The Edmonton sports media, as is their custom, leaked word of a possible extension for Steve Tambellini to continue as General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers. The local boys originally leaked a four-year deal, while Bob McKenzie countered, saying that a two-year deal was on the table. The media take was that Tambellini should be allowed to finish what he started, bring closure and success to his meticulously planned rebuild.
Certain portions of the fanbase concurred with the media and believe that Tambellini is the man to finish the rebuild, while other portions recoiled in rage at the specter of an extension for the man who caused the rebuild in the first place. Still others agreed with an extension, but for a completely different reason: that finding a better GM would be difficult or that a new GM might be worse.
Triumph, our newest contributor, took up their cause in his "Defense of Steve Tambellini" article:
Owners do not seem particularly adept at choosing general managers and/or team presidents. It's difficult to understand why this is, but the best general managers typically stay employed for a long time, and the rest of the league tends to shuffle people around hoping to find a great GM
The argument seems to be "There's a possibility his replacement might be worse, so the Oilers should accept current performance, no matter what."
The notion that viable candidates are hard to come by is wrong-headed and should be rejected. After the jump, I'll explain why.
The outstanding Jonathan Willis has already begun an analysis of candidates for the job. He's looked at doing nothing, going back to the well, Patrick Roy, and San Jose Assistant GM Joe Will. Unlike Jonathan, I won't dive as deep into the analysis aspect of each candidate, rather, I'm out to prove that a large pool of viable candidates exists and should be thoroughly explored before settling for status quo out of fear.
I'll begin by ruling out a pool of candidates, men who've been discussed in some popular forum, either by the mainstream media or on some of the more popular destinations of the 'sphere. The following group should not be considered viable candidates to replace Steve Tambellini:
Any of the boys on the bus - Jonathan profiled Kevin Lowe, Lowetide has consistently predicted Mark Messier would be the next man to take the job, and ask any number of fans about Wayne Gretzky and watch them drool. The boys on the bus have run the team for two-thirds of the Oilers' NHL existence and the first third was great. The second third has been brutal. It's time to cut the strings from the boys on the bus and stop looking at past glories with the Oilers as a baseline for a job qualification. If the Canadiens limit their possibilities because of language, the Oilers limit their possibilities because of a letterman's jacket. There is a single exception to this.
Rick Olczyk - Olczyk, currently the Assistant General Manager of the Oilers, is supposed to be the team's CBA and salary cap guru. In reality, he's anything but an expert in his area of expertise. Olczyk's public failures include a complete misunderstanding of the CBA's waiver rules in regards to Gilbert Brule and a total lack of knowledge on the Finnish Transfer Agreement. Thankfully for the Oilers (I've yet to receive a 'Thank you' from Olczyk, by the way) alert bloggers were on the case. Add in the horrendous 35+ deal for Nikolai Khabibulin, and Olczyk should be released from his current duties, not considered for a promotion.
Stu MacGregor - MacGregor, currently Head Scout for the Oilers, is worshiped like a demigod by the mainstream media and bloggers alike. And while he's hit a couple of home runs in batting practice, we're still 3-5 years away from knowing if MacGregor is good at his current job. If making first overall picks was the only qualification for GM, the Oilers can just keep Steve Tambellini.
Ritch Winter - The agent extraordinaire and Founder of The Sports Corporation has publicly and privately stumped for the GM's job, which should disqualify him for the job. There's something unseemly about using agent tactics to get a job on the other side of the conference table. The real reason for avoiding Winter, however, is his take on stats and analysis in the NHL. His Twitter account has linked to a number of both low-level and wrong-headed articles and his 140 character arguments in defense of those articles has been abysmal.
With the non-viable candidates out of the way, we can build the beginnings of our target candidate list. Daryl Katz should, at the very least, have a discussion with the following candidates:
Joe Will - Will, currently the Assistant General Manager of the Sharks, is the strongest and most likely candidate to become the first "Moneyball" General Manager in hockey (though Doug Wilson has admitted to using advanced metrics to make decisions). Will has flown under the radar in San Jose and isn't a well-known by fans, but is very well-known around the NHL. Jonathan Willis profiled Will here, noting:
The San Jose Sharks have consistently been one of the best teams in the National Hockey League. Only once since the NHL lockout have they failed to advance to at least the second round of the playoffs. Their goal differential is a combined plus-275 since the lockout – and that’s not an accident, as the linked article highlights goal differential as one of their primary goals. Will has been involved in all of it...
Doug Yingst - Another unknown to most fans, Yingst is the President and GM of the AHL's Hershey Bears. Yingst has won three Calder Cups as GM of the Bears and has turned the organization into the best in the AHL. He serves on the AHL Board of Governors. He's a longshot for the Edmonton job - he's been in Hershey in various roles for three decades.
Craig MacTavish - The lone exception to my "no boys on the bus" rule, I called out MacTavish as a future GM after he was released from his duties by the Oilers:
That lengthy resume includes ECAC Player of the Year, All-American honors, playoff MVP, a Division II title, four Stanley Cups, three years as an NHL assistant coach, and eight years as an NHL head coach. Add to that an MBA and MacTavish's resume has all of the qualifications of a General Manager in the NHL.
MacTavish knows player development and understands the challenges a coach can face with an unbalanced or undermanned roster.
Hockeymetricians - One of the stats gurus will eventually find their way to the front office of an NHL front office, just as they did in baseball. We know that a few teams have hired full-time advanced statisticians and even more teams regularly engage the statisticians in both long-term and short-term consulting and advisory gigs. Many of the statisticians have non-hockey management experience. Though it took 35 years for baseball to catch up, a smart owner might want to get the early adopted advantage and put someone who crosses value with a deep understanding of advanced metrics, someone like Gabriel Desjardins.
Dave Nonis - Nonis, currently Vice-President of Operations with the Maple Leafs and General Manager of the Toronto Marlies, has served as Brian Burke's right hand man for three-quarters of his professional career. He was promoted to General Manager in Vancouver after Brian Burke left and was replaced by Mike Gillis.
Laurence Gilman - Gilman, currently Assistant General Manager of the Canucks, has a long history of NHL experience with the Coyotes and Canucks and has served as Mike Gillis' CBA and negotiation expert during the Canucks' rise to power. Gilman is the man behind the outstanding cap situation and excellent contract position in Vancouver.
Ex-Players - There is a large group of ex-players with degrees and a wide range of skills, work histories and NHL experience that make a strong list of candidates for the job. That group is led by Paul Fenton, Tom Fitzgerald, Don Sweeney, and Pat Verbeek and all are candidates for a discussion about the role, at the very least.
This list contains the individuals that I would target for the job and is by no means a comprehensive list of available candidates who could do a better job as General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers. There are plenty of other capable hands - even without delving into the especially able managers without NHL experience - to look into. This canard, "Where would we find a new or better GM?" is nothing more than a paean for Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe.