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Where do the best general managers come from?

The Edmonton Oilers need a new general manager. Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson is conducting interviews and reportedly onto the second portion of his general manager search. This might be the most important hire in recent Oilers history. Nicholson needs to nail this hire. His first pick, Peter Chiarelli, was as close to an outright disaster as you can get.

The new GM will have significantly fewer assets at his disposal coming into the organization than Chiarelli. Hiring the right person is crucial.

Where do the best GMs come from? Who are the best GMs? Do the Oilers have to go outside the organization and should they have previous NHL GM experience?

Internal Hires External AGM External Former GM
Doug Wilson (SJS) Kevin Cheveldayoff (WPG) David Poile (NSH)
Bob Murray (ANA) Marc Bergevin (MTL) Dale Tallon (FLO)
Jeff Gorton (NYR) Jarmo Kekalainen (CBJ) Doug Armstrong (STL)
Stan Bowman (CHI) Jim Nill (DAL) Jim Rutherford (PIT)
Joe Sakic (COL) Brad Treliving (CGY) George McPhee (VGK)
Brian MacLellan (WSH) Jim Benning (VAN) Ray Shero (NJD)
Don Sweeney (BOS) Jason Botterill (BUF) Lou Lamoriello (NYI)
Pierre Dorion (OTT) Paul Fenton (MIN) Chuck Fletcher (PHI)
John Chayka (ARI) Steve Yzerman (DET)
Rob Blake (LAK)
Kyle Dubas (TOR)
Don Waddell (CAR)
Julien BriseBois (TBL)

There are 13 GMs who were already part of their organization before assuming the GM role.

It’s a little surprising to see so many good-to-great teams promoting from within, but it makes sense: good teams sometimes transition leadership, while bad teams don’t promote the guys that brought them there.

Keith Gretzky’s candidacy for the position is even puzzling. Only Arizona and Carolina were unsuccessful teams that hired internally. The position in Carolina wasn’t in demand with a unique owner stepping in. They settled for an internal guy who had previous NHL GM experience in Don Waddell. Arizona promoted John Chayka a year after hiring him on as assistant GM. Chayka was still fairly new to the organization.

Mostly it’s good teams transitioning or successful teams that have taken a step back. The team’s points percentage in the two years prior to the internal promotion confirms this.

Internal GM P% Prior 2 Seasons 
Don Sweeney (BOS) 0.649
Bob Murray (ANA) 0.646
Jeff Gorton (NYR) 0.637
Julien BriseBois (TBL) 0.631
Kyle Dubas (TOR) 0.610
Stan Bowman (CHI) 0.585
Joe Sakic (COL) 0.581
Rob Blake (LAK) 0.573
Brian MacLellan (WSH) 0.565
Pierre Dorion (OTT) 0.561
Doug Wilson (SJS) 0.524
Don Waddell (CAR) 0.518
Keith Gretzky (EDM) 0.479
John Chayka (ARI) 0.476

Anaheim, New York, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Chicago, Colorado, and Ottawa changed leadership during successful times or when the current general manager left for various reasons. Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington were coming off of less successful seasons than they previously had.

I’ve included Gretzky because he stands out in comparison. Gretzky doesn’t have the team success, was a Chiarelli guy, and unfairly or not, has a name connection to past Oilers greats, which would make his hiring fairly strange.

Almost half of the GMs were internal hires, which is more than I anticipated. Only eight GMs were assistants plucked from different organizations. Of those, 11 GMs were former NHL GMs, Murray and Waddell qualify as both internal hires and former GMs.

The former GM list is particularly strong, but that’s likely because the best GMs stay employed and bad GMs don’t get many second or third chances.

Oilers fans know Chiarelli was a former GM and how well that went.

Jim Rutherford is only the second GM to win Stanley Cups with two different teams.

All avenues have strong and poor GMs. The internal list includes some quality teams, but it’s much easier to run a team when they’re already in a good position.

I lean towards hiring an external GM, either an assistant who hasn’t been a GM before or a previous NHL GM. It’s clear whatever management structure in Edmonton hasn’t worked. They’ve valued the wrong things and promoting an internal candidate like Gretzky sends the wrong message. Yes, Chiarelli was an outside hire, but much of the staff that contributed to the Decade of Darkness remained.

