The “Boys on the Bus” have been a problem in Edmonton for years. Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish are certainly the poster boys for this as former Oilers that won Stanley Cups in Edmonton that have been GMs during the team’s stretch of futility. The team’s lack of success had fans and media questioning why these former Oilers players were being given jobs when clearly they were not doing the job well enough.
It’s a fair question.
So, when the Oilers were re-vamping their organizational structure in 2015, they made a point of hiring from outside of the organization. Bob Nicholson was previously employed by Hockey Canada, Peter Chiarelli was previously employed by the Boston Bruins, and Todd McLellan was previously employed by the San Jose Sharks. Along with those hires, Lowe and MacTavish were immediately moved out of hockey operations, which spelled the end of their involvement in any hockey related decisions.
The Oilers made the playoffs in 2016-17, and not a single word was uttered by anyone in the media about the “Boys on the Bus”. With that, the saga in Edmonton ended.
Not so fast…
The Oilers also hired Wayne Gretzky to be an ambassador for the team. His position is focussed on aspects of the OEG outside of the on-ice product. He is not directly involved in hockey decisions, but indications are that he interacts with the players. Heaven forbid.
In January, Paul Coffey was hired to help with the development of prospects, most notably those that play defence. Reports indicate that Coffey was rarely with the Oilers team after he was hired because he was coaching his son’s team in Ontario as well. Coffey’s impact was never meant to be immediate; it will take at least a couple of years to notice the impact of his working with Oilers prospects. The team was already out of the playoff race for all intents and purposes at the time of his hiring. The damage to the Oilers’ season had already been done.
Of course, now that the season has been completed, a report came out that has taken the dust off of the old “Boys on the Bus” excuse for the team’s failure. The mere existence of names like Lowe, MacTavish, Gretzky, and Coffey on OEG’s payroll during a losing season has everyone singing that same tired, old song once again even though none of those people have ANYTHING to do with hockey decisions.
Nicholson said himself that Chiarelli makes the final decisions regarding player personnel. I have at no time ever associated with any member of the Oilers management group. However, based on the information available, I feel totally comfortable saying that no matter what opinions any of the “Boys on the Bus” may have to share with the Oilers GM, Chiarelli makes his own decisions.
I’ll refer you to my article on why the Oilers lost this season. To summarize, the team wasn’t good enough defensively (Sekera and Klefbom’s injuries didn’t help), the wingers didn’t produce enough, and the special teams were garbage. That does not fall on any of the “Boys on the Bus”. It falls on the players and the coaching staff.
I give Chiarelli a pass for allowing young players an opportunity to step up their production due to a lack of better available options (and Eberle’s Islanders missed the playoffs too, so don’t say that he would’ve made all the difference. The forwards couldn’t defend, and Oilers fans and media hated on Eberle all season long last year based on his defensive play… don’t hate on someone and then get mad at the GM for trading him).
Alexander Radulov was the only UFA winger that might’ve had any real impact on the wing this year. It would’ve been entirely irresponsible of Chiarelli to sign him to a long-term deal on July 1, 2017 without knowing what McDavid and Draisaitl would be making, and without knowing what the cap will be in 2018-19 once McDavid’s new contract kicks in.
It’s okay to take chances on young players increasing their productivity, especially when none of them were rookies and when all of their peaks are in front of them.
Chiarelli gets a pass from me on the decision to not replace Sekera as well. I have a hard time believing that another defenceman on a cheap one-year deal would’ve been enough to replace the 2016-17 version of Sekera, and it would’ve been irresponsible of Chiarelli to have another bottom pairing defenceman locked up long-term based on Sekera missing half of the season.
The roster wasn’t massively different than the roster that got the Oilers into the playoffs last year, and the team had a bad year. Progression isn’t always linear. It sucks. It happens. Let it go.
Oilers fans and media need to stop with the “Boys on the Bus” complaint. This wasn’t an issue last year when the team was winning, and the hiring of Paul Coffey this season had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the team’s failure this season. The excuse is becoming annoying because it just isn’t the reality anymore.
People need to stop lumping this season’s results in with the ineptitude of previous management regimes. Oilers fans and media are gravitating towards this convenient excuse simply for the drama, and its sickening.
If a recording of a conversation between Chiarelli and any of the “Boys on the Bus” and/or Daryl Katz is released and it becomes clear that they are controlling Chiarelli’s decisions, then you can start to ask questions. Nobody reporting on this topic is in the war room with the Oilers on a daily basis, so any speculation about how the team is run and how decisions are made is simply that: SPECULATION.
If Coffey is on the Oilers coaching staff behind the bench every night next season, and the team misses the playoffs by a wide margin again, then you can start to ask questions as well.
Until that happens, ITS TIME TO DROP IT.