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Oilers Front Office

Is this the disease or the symptom?

2015 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Oilers are not off to a good start this year. The roster has flaws and making the playoffs actually looks unlikely. As a result, fans are angry. This is the last year Connor McDavid is on his entry-level contract. Because he’s due a huge raise next season, it feels as though this year was wasted opportunity to load up and go for a cup.

Naturally Peter Chiarelli has been under tremendous scrutiny from fans. There were obvious holes in the lineup that were not addressed this summer. Jordan Eberle was traded for Ryan Strome in a cap dump that looks largely unnecessary, that Cap Space was immediately used poorly, and now, the team is (predictably to some) struggling. Fans haven’t yet paid to have a Chiarelli version of the This is as Lowe as we go billboard but the hashtags are starting to come out in full force.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is as easy of a fix as some. Last week I saw a tweet asking other fans what they would do if they were GMs.

Looking through the replies, I see a lot of answers relating to direct roster changes. It makes sense, that’s the end result. That’s the part fans notice, and fairly or not, roster decisions are largely what we look to when assessing a GM’s performance.

My answer, by the way, was Fire the Pro-Scouts and hire Meghan Chayka to a prominent Hockey-Ops position.

It got me thinking though, we need to do a full assessment of why Chiarelli was hired, what exactly he does, and of course, why he’s still here.

*For most of this analysis I’ll be going straight off of the Oiler’s staff page. Also, this is going to be a very long read so if ain’t nobody got time for that, there’s a diagram and a summary below.

To make any sense of it at all, we’ll have to go back to the Decade of Darkness. This team was in turmoil. We had players quitting on the team citing management issues, there wasn’t communication between the coach and GM, Kevin Lowe was waving his cup rings around while organizing a barn fight with Brian Burke, and we were the laughing stock of the league. Then on April 18th, 2015, it happened. The Oilers had won the draft lottery and the right to select Connor McDavid.

The Oilers knew they had to do something. They couldn’t let a generational talent come to a team that operates about as well as a blind surgeon with three fingers. The Oilers had previously taken chances on guys with no experience in Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini, and Craig MacTavish. They didn’t want to risk doing it again, nor should they have.

A lot of the disconnect between what people point to being the problem and what actually is the problem stems from the on ice product. If it’s good, you have a good GM if it’s bad, the GM is to blame. That’s usually not an inaccurate way of thinking, either.

When the the lottery balls gave the Oilers the right to draft McDavid, the Oilers started looking for a GM. Bob Nicholson and Daryl Katz weren’t just looking for someone to come in, do some signings, and make trades. The staff they had in place wasn’t even close to having those things be the central focus. The franchise was hardly functional. They played in the 2nd shittiest arena in the league, they had one of the shittiest sports teams of all time, their farm team was all the way in Oklahoma, and despite having so many top picks, they couldn’t win a hockey game.

That team didn’t need an established GM, they needed a truck load of dynamite and an entire staff to replace the ashes. This is why Peter Chiarelli was hired. They didn’t look at the Tyler Seguin trade and get scared, they saw a guy with loyal staff, designated roles, and a bunch of employees who could come into a franchise that has the structural integrity of a Joe factory in Bangledesh, and turn it into an actual, functioning organization.

It was as quick a solution they could come up in that amount of time. You need the GM to manage the group, and you need a group to manage. With Chiarelli, the Oilers got both. It’s important that the GM comes in and gets to hire other people, that way they’re all on the same page. Not to mention, when you’re hiring executives right before the draft like that, you’re not stealing good ones from other organizations, you’re getting a currently-unemployed group.

Peter Chiarelli operated teams have always had the specific structure. He’s a master of delegation — which, for the record, is a very desirable trait in a GM. Assuming you have the right people, that is... Let’s take a look at who does what and to whom they report.


Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations

Craig MacTavish enters his second season as the Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations, after previously serving as the club's General Manager for two seasons. MacTavish previously served as Edmonton's Senior Vice- President of Hockey Operations in 2012-13. He will work closely with President of Hockey Operations and General Manager, Peter Chiarelli and Assistant General Manager, Keith Gretzky on the daily operations of the Edmonton Oilers.

