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Tuesday Thoughts: GM Experience and Game Sevens

Tonight, the Vegas Golden Knights could become the 18th NHL franchise to blow a 3-1 series lead. It hasn’t happened since 2015, when the New York Rangers stormed back to defeat the Washington Capitals in the second round.

A team has blown a 3-1 series lead 28 times in NHL history, with four of those teams blowing a 3-0 series lead: The 1942 Detroit Red Wings (lost to Toronto in Cup Final), the 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins (lost to NYI in 2nd round), the 2010 Boston Bruins (lost to Philadelphia in 2nd round) and the 2014 San Jose Sharks (lost to LA Kings in first round).

Washington has blown a 3-1 lead five (1987, 1992, 1995, 2010, 2015) different times, while the Penguins (1975, 2011, 2014) and Red Wings (1942, 1991, 2013) did it three times, the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 (1990, 1992), Colorado Avalanche (1998, 2003), Bruins (2004, 2010) and Flyers (1988, 2000) did it twice and the Maple Leafs (1987), Oilers (1989), Minnesota North Stars (1992), Flames (1994), Coyotes (1999), Blues (2003), Canucks (2003) and Rangers (2009) did it once.

Will the Sharks complete the comeback or does Vegas win game seven?

VEGAS LOSS IMPACTS OILERS…

If Vegas completes the choke job, then Bob Nicholson will most likely have the opportunity to interview Kelly McCrimmon for the vacant GM job in Edmonton. It seems odd he wasn’t given permission to interview already. And part of me wonders if an “unofficial” conversation has occurred.  Regardless of why he hasn’t been officially interviewed, Nicholson would like to speak with him. I’ve read some stories stating he would be up for the Seattle job as well, and some have suggested he might want that job over Edmonton.

I’ve seen firsthand some of the bad decisions the Oilers organization has made the past decade, mainly the past four years, but is the expansion job really more appealing? NHL teams have learned from their mistakes of the Vegas expansion draft. We won’t see teams giving up two quality players just to protect one, like the Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers and other teams did for Vegas. I suspect Vegas will be the ultimate outlier when it comes to expansion team success.

I’m sure we will see trades like Tampa Bay made where they gave up a second, a fourth and Nikita Gusev so Vegas would select Jason Garrison, but I can’t see teams getting fleeced in deals like Florida, Columbus and others did.

Will Seattle be that much more appealing than being the GM who can build around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? I don’t see why, but maybe that’s just me.

It would be great for Nicholson to interview McCrimmon, but if Vegas wins and they don’t grant permission for McCrimmon to interview then Nicholson should focus on the other candidates and find the one best suited to help lead this franchise ahead. That person will recognize more changes in the current hockey operations department need to be made.

GM EXPERIENCE…

McCrimmon and many of the other candidates — Mark Hunter, Pat Verbeek, Bill Guerin, etc — have never been GMs at the NHL level, but they have either been a GM in junior or an assistant GM in the NHL.

Craig Button was an assistant GM in Dallas and a GM with Calgary. I asked him about the interview process.

“Honestly, I’ve told a number of different people that when you go to a new organization it’s a selective process,” said Button. “They want to put their best foot forward and try to acquire people that they want, so you’re being interviewed. So I would tell people, make sure that you’re interviewing them as well. You’re eager, you’re excited about the opportunity, and that’s why I call it selective. Listen, they want you, ‘Hey, we’re interested in you and we like that idea’.  There’s things as you go through the exercise and you look back and think, ‘These are things I should have asked about, and these are things that you didn’t know,’ and it’s not that they were withholding it from you, but it’s incumbent upon the person going in there to try and understand to a greater degree, and those were the things that I didn’t have a wealth of experience in. You learn on the job, you try to apply them, but you certainly understand a lot better having gone through it.”​

As much as it is Nicholson interviewing potential GMs, I’m sure the interviewees will be asking him about the organization — what has gone wrong, and how it will change — because the new GM can’t change it on his own.

Another aspect is learning to make trades. How involved are assistant GMs in trade talks, I asked Button.