The Oilers need an outside voice, and one that isn’t afraid to make sweeping changes. The status quo has failed. Rumoured candidates include former Maple Leafs AGM Mark Hunter, Tampa Bay AGM Pat Verbeek, Vegas AGM Kelly McCrimmon, and Pittsburgh AGM Bill Guerin. Whoever Nicholson hires needs to change how the Oilers operate and remove the voices of the past. Hire externally.



  • Shane

    Good article. Haha I almost think the Oilersnation bloggers put in more work and effort towards Oilers executive decisions than the actual executives. Actually based on history I know you guys do.

  • CMG30

    The next GM needs to come in and smash whatever culture is infecting the head office. The recipe for a winning club is as old as time: find good players, keep good players… the fact that the Oilers have not been able to follow this simple strategy speaks to their utter incompetence and the need to revamp the organization top to bottom.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      What worries me is that Bob cant asses talent nor make the hard decisions, Hockey Canada was a different beast you were getting to select from the cream of the crop, and it was building for teams for short durations where as this is for not just now but down the road for years. I think old Bob is out of his depth here.

      • Kool-Aid Man

        Anyone hired by the OBC is out of their depth. That’s why they are hired; to make the real morons look smart. That’s the only transparency we will see with this current management group.

        • cityofchampions

          There is an old saying that A managers hire A staff as they want to succeed, and B managers hire C staff so that their positions aren’t threatened. I think its clear that we have had B managers hiring C staff ever since Sather left town.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Whoever it is KG can not be the GM way too close of a connectioon with the OBC and I doubt he would change any of the staff that ahouse cleaning should entail. There needs to be a new GM who knows what is going on in the league has their ear to the ground and knows and watches what teams are doing and can flesh out if a team might have a need or a want and can sense when to make trades and when not too. Chiia had no sense of the ,market and whether to strike a deal or stand fast, he traded so mnay players for next to nothing because he couldnt see the forest for the trees and got back less than he could have. I dont think negotiations were Chia’s strong suit at all, look at some of the deals he did and show me some where anyone things we did well?

    The Next GM the Oilers hire needs to know the teams outr there and sense the market because it is always in flux, but he has to be able to manage the contracts and cap a hell of a lot better, and right now we are in cap hell and whoever the Oilers hire is going to have to try and get us out of it and get rid of contracts and fiund guys that are hungry and have something to prove because the Oilers have a lot of needs and not a lot of cash or contract spots to bring people in.

    The biggest thing is the people under the GM, we need a real house cleaning in order to change the ” we know what winning is , so dont tell us”” mindset out of the organisation, this team has squandered picks, prospects and guys they brought thru the system because they have no sense of talent, their is too much favouritism towards this player or that player and not even on the talents of a player and what the return to the team and organisation, and we release guys or dont re-sign them or the Oilers assume not good enough and then you see these guys go to other teams and they are regulars and do just fine. Too many bad decison being made and that is a ghuge problem in how the oilers develop picks and prospects and why we need a change of mgmt on down, are pro scouting is horrid, like do these guys even go see these players play or do they just catch a whiff of a player by reading some article or news clipping cause you have to wonder. Other teams seem to hire the best people for the job, with the Oilers its seems like who you know gets the job.. and we dont have a very good track record in scouting and development and why we need a serious change in people and philosophy

    Who ever it is better be willing to make some changes and by god Katz has to have the stomackh to make changes, but I fear we will just get someone who the OBC can use as a puppet GM while the people in the backround run the show and nothing changes in the organisation. So unless there is some real up heavel and the new GM has some autonomy I doubt we will get the change needed and that is sad to see

  • ziyan94

    The teams that have had successful internal hires generally have a good core of scouting & development staff, but the core of the Oilers organization is rotten, so they need to make an external hire.

    I would say Bobby Nicholson should have been gone by now, but it looks like he will be kept in the position for the foreseeable future. Sadly, that’s how it always is with this team. Incompetence is rewarded.

    They hire someone incompetent, hope they become competent (but they fail miserably), and then shuffle the person to another position or promote them. Firing someone is like blasphemy around here

  • Gravis82

    they don’t come from anywhere. They are people who have 20 years experience in management, know a little something about winning, know how to assess markets and manage risk, and listen to people with different perspective including analytics experts.