This is a carry-over. He was the GM at the time of Chia’s hiring, had served a similar capacity being VP of Hockey Ops prior to being a terrible GM, and we all know his history prior. He’s been a coach for a long time, he works well with younger players, he’s often seen at various hockey camps in the summers, and is known to help individual skills. In his current role as VP of Hockey ops, he was relieved of his team-based GM duties and given placement to watch over the development staff. It’s easy to hate on MacTavish because he was a bad GM and it screams nepotism; However, this is actually a role well suited for him. I always figured he was one of the guys taking Chiarelli’s ideas and making them worse, but the guy doing that is actually a bit further down the list.


Vice President of Player Personnel

Sutter enters his sixth season with the Oilers and first season as the Vice President of Player Personnel. Sutter was promoted to the position on July 2, 2016.

Sutter, 56, has over 26 years of hockey experience in coaching, scouting (amateur/professional) and player development. He has spent the past five seasons as a pro scout for the Oilers. Prior to joining the Oilers, he served as the Director of Player Personnel with the Calgary Flames. He was also the General Manager for the Abbotsford Heat in the American Hockey League (AHL) for their inaugural season in 2013-14. Sutter also served as the Head Western Canadian scout with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1992.

This is what I’ll call a Chiarelli move. It’s not a guy he brought with him, but it is a guy Chiarelli promoted to a new position. Notice he was a Pro-Scout right around the time the Taylor Hall trade happened. He has a ton of experience, and he’s a Sutter. Is this really a guy you’re happy having around?


Assistant General Manager

Gretzky enters his first season with the Oilers as Assistant General Manager. Gretzky was hired on July 2, 2016, after spending the past five years with the Boston Bruins.

Gretzky, 49, most recently served as the Director of Amateur Scouting for Boston in 2015-16. Gretzky also served as an Amateur Scout with Boston for three years and spent time with the Arizona Coyotes scoring staff prior to joining the Bruins.

This is a funny one. You see a Gretzky and immediately assume it’s an Oilers old-boys-club hire, and yet, it’s not. This is a guy Chiarelli has employed for quite a while as you can see. It’s also a really good hire. Unlike Paul Messier — being one of our terrible Pro-Scouts —, this brother-of-a-legend has actually excelled in his role as directer of amateur scouting with the Bruins, and was hired by the Oilers with increased responsibility. In this industry, it’s pretty standard that you can’t hire talent away from another team without it being a promotion. As an aside, he was one of the few to slightly stand up for Seguin right before another genius trumped him by asking “Does he fit with our culture?”.


Assistant to the President of Hockey Operations and Director of Salary Cap Management

Bill Scott enters his fourth season with the Oilers and his first season as the team's Assistant to the President of Hockey Operations and Director of Salary Cap Management. Scott previously served as the club's Assistant General Manager for two seasons.

The 35-year-old native of Unionville, Ontario was promoted to the Oilers on April 21, 2014, after serving as General Manager of the Oklahoma City Barons since 2010. He played a key role in the Barons reaching the Calder Cup playoffs in all four of his seasons as General Manager.

Scott works closely with Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli and he also oversees the Oilers American Hockey League affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors (AHL).

As a member of the Oilers Hockey Management team, Scott's responsibilities will include player and staff contract negotiations, scheduling, salary arbitration, salary cap management and all day to day administrative duties. He is also the club's liaison to the NHL regarding matters pertaining to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Scott served as the Director of Hockey Operations with the American Hockey League for four seasons. His duties included creation of league schedule, assisting in determining player fines and suspensions, supervising regular season and playoff games, and interpreting by-laws as well as the Collective Bargaining Agreement for member teams.

Scott graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management. At school, he worked for the men's hockey team which went to the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament in 2001 and served as the ECHL's Manager of Hockey Operations for three seasons.

This is a Craig MacTavish hire and a guy who is not doing his job. I bolded the issues above in his description. When we look at some of the problems Chiarelli has handed the Oilers, I see this guy as the biggest issue. I Appreciate his Dwight Schrute style title, but this is one of the biggest problems in the front office. If the team replaces Bill Scott this year, we have to acknowledge that the front office is improving. If not, #firechia.


Senior Director of Player Development

Rick Carriere enters his fifth season with the Oilers, after being named Senior Director of Player Development on June 28, 2012.

