Bob Nicholson has reportedly been interviewing candidates over the last couple of weeks and has even gone back for second interviews with a few candidates. Despite the talk that he has been busy, the only two outside names who we have heard connected to the vacant GM position are Mark Hunter and Kelly McCrimmon. Those are the two names we’ve been hearing and I think it’s fair to say that those two are currently the front runners for the job.
But which one would be the better hire for the Edmonton Oilers?
It’s an interesting debate because while each one has some similarities in their hockey experience, they both come with unique resumes.
Mark Hunter’s professional playing career lasted just over a decade and ended after the 1992-93 season when he played seven games for the Washington Capitals and a handful of games in the AHL. He almost immediately jumped behind the bench, becoming the Head Coach of the Sarnia Sting during the 1994-95 season.
After five years of coaching in the OHL and one year in the AHL, Hunter and his brother Dale become co-owners of the London Knights. Mark also became the VP of Hockey Operations and General Manager. He held that role for 15 seasons before jumping to the NHL and joining the Toronto Maple Leafs as a director of player personnel. He held that position for two seasons before being upgraded to Assistant General Manager, a position that he also held for two years.
Hunter has four years of experience in an NHL front office. I value the years as AGM a little bit more than being Director of Player Personnel, but the first two were no doubt important. He comes with a reputation of being a great amateur talent evaluator and his success with London backs that up.
For McCrimmon, his playing career never reached the professional level. His final four seasons of hockey were spent with the University of Michigan, he served as their captain in his final season. After his playing career ended in 1984, he jumped right into management, becoming the GM and Head Coach of the North Battleford North Stars of the SJHL. He spent two seasons there and one more with Lloydminster (SJHL) before jumping to the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
After one season as an Assistant Coach, McCrimmon became the Head Coach and GM in the 1989-90 season. He would continue in his role as GM for the next 24 seasons (he would spend ten of those seasons as the team’s Head Coach as well). In 1992, he became a minority owner of the Wheat Kings and became the sole owner in 2000.
His jump to the NHL came on August 2nd, 2016, when he was hired by the Vegas Golden Knights to be their Assistant General Manager. That’s a role he still currently holds. As I said, his experience is very similar to that of Mark Hunter in terms of years spent at different levels. The difference comes in how they spent their seasons in the NHL. That’s what makes one a better candidate than the other in my opinion.
WHO’S THE BETTER OPTION
I’ll start by saying that both of these candidates are really solid and I would be more than happy with either of them taking over the GM duties in Edmonton. I also don’t know anything about the interview process. Like it or not, how Bob Nicholson judges these two candidates after their interviews will go a long way in determining which way the Oilers will go. That’s what makes it really tough to speculate. At the end of the day, we really won’t be able to judge the candidate the Oilers choose until we see some tangible results.
Mark Hunter may come into the interviews very well prepared, with pages upon pages of great ideas on how he will make the Edmonton Oilers a Cup contender. He might not. The same could be said for McCrimmon. We simply do not know how either of these candidates will handle their interviews and that will have an impact.
Based on the fact that Mark Hunter has gone through two interviews with the Oilers, we can safely assume that he is very interested in the job. I would assume that McCrimmon is, but with Seattle looming, we don’t know that for sure. That could play a role in the Oilers decision.
With all of that being said, I believe that Kelly McCrimmon is a better candidate just based off of what his experience at the NHL level entailed.
His first year with the Golden Knights, they didn’t have a team. He would have spent the entire season pro-scouting other teams around the NHL and studying their rosters. While Hunter no doubt would have handled some pro-scouting, he’s mainly known for being a strong evaluator of amateur talent. Based on things I read and how their roles have been described (that’s really all I have since I’m not in the boardrooms for these NHL teams) I think it’s fair to assume that McCrimmon’s experience was more closely tied to studying NHL rosters. To create a successful expansion draft roster, he would have been a part of making a decision on the roster of all 30 NHL teams.
That is why I think the Oilers need to go all in with their pursuit of McCrimmon. They need to find a way to surround Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl with a better roster. They need quality support players and Kelly McCrimmon proved that he’s capable of identifying high-end support players who may be overlooked and undervalued by their current organizations.