“You’re part of the process, but Bob Gainey (in Dallas) was the one that handled all of that. We (rest of management team) were there with respect to what we’re looking for, and how we’re doing it, but trying to get a feel back and forth for each manager and what they’re looking for, and what they’re trying to do to help their team was up to Bob. And that takes time to get that comfort level. Not just with who you’re dealing with, but trying to understand how can we work this. How can this work for you, how can it work for us. That’s not an easy thing to do. You need to develop those relationships, and they do take some time,” said Button.

I believe that factor is a main reason why the new GM will need to bring in some people he has worked with in the past and who he trusts. He will want their input on various things, and it has to be someone they trust, especially if the Oilers GM is a first-time NHL general manager.

I also asked Button about previous experience. How much will, or should that matter for Nicholson?

“Number one, you’ve got a couple of guys who have track records at the junior level in Mark (Hunter) and Kelly (McCrimmon), both very, very good track records. Then you have Bill Guerin, an assistant in Pittsburgh who has been a part of success. Pat Verbeek has been a part of success. Both of them as players and in management. And Bill Zito who comes over from the agent side. There’s different skill sets that factor into the job and different qualities that are necessary for the job.

“I don’t think you can just look at someone’s past and say this is the best fit. I think you have to sit down and understand how they see the game, what they see the problem as. Also, what are their solutions?  How are they going to proceed? This isn’t like a Rubik’s Cube, where you just say “we have all the colours on one side, well what about the others. We don’t have them.” There is a lot of different moving parts that you have to be able to consider, from the salary cap, to the development, the scouting, and everything in between. I think one of the key things that you have to understand in being a general manager is what is realistic. In terms of your time frame to put us on a path towards being a better team and a more successful team,” Button said.

I think the time frame is very important. I’ve long believed one of the failures of the Oilers over the past decade was they looked too far ahead, without planning for the next step. Whether it’s rushing players to the NHL, or not realizing that young defenders might struggle, especially if they are overplayed early on.

The plan of the new GM is paramount. What is a realistic timeline? Making the playoffs is step one. Once you are in, anything can happen, but the goal should be to remain a consistent playoff contender every year, not make it next season and then fall out again in 2021. The plan should outline how the team remains competitive like San Jose, Pittsburgh, Washington and others have done year after year.

You have McDavid and Draisaitl as starting points. Having elite skill is the most difficult asset to acquire, so now the new GM just needs to fill out the remaining spots. It is a much better position to be in than if they had good depth, but no top-end skill.

PARTING SHOT…

There is no guaranteed path to success. As we have seen this year many good regular season teams couldn’t get out of the first round.

Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs will try to avoid another game seven loss in Boston.

The last time the Maple Leafs won three games on the road in a series was in 1951 against the Bruins. They have had 38 series since then and haven’t won three games on the road in any series. This isn’t a shot at the Maple Leafs, I’m just outlining how difficult it is to win three games on the road in a series. The Leafs won game one and game five in Boston so far this round.

The Leafs could end that streak along with their streak of not winning a playoff series since defeating the Ottawa Senators in game seven on April 20th, 2004.

Only the Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers have not won a playoff series in the salary cap era.

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  • vetinari

    Respectfully Jason, I don’t know if I agree that Seattle would be a less desirable position than GM’ing the Oilers. Any incoming Oiler GM will be aware of the fan frustration and organizational rot especially with the pro scouting, and pro acquisition and development. The Condors are doing great this year but is that the new normal or a one off? Also, the Oilers are stacked with a few great talents but burdened by some difficult if not immoveable contracts (Russell, Koskinen, and Lucic) which will hinder a quick turnaround. The holes on the roster are huge and the resources available to fill them are limited. This also assumes no influence or problems from the Old Boys’ Club or ownership.

    Seattle would offer a clean slate with the only bad contracts being the ones you agree to take. Fan expectations would be lower and a GM would have time to draft and build the roster.

    • billsbills

      I don’t see Russels contract as unmoveable at all. He is a glue guy that blocks a ton of shots and plays a depth roll. His cap hit is higher than his salary in the next two years and in his last year, it is only 1.5 after a $1 million signing bonus. I doubt the NMC will be an issue, in the last year it is 15 teams.

      I expect Russel to be traded this summer.

