Jokerit has played like real jokers lately. via Jokerit Hockey
Pelle Eklund has been the hot topic of conversation when talking about new Edmonton hires, but Edmonton made another move that has to this point avoided all fanfare. Bruce recently noticed that regular commenter E. Huisman had an entry over at his site, detailing the Oilers' hiring of Matti Virmanen, former Jokerit General Manager, as their Finnish scout. He read the news in the July issue of Kiekkolehti. The Oilers now have two scouts working the Northern European leagues after the hire of Eklund, as well as Frank Musil working out of the Czech Republic.
What caught my eye in his entry, however, was this line:
In Finland his reputation is somewhat questionable and it is safe to say that the majority of Jokerit fans were pleased when he quit last spring...
I decided to delve into more detail on the Virmanen hiring with E. Huisman, as well as Broad Street Hockey's Teemu H., their European reporter. After the jump, I get their opinions on Virmanen.
Copper & Blue: Why were Jokerit fans pleased when Virmanen quit?
E. Huisman: Mostly because he was seen as the person who was responsible for making Jokerit the SM-Liiga's equivalent of the Maple Leafs or the Rangers - the club with the biggest resources which was unable to turn them into success on the ice. The other main point was that he was also in charge of the junior organization and was unable or unwilling to address problems with certain coaches who chased promising youngsters out of the organization.
Teemu H: Jokerit have had the best circumstances to be successful for roughly the past 20 years in the SM-Liiga and Virmanen failed to turn those resources into success during his time as GM. He simply wasn't a very good GM. He's a good hockey guy and gets along well with players, but he just doesn't really have the qualities to be a good GM.
Copper & Blue: Is that the sole reason you say that "his reputation is somewhat questionable"?
E. Huisman: Many people saw him as something of a hack who only got/kept his job because he was close with the Jokerit chairman Harry Harkimo. He was originally hired to Jokerit as a marketing manager. He was seen to be part of an "old boys network" that didn't hire the most talented people, but instead hired people who they were familiar with. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Teemu H: Virmanen naturally wasn't the only one to blame for Jokerit's inability to turn their resources into success; their owner, Harry Harkimo, was very much involved in building the roster and pulling the strings. Virmanen was considered more or less Harkimo's errand boy. Going after veteran free agents was Harkimo's policy and Virmanen simply did what he was told.
Copper & Blue: The Oilers didn't have a scout specifically working in Finland before this hiring; you know Virmanen personally. Do you get the sense that the Oilers sought him out for this position or created this position just for him?
E. Huisman: As far as I understood he will cover all of (Northern) Europe, not just Finland. He said he doesn't really want to travel to Russia, but that his contract said "Finland, Sweden, Russia and other Europe".
Copper & Blue: Are you aware of his scouting history? Does he have a reputation for uncovering players?
E. Huisman: A lot of the Finnish clubs haven't really done much scouting until recently. In Jokerit's case, they could almost always outbid anyone in Finland, so it was relatively easy to gather talented Finns. Usually those players were already more or less established at the SM-Liiga level, so they didn't need to be uncovered. There are a few examples of "uncovered" import players during his tenure, but AFAIK, he didn't have much to do with the signing of Tim Stapleton, for example. He is a client of Acme World Sports, the agency that did almost all of the recruitment for Jokerit during the past few years.
Teemu H: Virmanen isn't really known for having the ability to uncover and scout players. It's actually closer to the opposite. He was famous for signing players blindly and spending a lot of money on bigger name free agents. Some flopped, some didn't, but the bottom line is that Virmanen isn't really known for finding young talents. On the whole, Jokerit was famous for signing big name free agents during Virmanen's time as GM, and their scouting was almost non-existent or very poor.
Given the information above, the signing is a bit curious. The Oilers typically hold their scouts, save Stu MacGregor, to a low profile, so I doubt we'll hear much from Virmanen. Neither Eklund in his time with Montreal nor Virmanen with Jokerit have a track record of success, so both of them will be building a reputation under the guiding hand of MacGregor. If Tambellini hired the pair on name recognition, it's a bit concerning. However, if it was Stu MacGregor's call, and he pulled the lever to hire these two guys, I'm more confident that he's connected with them, and has given them an understanding of exactly what it is he needs from his remote scouts.