Due to a last second trip to Brooklyn to see the boys Saturday (no, seriously, I decided like ten hours before I left), part two of my “How To Fix The Edmonton Oilers” series was delayed until today. On Friday, we opened the series with the overview piece, looking at what the club’s priorities should be moving forward, what the plan should be and what direction they must go.
Today, we take a look at some of the top candidates for the GM position and look at who might fit the club best as they try and figure things out. In addition to naming off the leaders in the clubhouse for the job, I’ll also chime in with my two cents on who I’d hire.
I took a look at some GM candidates ten days ago, and although things have changed I find it helpful to look back as we start again.
People With A Plan:
In looking for a GM, the Oilers are going to be looking for someone with a strong plan. They’ll likely be looking for someone that is willing to put a premium on speed, skill and leadership, along with things like character.
They’ll likely also be looking for a veteran ‘hockey man’ and someone that has experience in building successful teams at the NHL level. I don’t think Edmonton is overly willing to take a chance on a young GM looking to make his mark.
Without further ado, here is the list of candidates along with some pros and cons for each. We’ll finish it off with my personal choice for the job.
Kelly McCrimmon: His name has been there since day one, and honestly it makes a lot of sense when you realize it is the Oilers doing the hiring. He’s a Western Canadian guy who had a ton of success at the WHL level and his ideas allegedly are more aligned with the club than Peter Chiarelli’s were. I will give McCrimmon this, he’s been a big part of a Vegas front office that robbed numerous NHL clubs and built a contender from scratch.
He won’t have the expansion draft to aid him, but it seems like McCrimmon knows how to build a successful team in the modern NHL. I’m not as crazy about him as others, there just isn’t much known about him, but the Oil love him and will be interviewing him at some point during this process.
Mark Hunter: Hunter’s work with the Leafs had a lot of hockey men expecting him to get the GM’s job when it became available. The Leafs made the smart choice, however, keeping Kyle Dubas and promoting him to GM. That doesn’t mean Hunter is a bad choice, however.
Hunter is smart and I think he’s a very strong drafter. Problem is, we haven’t seen what Hunter can do in terms of building an actual NHL roster. How much pull did he have on the professional side of things with the Leafs during his time there? How much did he learn from Lou Lamoriello? These are all questions that will go a long way towards determining whether Hunter is the right guy.
He knows how to find talent at the draft table, but he can he turn around an NHL roster with trades and free agency? I’m not so sure.
Keith Gretzky: Like it or not, Keith is now entrenched as one of three favorites for this job. Gretzky did well, in my opinion, with the deal sending Ryan Spooner to Vancouver for Sam Gagner. I didn’t love the Cam Talbot trade, bringing Anthony Stolarz on board, but I understood it and he was able to dump Talbot’s entire salary essentially.
After waiving Brandon Manning on Monday, Gretzky is making a lot of friends in the Edmonton media. He’s trying to undo every move that Chiarelli made this season, and is attempting to dump salary by the looks of it. Edmonton media is giddy at the fact he hasn’t been crushed in a trade yet, and some are even ready to name him GM tomorrow.
I’m not there yet, not even close. Gretzky is very good when it comes to drafting, but we don’t know what he is at the NHL level. Can he add valuable pieces at cheap prices? Can he handle the salary cap? Can he win a trade?
He’s going to get the chance to prove himself in the next seven days.
There Will Be Interest:
Ken Holland: Maybe not as GM, but I believe Bob Nicholson will try to get Ken Holland to Edmonton this summer as the President of Hockey Operations. Problem is, Holland really hasn’t done much to help the Red Wings in the last five seasons, and is currently in charge of a bad hockey team that is capped out.
John Ferguson Jr: Things have gone awfully quiet in regards to JFJ, a man whose tenure in Toronto was absolutely horrific. He’s currently working for the Boston Bruins as the Director of Player Personnel and GM of the Providence Bruins (AHL). After having a decade to reflect on his time as a GM, it’ll be interesting to see how JFJ handles his second tenure as Hockey Ops Czar. I think he’ll get a look as GM, but if Gretzky gets the job I firmly believe JFJ will be his choice as AGM.
Bill Guerin: Yes, he’s an ex-Oiler, but Guerin has earned a look as a GM somewhere. Currently the Assistant GM in Pittsburgh as well as the GM of their AHL affiliate, Guerin has seen first-hand how a successful organization works. He’s got experience helping to build a roster around superstars, and knows how to push young players to that next level. He’s learned a lot from Jim Rutherford, and I think he’s ready to take the next step in his career.
Doug Weight: Perhaps a better fit as a coach, Weight does have some front office experience and I think will draw interest from teams after a year out of the game. Perhaps a better fit as an assistant, I would caution against hiring Weight. There are rumblings he was overwhelmed in New York and wasn’t the most pleasant influence.
Mike Futa: There were rumblings that the Oilers were close to naming him GM back in January and then…..nothing. I also haven’t seen anyone connecting him to the job since Chiarelli was fired, making me think he isn’t interested in leaving LA for Edmonton.
Ron Hextall: Hextall would align with Nicholson in the sense that player development and drafting would become organizational keys. Hextall is a very stubborn man, however, and that is what got him fired in Philadelphia. There are also serious questions about his ability to help an NHL roster through trades and free agency. He wanted a longer term plan in Philly and stuck to it until the bitter end.
Ron Francis: Essentially the same situation as Hextall, Francis’ stubbornness is what got him canned in Carolina. Very rarely did he dip his feet into the free agent market, and very rarely did he make ‘hockey trades’. The Hockey Canada connection likely gets him a look, but I hate the fit here.
I have a lot of time for Mike Gillis, but I’m just not sure the Oilers do at this point in time. He did a lot of good in Vancouver and I think could build a solid team around this core in Edmonton. The Canucks of that time, like the modern Oilers, seemingly couldn’t get out of their own way and couldn’t build around their young core.
Laurence Gilman has my attention, coming from the Maple Leaf machine and having worked in multiple Canadian markets before. Bill Zito is the big name that no one is talking about in connection to the Edmonton job, and I have time for him too. I just don’t think the Oil have interest in going to ex-agent route.
I’m a fan of both Tom Fitzgerald and Scott Mellanby, but they haven’t been connected to this job in the slightest.
My Personal Pick:
I keep going back and forth here. I think a dual hiring of Mike Gillis as POHO and Laurence Gilman as GM would make a ton of sense. They’ve worked together before, have both been apart of successful organizations, have seen the impacts of sports science and advanced stats up close and personal and have fresh, outside perspectives.
I also really like the thought of bringing someone like Guerin into the fold. I think he’s paid his dues in Pittsburgh and is ready to make the jump. Guerin comes from an organization that has successfully built around their star players for a long time and has developed prospects with ease over the years.
In the end, I’d hire Gillis as POHO and Gilman as GM. I just think the pros outweigh the cons with this duo and I think they could both open new doors for the Oiler organization.
That’s what I would do. What do I think will happen? Keith Gretzky is going to get the GM’s job and bring John Ferguson Jr in to be his AGM. Later in the summer, after Steve Yzerman has taken over the Red Wings, Holland takes over in Edmonton as the new POHO.