Bob Nicholson didn’t divulge much at his press conference earlier today. There were a few things that grabbed my attention, but what stood out most was he didn’t announce any firings. I thought there was a small chance he might announce some people were no longer with the organization, but instead, he announced that once the new GM is in place he will decide who stays.
I disagree with this approach.
The Oilers pro scouting and management decisions have not been good enough since Nicholson was hired four years ago. The amateur scouting has done their job, and they’ve stockpiled the farm system with some quality prospects, with more lining up to turn pro in the next year or two.
But those on the pro scouting side, player personnel and in management roles, have failed. The results are pretty clear, from ill-advised buyouts, bad trades, and some questionable signings.
So, why would Nicholson not make those changes now, rather than have the new GM make that decision? The new GM, unless it is Keith Gretzky, had nothing to do with those moves, so why waste time and have him spend hours evaluating the results?
So I asked Nicholson: why no changes now?
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“I just thought leaving the structure the way it is for now,” said Nicholson. “I will certainly be talking about those weaknesses, because there are some weaknesses, and I want to do that in conjunction with him. So he gets the full picture. There are a lot of people I want to sign right now, 99% they will be signed, but we made the decision to hold everything as it is today and then move forward.”
I didn’t get a chance to follow up on this, but after reading it again I hope he was referring to signing players, like Alex Chiasson, not signing people in management to extensions. That is the opposite of what he said earlier in the press conference, “The new GM will have the final say.”

CHANGE IS NEEDED

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Regardless of whom you look at, the Oilers management needs to be overhauled. That doesn’t mean every single person, but it has to be more than Peter Chiarelli. They have not been successful as a group, and when that happens on the ice, there are changes, so that same thought process should be applied to management.
I think Keith Gretzky and the amateur scouts have done a solid job. I could see why they would want to keep him, but does he want to stay if he doesn’t get the GM job?
“I do want to be the GM, and there are a lot of candidates, but as Bob (Nicholson) mentioned there is work he has to do and I have to accept the process and move forward. Right now it is about the team and we have to get ready for the draft. We will discuss it after the draft,” said Gretzky.
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That last line makes me wonder if Gretzky believes he isn’t getting the job. Today, that is my sense, and I could understand if after the draft he decides he’d rather go to another organization and have a chance to move his way up to a GM role.
So Gretzky might leave, depending on who the new GM is, but his resume in Edmonton suggests he is one person you’d want to keep. But there have to be changes within the structure of their pro scouting and management, doesn’t there?
The new GM will evaluate Craig MacTavish (Senior VP or Hockey Operations), Duane Sutter (VP or Player Personnel), Scott Howson (VP Player Development), Bob Greene (Director, Player Personnel), Bill Scott (Capologist and Assistant to President of Hockey Operations) and pro scouts Chris Cichocki and Paul Messier.
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They all work hard, but the team isn’t winning. The organization’s evaluation of pro players, trades and signings, hasn’t been good enough. I’m not privy to exactly how much say each man has, but Nicholson should. There should be scouting reports to analyze.
I don’t like leaving this to the new GM. Nicholson and Keith Gretzky should know the impact these men had, both positively and negatively, so shed those who weren’t helping. Peter Chiarelli might have made the Drake Caggiula trade for Brandon Manning on his own, with some input from Ken Hitchcock, but Chiarelli did not work alone in the Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle or Ryan Strome trades. There were others in the organization who agreed with these deals.
Oilers owner Daryl Katz should be demanding more from his management team, and he should be empowering Nicholson to make the tough decisions.
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It came across as the GM will be the one making the decisions, and if he decides to make change it is him and not Nicholson or Katz. I view that as the organization somewhat passing the buck. It might not be, but that’s how I see it.

