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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Right now it is broken.


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.

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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:

  • Ass Eatn Szn 69

    Culture! and by that I mean not what the OBC, Keith and Bobbie Burgers think culture is. I mean organizational culture that is new thinking, hires the best people (and not their friends), and values skill above all else.

  • Derian Hatcher

    A well thought out article Jason. You bring up some very good points and suggestions. The very fact that the Oilers are doing NONE of what you suggested (IMO) is the biggest cause for concern. How is it that members of the media and many, many hard-core fans realize what the problems are and offer viable solutions while Katz and Nicholson, based on their inaction and Nicholson constantly putting his foot in his mouth remain clueless.

    If you printed off your blg today and slid it under the doors of BN and DKatz, it would give them a blue print of where to start to fix this mess. Just the same as if someone had handed Chia Bob Mackenzie’s draft list before every draft, the Oilers will be miles ahead.

    You nailed it where leadership starts at the top. Oiler history shows that Katz is no leader at all, despite his billions. Ground Hog Day remains.

    • Nothing is going to change, OBC still runs the franchise, they just hire scapegoats and puppets and the same will happen again, if anybody applies, it will be because no other team wants them. Bottom of the barrel. The ONLY thing that needs fixing is the complete removal of the OBC and I mean every single one of them. That is as likely to happen as ticket prices coming down, or beer being served for free. We are stuck with a grade A fanboy, might as well get used to it.

  • Rick Stroppel

    Agree with EVERYTHING in this article. I find it interesting to compare the Oilers to the Flames. I have family in Calgary, spend time in Calgary, and sometimes listen to Calgary sports radio. I am totally struck by how often Brad Treliving speaks publicly about the Flames, and the fact that his comments MAKE SENSE. Two years ago he said “We aren’t making any big changes this year, we are counting on our good young players to get better”. That did not work, and he LEARNED FROM HIS MISTAKE. So this year he made a bunch of bold, risky moves, explained why he made them, and now they are a legit SC contender.

    Here in Edmonton, Katz used to talk about the team, then he said some dumb things, then he stopped talking. Ditto McTavish. Ditto Lowe. Chiarelli made like he was doing everyone a big favour if he said anything. Nicholson is a nice guy but he can’t keep his shoe out of his mouth. To me it’s a sign: if there are people who are not smart enough to talk about the team in public, maybe they are also not smart enough to run the team. So they should be replaced. Like Abe Vigoda said in “The Godfather”, “It’s not personal, it’s business”.

  • SlovakOiler

    When is going Katz to step up? Shouldn’t he already since the season is over? What is he waiting for?
    It looks like everything is ok and we’re just waiting for the new GM Bobby selects after sipping edmontons tap water…

    • Derian Hatcher

      Katz won’t step up because either
      a) he is not a real leader and is hiding somewhere
      b) He really doesn’t care and just wants to be a fan-man and eat and drink with his childhood heros….or
      c) As long as he is making big money off this hockey team, repaying the fans for their loyalty is beneath him.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Its time to clean the house, the OBC needs to go, because they believe they know what the Oilers need to win better than anyone, and they are still having to much sway in what happens on the hockey side of things. till they go nothing will change. Clean out the pro scuts, they havent done their job, they can all hit the road…Howson and Sutter can also go along with Paul Messier..Then the assitant coaches need to go, nothing changed from last season to this season the PP PK and defensive systems were horrible. Dustin Schwartz needs to go, way way out of his depth as an NHL goalie coach, time for him to go back and work with the Juniors, the Oilers need a proven NHL goalie coach

    Work to dump players and contracts we dont want, cant get rid of them all but damn well cant hurt to try and get rid of what you can, find players that are hungry and have something to prove, the Oilers are going to need to find some diamonds in the rough on rewasonable contracts…. and please no more retread projects, I said when the Oilers signed Brodziak that I felt his better days were behind him, its just burning a contract spot and money for not much of a return, need to make better decisions with contracts and money and who comes in, cant keep doing failed rehab projects

    The list is long with whats wrong with the Oilers and the Mgmt, unless Katz has the brass ones to do some house cleaning I dont see much change happening

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Todays NHL is all about speed. After the big 3, the Oilers have one of the slowest teams in the NHL.
    They almost always get beaten to the puck. Speed Kills.

