Deep Dive: Remaining GM Candidates

On “Oilers Now” Friday, Elliotte Friedman said that the Oilers are planning to hire their new GM in the next 7-10 days. Friedman believes that the list is down to three candidates: Mark Hunter, Kelly McCrimmon, and a mystery man.

The Cult of Hockey’s Kurt Leavins wrote a great article recently outlining the resumes of the top 10 candidates to be the next GM of the Oilers. He noted some of each candidate’s hits and misses while in their former or current positions. Hunter was the Assistant GM of the Maple Leafs from 2014-2017, and then their Director of Player Personnel until 2018. He left the organization after the Leafs chose Kyle Dubas to be their GM over him. McCrimmon has been the Assistant GM of the Vegas Golden Knights for the last two seasons. He was involved with the scouting process during the season leading up to the expansion draft in 2017 as well.

I wanted to go a little deeper into the contributions that each candidate made to his former team. Now, nobody outside of those respective organizations truly knows what kind of input these men would have had in any moves made by those organizations, but I’m going to try anyway.

Hunter was with the Leafs from October 2014- April 2018. Leavins noted that Hunter was responsible for both professional and amateur scouting. The notable draft picks from Hunter’s time in Toronto are Auston Matthews (obvious pick), Mitch Marner (credit due for that one), and Travis Dermott (not an impact player, but has promise). Marner went through the London Knights organization, which Hunter is heavily involved in. His brother, Dale, coached Marner in London. I’d be more impressed with the Marner pick if he didn’t have so much opportunity to receive additional intel on Marner. Honestly though, most of the Leafs’ current roster is made up of draft picks from prior to Hunter’s tenure. It is important to not get caught up in the notion that Hunter has a great drafting record because Toronto has so many of their own draft picks from before October 2014 on their current roster.

The trading record of the Leafs in Hunter’s tenure was mildly successful. One bright spot was getting Kasperi Kapanen in the Phil Kessel trade. Another was getting Frederik Andersen from the Ducks. The last one was getting Zach Hyman from Florida for Greg McKegg. The Leafs have no other impactful players acquired via trades in Hunter’s time on the roster currently. The Leafs essentially got nothing in return for Dion Phaneuf. The other major trades made in that time involved moving older players out in exchange for draft picks or prospects that have amounted to basically nothing. The Leafs signed Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey as UFAs during Hunter’s time as well. Both have been useful players in Toronto as veteran leaders.

To recap, here are the players from the Leafs roster that were acquired during Hunter’s time: Matthews, Marner, Andersen, Kapanen, Hyman, Marleau, Hainsey, and Dermott.

McCrimmon has been with the Golden Knights since the beginning. They were the Stanley Cup Finalists last season, and they lost Game 7 to the Sharks in round 1 this year after allowing 4 goals on a controversial major penalty call (bad call, but show up on the PK!). Now, if my memory serves me well, McCrimmon was mostly responsible for scouting the Western Conference teams prior to the expansion draft. The closest thing that I have for proof of that at this point is an article from the Winnipeg Sun from last year’s playoffs that noted that McCrimmon watched 20 games at Bell MTS Place as a part of his expansion draft scouting.

Here were the players that the Golden Knights chose and acquired from the Western Conference as a part of the expansion draft:

Calvin Pickard, Luca Sbisa, Teemu Pulkinnen, Cody Eakin, Brayden McNabb, Chris Thorburn, James Neal, Derek Engelland, David Schlemko, David Perron, Griffin Reinhart, Clayton Stoner, Shea Theodore, Erik Haula, Alex Tuch, and Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Neal and Perron were big parts of last year’s team. Theodore is a top-pairing defenceman now. Aside from them, the players on this list that are still with the team are largely role players for Vegas. Eakin, Haula, and Tuch have provided a lot of depth up front. Engelland is from Vegas, and he has become a good heart and soul guy for them. McNabb plays a very effective physical game.

It should be noted that other key players like Fleury, Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Schmidt, and Miller came from the Eastern Conference, so I can’t definitively give McCrimmon credit for those transactions.

Vegas has only had 2 drafts as a franchise. The notable players from those drafts are Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, and Erik Brannstrom. Brannstrom went to Ottawa as a part of the Mark Stone trade, which McCrimmon is believed to have been largely responsible for. That makes sense because of their Wheat Kings connection. The other big trade that Vegas has made was the Max Pacioretty trade in which Nick Suzuki went the other way along with Tomas Tatar. The Golden Knights’ most notable UFA signing was Paul Stastny.

