It must be frustrating when you finally play solid hockey, clamp down defensively, get solid goaltending, some complementary scoring and go 7-1-1 in nine games, but don’t make up any ground in the playoff race. That is the Oilers’ reality this morning. They went 6-2-2 in their last ten games, but are no closer to the playoffs today than they were three weeks ago. It is difficult to gain ground when the team you are chasing, Minnesota, keeps winning.
That’s the Oilers’ reality and the main reason you never want to have your playoff destiny controlled by other teams. Despite the lack of control, Edmonton has played quite well recently and they aren’t mailing it in, so that is a positive, in what is looking more and more like a season that will end at the 82 game mark.
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But there is still much to discuss — mainly off-ice and who would be a good GM of the Oilers. While that conversation is going on, don’t overlook one very important piece.
1. I’ve seen many names tossed around for possible GM. I will touch on one of them later, but there hasn’t been much talk about president of hockey operations. I’m told the Oilers are strongly considering to fill that spot as well. Peter Chiarelli held both titles, and it did not go well. This time around Bob Nicholson is doing his due diligence about having two people fill those roles. And with the POHO usually involved in selecting the GM, don’t be surprised if the POHO is announced first.
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2. It has only been just over six weeks since Chiarelli was fired. When he was let go, Nicholson said he would do an exhaustive and lengthy search for his replacement. It made sense. The vast majority of the best candidates are currently employed by other NHL teams. George McPhee came out and said he would not grant a team permission to talk to Kelly McCrimmon until the Golden Knight’s season was over. I understand why teams do this. They didn’t hire someone to let him interview for another job the moment an opposing team is looking to improve their situation. They won’t hold McCrimmon back from getting a job, they just want him to focus 100% on their franchise until the season is over.
3. Will the POHO be hired before the GM or will be it be simultaneous? Both scenarios are possible, but right now one of the models Nicholson is looking at is a POHO and GM. If he finds the right candidate then he would have a say in who is the GM. It only makes sense. Why would you hire a POHO if he has no say in regards to who he will be working directly under him?
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4. The good news about having one POHO and one GM is that the GM will not be overseeing the Edmonton Oil Kings. I thought it was ridiculous that Chiarelli oversaw that team. He rarely did amateur scouting, and did zero bantam draft scouting, so why would he be wasting one moment of his time focused on them? No other GM in the NHL had that role. The fact Chiarelli agreed to that showed me his priorities weren’t in the right spot. There is no reason he should have been involved, even in small doses, with the WHL team. The POHO can oversee that, if necessary, but I’d just have Nicholson oversee it. The reality is no one in the organization will be more in touch with the Oil Kings than their current GM Kirt Hill.
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5. There likely hasn’t be a lot of talk about the POHO, because very few teams have a separate POHO and GM. Only Toronto, Brendan Shanahan, and Columbus, John Davidson, have an official POHO. The Los Angeles Kings have Luc Robitaille as President. Cam Neely holds that title with the Bruins and Glen Sather has it with the Rangers.
6. The following have both POHO and GM title: John Chayka (ARI), George McPhee (LV), Doug Armstrong (STL), Kevin Chevaldayoff (WPG), David Poile (NSH), Lou Lamiorello (NYI) and Dale Tallon (FLO). Now others like Jim Rutherford (PITT), Ray Shero (NJ), Don Waddell (CAR), Marc Bergevin (MTL) and Ken Holland (DET) have the term President or Executive Vice President with their GM title. The other NHL teams just have a GM, and no one listed in hockey operations above them.
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7. Let’s get to the GM talk now. Does previous experience matter? Of the other 30 GMs in the NHL, only ten of them are not first time general managers: Rutherford, McPhee, Armstrong, Tallon, Waddell, Lamiorello, Shero, Poile, Bob Murray and Chuck Fletcher had experience with other teams. The other 20 GMs are in the chair for the first time. Now that includes men like Holland and Doug Wilson who have been the GM of the Red Wings and Sharks respectively for 22 and 16 seasons. But they had no previous NHL GM experience. I don’t see previous GM experience as that vital.
8. Interestingly enough, ten of the 30 GMs had no pro hockey playing experience: Lamiorello, Fletcher, Shero Armstrong, Chayka, Stan Bowman, Jeff Gorton, Pierre Dorian, Kyle Dubas and Julien Brisebois. Poile played one season of minor pro, while Cheveldayoff and Brad Treliving spent five years in the minors. Waddell played one NHL game, Holland played four, Jarmo Kekalainen 55, Jason Botterill 88 and McPhee 115. The other 12 played between 411 (Paul Fenton) and 1378 (Joe Sakic) NHL games. While two-thirds of the current GMs were first time GMs, the same amount also played pro hockey. How much either matters is up to you.
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9. All of the GMs, except Lamiorello, did spend time in scouting or another lower role in management at the NHL level before being named general manager. Ideally the Oilers new hire will have some NHL management experience, but how long they were at the NHL level doesn’t really matter. I wouldn’t get focused on them needing five or ten years of experience. What Nicholson needs to uncover is do they have a plan to work with the current roster? The new GM will have the luxury of starting off with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Having elite talent to start is a major advantage. This won’t be a rebuild, but rather an “enhance the supporting cast” job for the first few seasons. The candidate must also illustrate a clear understanding of the importance of developing players properly. No more rushing prospects, and please don’t come to training camp expecting 19 and 20 year olds to fill out top-six roles.
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10. One name I want to look at today is Mike Gillis. I’ve seen many talk about the job he did with the Vancouver Canucks. He was hired on April 23rd, 2008, right after the Canucks missed the playoffs finishing with 88 points. The Canucks had 105, 92 (missed playoffs), 101 and 104 points the previous four seasons. The 2007/2008 season was a transition year for them. It was the final season with Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison. They were slowing down. Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows were on the team in 2007/2008, but weren’t ready to produce.