    • Jason Gregor

      Russell’s contract isn’t as bad as many believe. Not at all. Play him on LD and he is a better player. I don’t blame him for the team forcing him to play RD, because they have no other right defenders.

      Every NHL team has a bad contract. Oilers have Lucic. Koskinen too early to say for sure it is anchor. Even without him signed there aren’t many better options in free agency. I’m not ready to say it is an anchor. It might be, but if he plays well next year then it isn’t.

      And the new GM will be making changes to the scouting staff. Thankfully.

      If I’m a GM I’d rather have top-end talent, (97 and 29) and a few bad contracts, than no elite talent and good contracts.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    I still have McCrimmon and Hunter at the top of my GM list.The fact that Mike Gilliss name even got mentioned to Nicolson is baffling, guys had been dissconnected from the game for so long why would he even be a contender and I see KG is still being floated by some in the media as a top 3 candidate, that worries the hell out of me, way way too close a connection to the OBC, sorry no KG as GM.
    McCrimmon I think will have some more opportunities than Edmonton and Seattle when the PLayoffs are done and the cup won, I think we will see a few GMs gone from some teams that are going to want a change.

    I dont have much faith in Nicolsons search, because of just how things have dragged out and the way KG was at the news conference with Burger Bob, it just seems like there is this trying not to be overt push to get the fans used to the notion
    that KG as GM is the best option….and I dont believe he is, There are better options out there but I dont think the OBC wants change just someone they can control from the backround

  • CMG30

    It’s long been an open secret in the NHL that there are certain people who tag along with the GM of the Oilers. Perhaps that’s not enough to dissuade all the candidates but it’s going to play a role in their decision making process

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      oh please no! The toronto media was insufferable as soon as the leafs won their 1st game.,… then we they had 4 wins it was all “are the leafs a cup contender right now” talk…. not to mention you cant go on TorontoSportsNet without seeing a gajillion leafs stories all season like there are no other teams in the NHL…..I wont even bring up the Leaf cheerleading HNIC broadcasts….No way will I be cheering for the leafs if they won a cup my god we will never hear the end of it

  • Total Points

    Good comments but somehow the Oiler’s will mess up the GM search process. I have zero faith in Nicholson and the OBC to hire the right GM.

    Nick will asking the possible GM’s that he is interviewing for a forensic audit or some other stupid bureaucratic thing

  • Total Points

    I can see Nicholson interviewing the potential GM’s. He will probably have them all in the same room at the same time. He will give them all a copy of the forensic audit, all filled out with the positions that the OBC laid out, MacT as player personel, Keith Gretzky as assistant GM, all the assistant coaches identified and Kevin Lowe as 6 rings.

    He will tell them to simply put the name of the coach that you want in the blank spot on the last page and we will get back to you. If the coach is connected to the OBC you are the GM

  • Serious Gord

    The Seattle job is far more preferable. You get to build an entire organization from scratch. That kind of opportunity/challenge very rarely comes along.

    And you don’t have to deal with the trainwreck that is the oil.

    And Seattle and area is a far nicer place than EDM with the potential for a far larger market.

    • Jason Gregor

      Far larger market? They will be behind the Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders. And if an NBA team comes they will behind them in fan interest. Seattle has more population, but far less hockey fans. It isn’t close.

  • Oiler Al

    As long as Katz owns the franchise, not much in a positive way will occur.THE LAST 10 YEARS IS PROOF ENOUGH! They will hire a fall guy, while The Winos merry along from their armchairs, along with the owner and Burger Bob.

  • Kelly Youngblood

    I bet Dubas is regretting passing on the Matt Benning for Connor Brown deal now. They could have used some backend speed tonight. I wonder if an Adam Larsson to Toronto for Johnsson and Brown deal could happen on draft day.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Wow what a game between SanJose and Vegas…who’d have seen that come back…. got to love the playoffs you just never know what will happen in some games

    • Randomfan

      I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Phew! However, that was a weak call for 5 min major. Reffing is a joke in NHL. Its getting worse by the day. Nonetheless, great game.

  • Harry2

    Please dont ever interview Craig Button ever again. He is a true Homer and his bias journalism should be embarrassing to all sports writers. He is and always will be a hack