ANALYTICS…

Nicholson has admitted the Oilers didn’t use analytics enough under Peter Chiarelli and that will change with the new GM. The fact that occurred is another reason why more changes within management need to happen. None of them stood up and yelled and screamed and said this is asinine? Or did no one listen?
Either way, it isn’t good. Darcy Mcleod is someone I’ve come to trust when it comes to analytics and how teams see them. He tweeted this earlier today.
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Not good. But outside of analytics for on-ice use, I’d argue if we came up with a formula to evaluate trades during the past four years they’d show weaknesses similar to how analytics can point out on-ice deficiencies.
I asked Gretzky about the pro trades that haven’t worked out.
“On the pro side a little bit has to do with us trying to fit on the go, with the injuries, and on defence we were really shorthanded. We overpaid and the players didn’t pan out and it looks bad.  We have to use all of our tools of analytics, or all our scouts and depend on each other to make smart decisions,” answered Gretzky.
I appreciated his honesty. They overpaid. It looks bad, and it does. And his last line is very telling. Trust and use each other. That wasn’t happening enough under Chiarelli, and that’s a sign of dysfunction.
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That has to change moving forward. Nicholson doesn’t scout. I don’t expect him to, but he is in charge of the organization and he needs to clear up the dysfunction. The Oilers have been plagued by it for years.
They have too many people pulling in opposite directions. They need a clear chain of command. You have an issue, you go to the GM. None of this garbage texting to the owner, and offering up alternative points of view. It creates turmoil and the Oilers have too much of it.
It is another reason why more changes need to be made within hockey operations.
I did ask Gretzky if some of the pro scouts or management need to be changed, similar to when they change players who have negative analytics?
“For me to say if things need to be changed that isn’t my call today. That is the GM’s call, and he will go through and sift through all the scouts and everybody in the organization. He will make his decision on what he needs to do to improve any areas,” said Gretzky.
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Would he make changes if he was GM?
“If I’m the GM, I would sit back and evaluate it. I have a plan, but I can’t tell you my plan,” he replied.

LOOKING AHEAD…

When should they have a new GM in place? Ideally, it would be early May, but there has been the odd occasion where the new GM gets hired in June.
The Pittsburgh Penguins hired Jim Rutherford on June 6th, 2014. Jason Botterill had been the Interim GM since they fired Ray Shero on May 16th, after losing to the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs. Rutherford made a minor deal on June 24th, but then on the 27th he traded James Neal to Nashville for Patrik Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. The Penguins were not a major player in free agency. Rutherford didn’t inherit a team in need of fixing like the current edition of the Oilers, so ideally Nicholson will have a GM before June.
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Most are hired well before that, unless they are during the season replacements or getting promoted from within, which often occur in early July, the start of a new NHL season.
Doug Wilson, May 13th, 2003
Kevin Cheveldayoff, June 8th, 2011 (Jets moved from ATL that summer, new owner).
Marc Bergevin, May 2nd, 2012
Jim Nill, April 29th, 2013
Brad Treliving, April 28th, 2014
Jim Benning, May 21st, 2014
Brian MacLellan, May 26th, 2014. *Promoted from within.**
Ray Shero, May 4th, 2015
Don Sweeney, May 20th, 2015
Pierre Dorian, April 10th, 2016
John Chayka, May 5th, 2016
Dale Tallon, April 10th, 2017
Rob Blake, April 10th, 2017
Jason Botterill, May 8th, 2018
Kyle Dubas, May 11th, 2018
Paul Fenton, May 21st, 2018
Lou Lamoriello, June 5th, 2018
Outside of Lamoriello and Rutherford, who have a lot of experience, the rest were hired in April or May.
The Oilers should have their GM in place no later than May 15th, and ideally a bit sooner. If that means one of the guys they want to interview, Kelly McCrimmon for example, is still in the playoffs, then he doesn’t get interviewed.
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The most active trade time in the NHL is the two week period leading up to the draft and free agency. I’d want the GM in place for at least six weeks prior to that so they have time to mount a strong plan of attack.
In my view this was the most disappointing season in Oilers franchise history. There has to be more change, and some of it should occur before the new GM is hired.

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