11. In Gillis’ first season Alex Edler, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows all had breakout seasons. Edler (his second season) jumped up to 37 points. Kesler (fourth year) jumped up to 59 points after scoring  23, 27 (prorated) and 37 the previous three years, while Burrows (4th season) produced 28 goals and 51 points. He had a total of 52 points in his previous 206 games. The Sedins were still dominant and Roberto Luongo was their star goalie. Gillis had zero to do with their performance.
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12. He didn’t re-sign Naslund or Morrison, instead he signed UFA Pavel Demitra and Mats Sundin. Sundin was signed on December 18th, on a pro-rated $8.6 million deal. He produced 28 points in 41 games. Demitra had a solid first season with 53 points, and slumped in his second year with 28. He didn’t have an emotional connection to Naslund or Morrison and made the smart move not to re-sign them.
13. Gillis’ best acquisition was trading for Christian Ehrhoff. The Sharks had to shed cap space, so they moved Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich for two prospects. Ehrhoff was a very good player for the Canucks. In the summer of 2010 Gillis traded Michael Grabner and Steve Bernier for Keith Ballard. Ballard had five years remaining on his contract with a $3.3 million cap hit. Ballard was a major flop in Vancouver and only dressed in ten games during their 2011 Cup run. Gillis did make a good move that same summer signing UFA D-man Dan Hamhuis. Hamhuis got a six-year deal and was a key part in their 2011 run.
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14. The Canucks won their division in Gillis’ first five seasons, but he didn’t acquire the core of their team. They were already in place with the Sedins, Luongo, Edler, Kesler, Burrows and Bieksa. Seven of their top-eight scorers in the 2011 Cup run were on the team when Gillis took over. Only Ehrhoff was added. Gillis avoided doing what Peter Chiarelli did in Edmonton, which was downgrade the skill of his team. So Gillis gets credit for that. He made two really good moves in Ehrhoff and Hamhuis and missed on Ballard. He added around the edges acquiring Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre and Manny Malhotra. I also liked the Mikael Samuelsson signing. I think Samuelsson’ injury in the 2011 Cup playoffs hurt the Canucks more than people discuss. He was a very productive player for them, but got hurt in the second round against Nashville.
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15. GMs don’t scout amateur players often, so I don’t give them too much flak for drafting records, but in the six draft years (2008-2013) under Gillis the Canucks drafting was awful. Bo Horvat was their best pick. They acquired the ninth pick om 2009, which they used to pick Horvat, for Cory Schneider. They got Ben Hutton in the fifth round in 2012 and Cody Hodgson 10th overall in 2008. Hodgson was traded to Buffalo after 71 NHL games for Zack Kassian, while Hutton is still on the team. So outside Horvat and Hutton the draft produced nothing for the Canucks over six seasons.
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16. Gillis’s major error was how he handled the Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider situation. He ended up trading away both of them and the Canucks have been searching for a goalie ever since. Gillis could not have handled that situation any worse. It likely was the main reason he was fired.  I’m sure he learned some things during his time as GM that he’d do different if he got another opportunity. He inherited a really good core group of players, made some good moves to bolster the defence, but oversaw a very shoddy draft record. If you look at his six seasons, the team he inherited was much better than the one he left when he was fired in 2014. He had some innovative ideas into travel and sleep, but I don’t see him as a GM who built a great team. The foundation was there before him. Gillis did take a good team and made moves to improve them, which is very good, but I don’t see Edmonton in the same boat as the Canucks of 2008. I also see many similarities in how Gillis handled Luongo/Schneider situation as to how Chiarelli screwed up his biggest moves. If I was hiring a GM or POHO, Gillis would not be at the top of my list.
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17. When the season is over I will be looking more in-depth at other candidates who might be a good fit. The most important thing in the hiring process isn’t who they will hire as GM, and possibly as POHO, but more how much leeway they will have to bring in their own people. Will Daryl Katz be willing to let the new regime replace some of the current management group? If not, then it will be very difficult to improve this team, because the vast majority of the organizational management group will be the same. That group hasn’t had success. The Oilers haven’t won enough games. There needs to be more changes than just Peter Chiarelli for this team’s management to improve and make better decisions moving forward. I do not believe Chiarelli made all the bad moves during his three-and-a-half years all on his own.
18. Quickly to tonight’s game against the Rangers. The biggest improvement for the Oilers during their recent 6-2-2 is they’ve significantly reduced their goals against. They’ve allowed 24 goals in ten games for an average of 2.4/game. In their first 58 games, they allowed 195 goals (3.36/game). Not surprisingly by allowing one fewer goal/game their chances of winning have increased significantly.
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19. Their goalies are making more saves. The Oilers have allowed 348 shots over the ten games, 34.8/game, which is up significantly from their first 58 games where they allowed 31.1 shots/game. I know everyone is saying the return of Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera has tightened up the defence. I believe in ways it has, but the Oilers are allowing more shots, but fewer goals during this run. They have cut down their high danger chances a bit, which helps, but I’d argue the play of Mikko Koskinen, and for one game, Anthony Stolarz has been a big reason the Oilers GAA is down.
20. Leon Draisaitl’s point streak is up to 13 games, and in the past ten games he has 6-11-17, while McDavid has 2-1-13. Ryan Strome leads the Rangers in scoring over the past ten games at 5-3-8, which would be third in that span on the Oilers, and he has produced 12-11-23 in 49 games for the Blueshirts since being traded for Ryan Spooner. His 12 goals since the deal would be 5th on the Oilers behind Draisaitl, McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Alex Chiasson. The Strome trade is a prime example of why the Oilers management team needs more changes other than just Chiarelli.
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