of 13 years in the playoffs can’t possibly get any worse can it…. Yes it can and barring a ton of puck luck next year it will!