Oilers GM Search Underway

Nicholson and Chia

The biggest bit of news this off-season for the Edmonton Oilers is going to be who they hire to become the club’s next General Manager. The Oilers went outside the organization in 2015 to hire Peter Chiarelli, but as we have since learned the club failed to do a proper search. The Chiarelli era was a total disaster, and one could argue he set this franchise back.

Bob Nicholson knows that he has to get this right, his legacy as an NHL executive truly depends on it. He swung and missed on his Hockey Canada pal Chiarelli, and now he simply cannot afford to pick up strike two on hockey hires.

After firing Chiarelli in January, Nicholson admitted he was going to take his time and get things right. Almost three months later, interviews are just getting underway. We are led to believe, and have no real reason to doubt, that Nicholson has been gathering information and talking to people around the league about how to get this hire right.

Now, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nicholson has gotten the search officially underway. Yesterday, Friedman posted his weekly 31 Thoughts blog, and briefly touched on Edmonton’s search.

14. Edmonton’s GM search starts now. Man, does the name Mike Gillis bring a reaction. I think he gets an interview. Others I’m guessing are on the list: Mike Futa, Keith Gretzky, Mark Hunter, Kelly McCrimmon, Bill Zito and more. Possibly Sean Burke. Possibly Bill Armstrong from St. Louis. Not sure about Ron Hextall. As mentioned last week, don’t think Ron Francis is available. At the season-ending media conference, Bob Nicholson said they are not looking for a President of Hockey Operations, just a GM. Shoots a big hole in my Ken Holland/Keith Gretzky theory.

The Candidates:

The list of candidates that Friedman essentially confirms here should be seen as a positive. Mike Gillis was ahead of the curve in Vancouver on things like analytics and sports science, which Nicholson confirmed is a must for the next GM.

Gillis also surrounded a strong core in Vancouver with a more than capable supporting cast that got them within a game of the Stanley Cup in 2011, which is exactly the job that must be done in Edmonton. Lastly, Gillis wants to change the way things are done in Edmonton, which should be reason enough to give him a serious look.

Bill Zito is a name no one is really talking about, but the former player agent is strong at the negotiating table and has done a good job in Columbus. He was connected to the Philadelphia job earlier this season, and to me is a strong dark-horse candidate. Zito is one of the bright young management minds in the league and is deserving of an interview.

Although I’m against Gretzky getting the job, it’s no surprise he will get an interview. Gretzky has done good things in the amateur scouting department, and I do think it is important for the organization to show that if you do well in your current job, you will earn looks for promotion.

McCrimmon and Hunter have been rumored since day one, but I’m not huge on either. Hunter’s strengths are similar to Gretzky’s, and I actually think Hunter’s work with Toronto has been overrated because, well, Toronto. McCrimmon is intriguing but will Edmonton even get the chance to talk to him?

Mike Futa has been a candidate for years, but I wonder about him. The Kings seem to be behind the times in the NHL, and Futa has been a huge part of that management group for years. What is he all about? He’s a mystery man that we really don’t know much about.

Lastly, I’m actually very surprised that Elliotte isn’t sure about Ron Hextall. I thought Hextall was a very strong candidate because of his draft/develop plan in Philadelphia, but it appears he’s not a real candidate for the job. Quite frankly, I’m okay with that. I am not big on Hextall or Ron Francis, who really never improved their NHL rosters in the short-term.

Final Thoughts:

When I took a look ahead to the off-season back in February, I predicted Keith Gretzky to be the GM with Ken Holland eventually being named President of Hockey Operations later in the summer. My money is still on that being the most likely outcome, but I think the odds have decreased since that writing back in the winter.

My preferred pick? It was Mike Gillis as POHO and Laurence Gilman as GM. It doesn’t sound like, at this time, Gilman is on Edmonton’s list but Gillis is. Gillis, from the group Friedman named, would be my pick for GM. I understand he wasn’t the best with the media in Vancouver, but I thought he did a great job for the most part putting that team together and trying to find advantages.

Overall, the list is reason for optimism for me. Almost all of the names listed are progressive thinkers and guys with a penchant for analytics and sports science. That’s exactly what Edmonton needs as they try to dig out of their massive hole before next season.

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