  • vetinari

    Great article Gregor. I tried to find the last major statement from Katz about Oiler futility and the plan in the coming year and found this article posted on nhl.com from January 20th, 2014– does any of it sound familiar in 2019?

    Letter from Daryl Katz to Oilers Fans
    by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers
    January 20th, 2014

    To Oilers Fans Everywhere:
    We all thought this was going to be the year the Oilers turned the corner. Obviously, that hasn’t happened, and it hurts. It’s frustrating – for all of us. For our fans, for our players and staff, and for everyone in our community who shares a common bond around a game, a team and a city that we love.
    I know this will almost certainly be the eighth consecutive year since we made the playoffs. I hate that fact as much as anyone, but the reality is that this is only year four of the rebuild that started when we drafted Taylor Hall. The good news, if you can call it that, is that other teams that committed to fundamental rebuilds went through the same kind of droughts over the same kind of time frames, or longer. That doesn’t make it fun for anyone; it just means we have to stay the course.
    Yes, we hoped and expected to be better this year – there’s no question about that. But we’ve also been more active than any team I can think of in rebuilding our organization from bottom to top by supporting player development in OKC and Bakersfield, revamping our scouting organization, naming a new GM and a new coach, signing free agents like Justin Schultz, Boyd Gordon, Andrew Ference, Anton Belov and Ilya Bryzgalov, and trading for players like David Perron, and now Ben Scrivens and Matt Hendricks. And we’re not done.
    But I can also tell you that we are not going to sacrifice the future by doing something short-term. Those days are over and they’re not coming back. If we’re going to rebuild, we want to do it right and we only want to do it once.
    I hear a lot from fans about accountability, so let’s be clear. We are all accountable. That includes me, Kevin, Craig, Dallas, every player who wears our jersey, and every member of our staff. I know Kevin is the target of a lot of personal attacks right now, and that’s really unfortunate. Kevin is a big part of our organization, and it’s not just the Oilers that value his knowledge and perspective. He is consistently chosen, year after year, to play a leadership role with Hockey Canada. But when it comes down to it, this is Craig MacTavish’s team. He is the GM. He makes the calls, and he is accountable for building a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup — year in and year out for years to come.
    That’s our vision. We are committed to it — and we’re confident that we are on the right track.
    Our fans have been incredibly patient and supportive. At the same time, we know there’s a lot of frustration and we are asking you to hang in there while we fight through this and put the next few pieces of the team in place.
    I’ll tell you this, despite everything, we all wear our Oilers colours with the same pride now as we ever have, and as we will when we’re back on top. We hope you’ll do the same.
    We value our fans, we hear you, and we appreciate your support.
    Daryl Katz

      • vetinari

        To summarize Katz’s 2014 statement… we’re all frustrated but the worst is behind us. He says attacks on Kevin are unjustified and this is the GM’s team to mold and shape… just look at all the great players they drafted or signed (all of whom no longer play for the Oilers, and in some cases, in the NHL,in 2019). Stay the course and reap the benefits. The part that burns me is this statement: “But I can also tell you that we are not going to sacrifice the future by doing something short-term. Those days are over and they’re not coming back. If we’re going to rebuild, we want to do it right and we only want to do it once.” Short term thinking doesn’t happen here… so why was Chiarelli adding guys like Manning and Petrovic for future assets when the season was almost out of reach? Why were we signing a goalie to a three year contract on a sample size of about 30 games?

        I can only conclude that Katz is as much if not the main problem with the Oilers whether in 2014 or 2019.

  • toprightcorner

    Gregor is 100% right that there is just as much work to do fixing the off ice operations as the on ice talent. This is way too big of a job for 1 person. For a single GM hired to fix it all, it will either take way too long or it will be a half-baked job.

    The Oilers NEED to hire a POHO to fix the inhouse issues and the GM can focus on fixing the team

    GM focus
    – build a new pro scouting department
    – hire new coaching staff
    – work to fix cap situation
    – improve on ice product

    POHO focus
    – build analytics department
    – build sports science department
    – clean house of dysfunctional management
    – oversee Condors and Oil Kings
    – rebuild communication structure

    Nicholson should stay on the OEG business side and can be involved to update Katz when required.

    Just hiring a GM to fix everything would be like hiring one person to oversee the rebuilding of Notre Dame. It is too big and too important to leave it up to 1 person.