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Oilers are Broken: What needs Fixing?

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.

PARTING SHOTS…

Sep 17, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard (75) skates against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Edmonton Oilers won 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:



  • There is no doubt the team has had problems. They have truly shown the NHL how you can’t build a team with high pick forwards. If you think about it it makes sense, these kids have been the best players on their team since atom. Yeah they have lost games but probably have had goals in those losses so not their faults. Yakupov had over a hundred points in his last year of junior and was still a minus. I am not a big stat guy but that sticks out to me.

    When that sit-com oil change was on the only time I saw frustration was when Smid lost it after a overtime loss to the Canucks. I know Smid was never going to win the Norris but when we traded him when we were terrible defensively was the start of many mistakes. I believe Petry was looking for the back door when that move was made.

    Before that when we buried Souray in Hershey for speaking his mind about management. Terrible asset management. I know it’s tough when there is some outstanding play off hockey on every night. A style of hockey that suits our team . Part of the reason Tampa was swept.

    I know if we go silent on management it makes us look like we don’t care but we have to hold the players accountable. I remember when we we played some good hockey last year. We have a farm team that has played well and is about to start play offs. Yet we still give these red wine drinking idiots all our attention.

  • Gravis82

    They need to stop getting rid of good players that are not exactly the type they think they need. No player is perfect. When you win a trade to get one (Maroon) or draft someone who is a stud at hockey but maybe not the perfect yzerman ideal personality (hall) you have to keep them and try to compliment with other additions. There are many different ways to build a team, and you can’t control who you draft. You just have to keep every good draft pick you have. Trade only in extreme situations, and never overpay. If you draft well, you are in control of the salary and you won’t need overpriced free agents.

  • joilers

    Just want to say… What a garbage article in the sun today about how eberle found his game… Uh no… He has 5 good playoff games in 20. Plus he had a year in which he scored less than 40 and made 6 million. Found his game? Not quite. Plus the Sun doesn’t have a comment section, for fans to comment. Thank goodness the writers at the Sun have 0 influence oiler decision making… Which hasnt been good but would be worse if the Sun had their way and made decision based on 5 playoff games instead of making accurate player analysis. Honestly…

    • Gravis82

      Eberle is a consistent 20 goal scorer. Give it a rest. You know what would have helped Eberle and everyone else score more in the playoffs? Better players around them. This type of comment needs to be squashed. Its based on nothing and no knowledge of how hockey actually works. Eberle is probably 1.5 million overpaid, but because everyone here got all bent out of shape about it we traded him for….well…absolutely nothing.

      Hall Nuge and Eberle would have been a fantastic second line this year and we would have been in the playoffs. If you want to blame players for our terrible results, blame the players who after each season are never seen again in the NHL. Not the players who are still in the NHL and having success. How on earth does that makes sense?

      • Hemmercules

        I agree. I would way rather the team took him aside after that playoff, showed him some tape and said look, we appreciate your skill but we need more commitment from you in certain areas. Instead, they trade him for nothing to get him out of Edmonton as soon as possible. I get that Chia was trying to build a big team but to jump the gun on that trade was just stupid like all his other moves. At least a competent GM could swing more than just Strome. I guess cap space was a factor there too at the time but then that space went unused anyway.

        Any player that escapes this circus is usually better off. I’m happy for Eberle and Im rooting for the Islanders now.

        I wasn’t opposed to trading Hall. He had a garbage attitude until he got traded. We all know the return on that trade wasn’t enough but I don’t think trading him was the wrong idea.

        • Gravis82

          Hi Attituide was not great. But no everyone is Yzerman. He was good at hockey. I am sure if the team was good we may not have even noticed his atituitde, but he still likely would not have been captain. Personal issues get exposed like this on bad teams because there is stress and constant losing. The less than perfect attitudes do not CAUSE the constant losing. Constant losing is caused by bad players. Bad players cause losing and losing cause dressing room issues. 1/2 of fans get this all backwards.

        • Gravis82

          no lucic and no russel and no kassian no manning no koskinen. That seems like a lot of money. Im sure they could have figured it out. Oh, Thomas Chabot, who we should have drafted in 2015? Yup. All star. That would have been nice.