Hunter was arguably involved in more impact players being brought in to Toronto, but Matthews was the consensus #1 pick, and Marner was the #4 pick in his draft year. He also had additional intel from Dale Hunter in London on that pick. It’s hard to heap praise on someone for two top 4 picks.
Vegas plays an enviable style that is based on speed and hard work. McCrimmon managed to find some quality depth pieces for Vegas. McCrimmon can also be credited for a big acquisition with the Stone trade.

McCrimmon has the edge in professional scouting with his recent success in finding quality depth for Vegas. Hunter’s draft record is boosted greatly by two top 4 picks. McCrimmon’s draft portfolio is much smaller, but he did manage to pick Brannstrom, who many view as an elite defence prospect as well as Glass, who promises to be a star centre. It’s hard to decide who is the better drafter because of McCrimmon’s limited sample size, so I’ll call that a draw.

I’m leaning towards McCrimmon over Hunter for the Oilers because he has the edge in professional scouting. The Oilers already have stars. They need depth up front. McCrimmon has proven that he can identify quality depth players. Vegas plays the way that the Oilers want to play, so it makes sense to hire one of the men responsible for creating that roster.

The other thing I have liked about the Knights so far is that they have not been afraid to make big trades for impactful players (Pacioretty, Stone) since they became contenders. The Oilers are not contenders yet. They do need to increase the amount of quality prospects that they have in the pipeline. However, I like how McCrimmon comes from an organization that isn’t afraid to take a little bit from the future if it means that they can significantly increase their odds of winning a championship in the short-term. I don’t think the Oilers are far from being in a situation where they will need to trade for a player to take them over the top. They might even opt to trade the 8th overall pick this summer for all we know. That doesn’t mean that I think the Oilers should not draft and develop; it just means that I think that the new GM should not be scared to take a risk if the result could help the Oilers win sooner without hampering them in the long-term.

As far as the mystery 3rd man, I can only guess as to who that might be.

We know that Pat Verbeek had an interview. He was hired as the Director of Professional Scouting for Tampa Bay in 2010, and he became their AGM in 2011. He has been primarily responsible for the professional side of things rather than the amateur side. Tampa’s success has come from their drafting. All of their best players are home grown. If you look at their current roster, there aren’t many key players that were acquired in trades or as UFAs. Ryan McDonagh is one example of a successful trade pick-up. Mikhail Sergachev has been another. Anton Stralman had a few good years, but his play has declined recently. Aside from that, their results with veteran pick-ups haven’t been great. JT Miller has been inconsistent there. Dan Girardi hasn’t been great there. I have a friend who is a big TB fan… he has spent years hating on Braydon Coburn. Ryan Callahan has been a disaster. My point is professional scouting, trades, and UFA signings are not why TB has been successful. I question how much credit Verbeek should get for that franchise being as good as it has been.

Mike Futa is another name that has come up. He has been with the Kings for the last 13 seasons. They have won 2 Stanley Cups in that time. They did it by playing heavy hockey and wearing other teams down. They have also had spectacular goaltending from Jonathan Quick. This is just a personal preference from me, but we all saw how the Kings fared this past season… the game has become too quick for them, and their stars are aging. I have no interest in someone from the Kings because their past success was found with a style of play that is becoming extinct.

Ross Mahoney from the Capitals is an interesting name to me as well. He has been with them for the last 21 years. Washington has drafted well and they have traded well (with the exception of the Forsberg deal). Washington has been a good team for a long time, and they have been so regardless of which style of play has ruled the day at the time.

If it were me, I would be deciding between McCrimmon and Mahoney instead of Hunter. Mahoney certainly has more NHL experience than McCrimmon, but McCrimmon has more experience in a managerial role based on his work in Brandon. Mahoney’s drafting record in Washington has been great. I see no flaws with Mahoney honestly, but I’m more excited about the prospect of McCrimmon because of seeing what he has been a part of in Vegas. Mahoney’s Capitals bested McCrimmon’s Golden Knights in last year’s Stanley Cup Final, but my gut is telling me that McCrimmon will get the win this time. Mahoney would also be a great choice though.

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