They’ve Basically Tried Everything… What Now?

A lot of Oilers fans feel that Bob Nicholson is not going to get the next GM hire right. The team hasn’t got it right in more than a decade, so why should they believe that the man who hired the last guy will get it right this time?

Like it or not, Nicholson is the man that will be making the decision.

We won’t find out if he will he will have made the right decision for a couple of years at the very least. We know that there is a list with about 35 candidates on it, which will be whittled down to a group of 12 to 14 that Nicholson will interview.

I don’t know who Nicholson will interview, but these candidates will all come from varying backgrounds. There will be some that are or were GMs of successful teams from the past (Holland, Yzerman, Lombardi, and Gillis). There will be some former GMs that were let go recently (Hextall and Francis). There will be some that have been or that were developing under the watchful eyes of GMs on other teams (McCrimmon, Hunter, Futa, Zito, Fitzgerald, Guerin). Then there’s the internal candidate (Gretzky), the guy that has the “in” with the boss (Burke), and the player agent that might be looking for a career change (Gilman).

It’s great that Nicholson is leaving no stone unturned in his search for the new GM. Here’s the thing though: the GMs that the Oilers have had in the last 19 years have had some combination of these backgrounds.

They tried the internal candidate. Kevin Lowe was hired as Oilers GM in 2000. He was an assistant coach with the Oilers in 1998, the head coach in 1999, and the GM in 2000. Instead of being let go when the next guy came in, he was promoted to Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. The Oilers made that run to the Cup Finals in 2006, but things started spiralling downhill under Lowe’s watch.

For the next hire, the Oilers tried the guy that had been developing with another team. Steve Tambellini was an executive that had various titles with the Canucks for about a decade, including Vice President of Player Personnel. He had been named their Assistant GM months before accepting the Oilers GM job in July of 2008. There was a lot of H.O.P.E. for Tambellini, but the team only got worse during his reign.

When it was time to replace Tambellini, they thought “Ah, let’s try another internal candidate this time”. Craig MacTavish was their man. He coached the Oilers for a decade (1999-2009). He then coached in the AHL for a bit and had a brief stint on TSN. In 2012, Tambellini brought MacTavish in to be the Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations. In 2013, Tambellini was fired and MacTavish took his place as GM. MacTavish held the position for two more losing seasons.

In 2014, Nicholson was brought in to be the CEO of the Oilers Entertainment Group. This was the beginning of a major overhaul of the front office structure. For those that have been whining that no such change has taken place in recent years, Nicholson represents that major change that many fans claim has never happened.

The next year, Nicholson brought in Chiarelli. Chiarelli was the man that had the “in” with the boss because of their work on the 2014 Olympic team. Chiarelli was also the man that had been a successful GM in another organization, a position from which he had recently been let go. He was also a player agent prior to joining the Senators in the late 1990’s. We all know how that ended.

What do they do now? They’ve tried basically everything, and nothing has worked.

I honestly don’t think it matters.

You could make arguments for and against any of the candidates. The reality is that there are a lot of good candidates that are out there. All of them are likely capable of doing the job. There is likely more than one candidate that could be a good fit. Fans and media members alike are going to have different opinions on who the man should be. It will certainly lead to a lot of interesting debate over the next few months.

What matters is how the new GM performs, regardless of his background.

No matter who Nicholson hires, I expect most Oilers fans to be skeptical about the hire because this is the Oilers we’re talking about. Fans simply do not have faith in the organization anymore. Any decision that is made will be the wrong decision until it is proven to be right.

It will be proven right only if and when the Oilers win.

Those that have followed my writing know that I try to keep a positive view on things when it’s possible to. I have a bit of faith that Nicholson will get it right this time because he has a mistake to learn from. The fact that he is conducting a search this time is a sign that he is learning. He has acknowledged the need for more skill. He is adopting a policy of patience when it comes to prospect development. He has acknowledged that the team needs to be more open to using analytics as a tool. He is advocating for more communication internally and to the public. All of those are good things.

He also took responsibility for the questionable trades that have happened under his watch. When Jason Gregor asked him about how much responsibility he would take for the trades that happened under his supervision, he literally said the words “I’ll take responsibility for that”. That’s what you do when you make a mistake. You take responsibility for it. It doesn’t make up for the mistakes, but I really don’t think we can expect much more in the way of an admission of guilt here. He went on to say that he needs to be more involved in the hockey side of the business while still giving the new GM authority. Another sign that learning is taking place and that the new regime will operate a little differently than the previous one did.

Whether “different” is good or bad remains to be seen.

He has been talking to everyone and their dog in the hockey world in an effort to gather information on the organization and to get opinions on his search for a new GM. The fact that he is asking questions of so many people has a lot of fans nervous because it implies that he doesn’t know what he is doing and that he needs help. We could also look at that and say that he made a mistake once and is now trying to learn from it and grow from it. This is professional collaboration. It happens in a lot of industries, and there’s nothing wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong with seeking out information from peers.

While I have some faith, I also know that there is a possibility that Nicholson won’t get it right. Fans have every right to be skeptical because of the past. However, I have faith that there is enough to work with in Edmonton for the new GM to be able to create a winning team here sooner than a lot of people think. I’m just excited to watch it all unfold.

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