Bob Nicholson has already interviewed a handful of candidates for the vacant GM job, with plans to talk to a few more men this month.
Hiring a new GM is an important step for the Oilers, but one person will not fix all that ails them.
I believe the Oilers need to fix their off-ice issues as much as they need to improve their on-ice performance.
It is pretty clear to anyone who has watched the Oilers recently to know they need to upgrade their blueline, get more consistent goaltending and add some bottom six depth scoring. The new GM will be responsible for bringing in some new players, but the ones who remain are responsible for taking responsibility for their terrible play on the penalty kill, winning faceoffs, being more committed to getting the puck out and being more consistent.
Altering the roster won’t be easy, but it isn’t impossible, and because the Oilers have two 100-point players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the ability to turn things around quickly is there. It is up to the new GM to make smart, competent trades or free agent signings.
I’d argue the tougher job will be to fix what I perceive as dysfunction throughout the organization.
This is where owner Daryl Katz comes in.
Leadership starts at the top. He needs to set the tone and direction of the organization. If I was him this is what I’d do.
1. The only people I would want texting me about hockey operations decisions are Nicholson and the new GM. No one else. Period. Set up a proper chain of command and tell people to follow it. Everything should go through the GM and Nicholson. I say this presuming Nicholson learned from his previous mistake and he will hire a GM who communicates with his staff. This is a must, but having too many voices causes dissension and mixed messaging. That doesn’t mean Katz can’t sit in on hockey operations meetings or scouting meetings before the draft/free agency, but during the season he should limit who is talking with him.
2. Katz needs to take control and limit what, where it is true or not, can look like back channeling. Every successful business has an organizational structure and chain of command. If someone else in management, coaching, a player, or at any other level within the organization is texting Katz his or her view on the team it muddies the waters. Express those opinions and viewpoints to the Nicholson or the GM. Katz isn’t a scout. He is a self-admitted fan, which is great, and he needs to empower Nicholson and the new GM and trust that they are communicating with the rest of the organization. Too much chatter leads to confusion and a lack of continuity.
3. Katz has to be prepared to spend more money in management. If the new GM wants to clean house, Katz has to be okay with it and pay out the people the new GM doesn’t want. The Oilers are not picking up any of Todd McLellan’s salary (his final year in Edm/first year in LA). So that saves Katz over $3 million. Of course that will go directly to a new coach, but had McLellan not signed Katz would be paying two head coaches, so this is a financial win for him. He was prepared to pay out McLellan, and now that he doesn’t have to he should accept whatever payouts (firings) the new GM wants to make.
4. Spend money on an actual analytics department. It is mind-blowing how little resources the Oilers had in analytics last season. You can blame Chiarelli, but the reality is the rest of the organization agreed with it. I hope Nicholson has learned from this grave error.
5. Whether he wants to believe it or not, the connection to the 80s Oilers has not helped this team over the past decade. The results speak for themselves. Katz must make a hard decision and realize their plan, direction, vision has not worked. I do not know with any real accuracy how much influence the Old Boys Club has had, but whatever amount it is, it has not worked. That has to change. Who, where and when is up to Katz, but he needs to realize that what his hockey operations have done for the past decade, not just the four years under Chiarelli, hasn’t been good enough.
6. Don’t get sucked into believing all the struggles of this organization fall on Chiarelli and the past four years. Consistent losing was prevalent before Chiarelli was hired. Chiarelli’s reign at least had one winning season, which is still more than the previous ten years. Significant change must occur, not only in who is working for the organization, but how the organization does business.
7. Set a standard and stick with it. Last August when Andrej Sekera tore his Achilles training, the press release outlined the injury, when he would have surgery and the expected timeline. Quick, accurate and to the point. They had done the same when he tore his ACL in May of 2017. I understand you don’t have to outline every injury during the season, but the press release for Connor McDavid last week was a disaster. This is only my opinion, and not confirmed by anyone, but reading that press release I have to wonder if McDavid’s agent didn’t want the specific injury mentioned? I know McDavid is the most important player on the team, no question, but set a standard of press release and stick to it. The fact is the exact news came out moments later, so all that happened is the Oilers organization took another unnecessary PR shot. Previous press releases were accurate and correct. Continuity in every aspect of the organization is vital. To me, that is what creates a culture. Consistency in every aspect of how the organization runs, regardless of how small it is perceived, will benefit your organization in the long run.