    • Gravis82

      He scored less than 40 because he is on a deep team for the first time in his career. Chiarelli is that you?

      So when someone has bad series its because they are…bad, but when they have a good series its…luck? Can you say, confirmation bias? I think someone it just finding it difficult to admit that they were wrong.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    The oilers trade good players away, we’ve had a tough time drafting good players because we used to draft oil kings players for some reason and we can’t attract good free agents because it’s kind of a crappy city in comparison to others, our fans will eat you alive, it’s winter most of the NHL season, out salary cap is screwed with bad contracts and we have been the worst team over the past decade.

    So unless we can make the city a nicer place, change the weather, pump the water full of something to chill the fans out, fix the cap situation, draft better players and keep those players, we are probably going to be mediocre for a while.

  • We the North 99

    Wish Glen Sather would come back be POHO and fix this no one loves the Oilers more than him Mac T ,Kev Lowe , and the old oilers the team is losing from the negativity Of the fans unfortunately Edmonton’s a shut hole and no one wants to play here sorry but that’s the truth

  • OilTastic

    it’s so sad that the media and fans are the only ones that seem to be able to see what is wrong with this franchise. and it’s so sad that the fans are being taken advantage of year after year after year as long as the likes of Daryl Katz makes money and some of his 80’s heroes and their buddies (Howson) have a place to work post retirement !

  • HockeyYoda

    Even if they manage to hire a very good GM. He’s going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat with the mess Chia has put this organization in. You basically need a GM who can pull off a lopsided trade in favour of the Oilers in much the same way every GM did with Chia. But even if you have a guy smart enough to do that, you still need someone stupid enough on the other side to buy what you’re selling. And Chia has not been hired by another organization yet. I know I should let it go but I can’t get over that 1st rd pick for Reinheart trade. At least with the Hall fiasco they got back a serviceable player. Reinheart had been toiling in the minors for quite a while given his so called Pedigree and was showing little development. He had clearly moved from Prospect to suspect. I didn’t mind the Oilers targeting an up-and-coming defenceman if they couldn’t land a proved D for that first round pick. But at least have some scouts in your organization who can identify the right guy.

    I’m not saying you always can’t make the playoffs next year, but, the new GM is going to have to make the sum of its parts equal more with whatever smaller moves he can make. I’d be on the phone with those top teams who got beat in the first round and are not happy about it. If you’re lucky you might be able to get some talent for some grit.

      • HockeyYoda

        Yeah maybe, I don’t know who’s really pulling the strings or how they handle it at the meetings with the scouting department. But I would insist on video recording every meeting, and going back over the years to see who said what. Otherwise, the new GM has no idea what kind of track record his so-called “advisers” have. Was that scout the one who pushed for getting Reinheart..(as an example) or was he the only guy at the table who is saying no to Reinhardt but no one would listen. Some scouts are obviously much better at eyeing talent. This is why I would like to see Marc Hunter get the job… or perhaps anyone from the lightning organization who had input in acquiring the vast depth of talent they have in that organization. Regardless of their first round exit.

  • Oiler Al

    DH… there’s needs not be an “either”, I think a,b,and c,. are all very applicable to Katz!
    He needs a shock wake up call…half empty rink and someone from McDavids camp serves a ” I want out notice” from this circus.Not sure Katz is as much a recluse as using and treating folks as peons.
    HE WAS SURE AROUND WHEN HE WAS FLEECING THE CITZENS OF EDMONTON, TO BUILD HIS ARENA.
    Now he disappears…no respect for the fans…

  • Glencontrolurstik

    It’s C Derian… Him making money is proof that his fans are loyal & happy… That right there is analytics in its simplest form. That is all there is to it…

  • Torgerson

    Hey, it’s the players’ fault. If they could just try harder, we wouldn’t be in this mess. That’s the gist of all this nonsense about ‘culture’. No wonder the suits like the idea so much… it absolves them of responsibility.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    I wouldn’t go as far as “now they are a legit SC contender”. So far. they are singlehandedly getting beaten by McKinnon and their top line is “non-exsistant”… I do get your point though. They are much better than the Oilers, even measuring since 2016. Your last paragraph says everything.