8. Recognize you need to regain trust with your fans and season ticket holders. This will not be a quick fix. I’ve never seen fans this frustrated. Cancelling season seats is not an easy decision for diehard fans, and now that many are at that point, significant change in how you interact and treat them needs to change. I think Mr. Katz should be the one to present this to the fans. I don’t expect the owner to speak publicly very often, but this is one time where I would be front and centre on the microphone. Your fans still care about your team, but they need to hear that you care the same and will make changes in numerous areas of the team.
9. Stop overlooking small things. The Edmonton Oil Kings, which are part of the OEG, are having a surprisingly awesome playoff run in the WHL. Oilers twitter has barely mentioned it. Use that platform to your advantage. Why wouldn’t you have had Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or other former CHL players, do a short video supporting the Oil Kings? Be proud of every aspect of the OEG, and when one team is winning you should be promoting the hell out of them. Cross-promotion should be mandatory. The Oilers are the big dog, but the big dog hasn’t had any bite for a decade, so videos, highlights and interviews of the Oil Kings should be a regular staple on the Oilers website and social media platforms.
10. The Calgary Hitmen, who are owned by the Calgary Flames had ticket deals and food deals for Hitmen games last round. Fans could get a ticket for $13.99 and they had $2 hotdogs, $2 pop and $2 popcorn. How come the Oil Kings don’t have the same? The Oil Kings used to have food promotions — bring them back. Reward your fans. Not to mention this might get more people in the rink and make the atmosphere better for games three and four next week. I realize you had the $99 ticket for all playoff games, which has turned out to be a good deal, but why not have one-game sales?
I’d hope the organization doesn’t feel a new GM will solve all the problems, because this is a much deeper-rooted issue. They say winning is contagious, but I believe losing is just as contagious, and arguably a harder cycle to end. If the Oilers want to end their cycle of losing it will take a major change in how they operate and what their values and culture is.
Right now it is broken.
The Oilers will be assigning Evan Bouchard and Kirill Maksimov to Bakersfield for the AHL playoffs. Bouchard and his London Knights had a 3-0 series lead over Guelph in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, but the Storm won four straight to win. Fellow Oilers prospect Dmitri Samorukov had 3-4-7 in the seven games series for Guelph. Bouchard had a great playoff for London, leading them in scoring with 4-17-21 in 11 games. With Ethan Bear banged up I wonder if Bouchard might get into a game sooner than expected. Condors head coach Jay Woodcroft will be on my radio show today at 3:20 MDT to discuss the Condors upcoming series. Maksimov only played the final two playoff games for Niagara, after missing the first nine with an injury. He is healthy now and will join Bakersfield for what they hope is a long playoff run.
How can you not love the uncertainty of the NHL playoffs? The Tampa Bay Lightning get swept by Columbus in the first round after a 62-win regular season? Unreal.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen decided not to trade away Artemi Panarin for picks and prospects at the deadline, instead he acquired three players and now the Blue Jackets have their first playoff series win in franchise history. The way they manhandled the Lightning I will pick them to defeat either Toronto or Boston in round two.
Martin Jones looks lost in goal for the San Jose Sharks. Head coach Peter Deboer has to go with Aaron Dell in game five doesn’t he? It might not matter, as the Sharks defensive lapses and injuries are killing them, but I don’t see how they can start Jones in game five.
Jordan Eberle’s first round scoring success is a reminder it is never wise to say a player “can’t produce” in the playoffs. He didn’t score a goal in 2017 in 13 games with the Oilers. Many offensive players will have a playoff series, or round where they don’t produce. It is fair to say they needed to play better, but to suggest they never will is risky. Eberle clearly has confidence right now. Just look at his goals. He is hitting small openings to score, and he’s also more engaged. After an unproductive regular season, by his standards, Eberle’s playoffs could earn him an extra year or two on his new contract. Unless he re-signs with the Islanders he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.