Carriere, 57, previously served as General Manager of the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers from 2000 to 2004 and then scouted for the Tigers until 2012.

The Edmonton native was also a Head Coach in the Western Hockey League, as he guided the Red Deer Rebels from 1994 to 1996 and then became the Tigers' Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations from 1996 to 2000, prior to moving into the General Manager position.

This is likely the who decides what to do with prospects. He’s a MacTavish hire, during MacT’s first stint in his current role, and has been here since the Nail Yakupov draft. I’d argue he’s done a pretty good job developing players. Oscar Klefbom has turned into a really good player, and despite beginning to write-off Darnell Nurse, he too has improved tremendously. It was probably Rick Carriere who made the decision to send Leon Draisaitl back to junior half a season into his rookie year, send Jesse Puljujarvi down to the AHL last year (Burning ELC years on both) and Sending Kailer Yamamoto down this year. Because we’ve seen pretty good improvement on the player development side compared to the Lowe years, I’ll give him a pass.

Scott Howson

Vice-President, Player Development

Scott Howson enters his second season as Vice-President of Player Development with the Edmonton Oilers, after serving as a pro scout with the organization in 2015.

In this, role he works closely with Senior Vice- President of Hockey Operations Craig MacTavish and Senior Director of Player Development Rick Carriere to oversee the Oilers American Hockey League and ECHL affiliate rosters.

Howson has been with the Oilers organization for 17 seasons in total, including 13 seasons from 1994 through 2007, prior to joining the Blue Jackets; then again from 2013 until his current tenure.

Another guy who raises eyebrows by being here but doesn’t fit the role as part of the problem.


Director of Player Personnel

Green, 54, enters his third season as the Oilers Director of Player Personnel, after joining the Oilers scouting staff in 2013 and serving as the Director of Amateur Free Agent Scouting.

In his role he will lead the amateur draft as well as work closely with Senior Vice-President of Player Personnel, Duane Sutter to oversee the Edmonton Oilers scouting operations, as well as continue to identify and recruit NCAA, CHL and European free agents and develop a free agent priority list.

Bob Green works directly under Duane Sutter in a very specialized role.

Now that we have the structure. I can put it in a simple diagram.

This is what the the Oilers Entertainment group wanted. This is why they hired Peter Chiarelli. A nice, delegated pecking order with specified roles. It’s something that actually wasn’t here prior to April 2015.

Now that we have some idea about the roles and responsibilities, we can identify the problem areas. Assume that if you ax someone, everyone beneath also falls. I use that assumption because if that isn’t the case, why fire the GM if the problems below are still there? How do you fix this?

If you just say ‘To hell with the whole thing’ and fire Chiarelli, how are you going to replace the staff? I look at this from a bottom-up approach. If you cut off the head, the chicken runs around aimlessly. After ten years of that, I’ve seen enough.

This is what happens after a decade — maybe longer — of pure incompetence. You actually have to hire someone who knows how to structure a business and tolerate the fact that he can’t wrap his head around the concept that trading Taylor Hall might not be a great plan.

I’d like to see the Oilers hire more people, not just get rid of people for the point of doing so. If we look at what the Leafs have going on, there are 4-5 quality individuals running the team, not just one. If their GM has, say, has an expiring contract, it’s a non-issue because he isn’t near as integral to the structure as Peter Chiarelli is to the Oilers.

The good news is, Peter Chiarelli has continued making hires since he’s arrived, not just brought his guys and stopped. He’s been seen scouting games personally which could mean he sees some flaws down below.

The Great news is, October and November are free-agent frenzy days for league executives. It’s further from the draft, the trade deadline, and free agency than any other time of year. We should be able to get quality individuals in this organization without having to blow the whole thing up and wind up returning to the days of Kevin Lowe telling us about the Two types of fans.

This is why Chiarelli is still here, and this is why there isn’t much reason to believe he’ll be gone any time soon. The Oilers wanted structure and they got it in a way that can’t be easily dismantled from the top. Are you comfortable with MacTavish or Sutter stepping in as interim GM? Would you even want a new GM to come in still getting the same crappy information Chiarelli is getting right now?

There is more to being a GM than making trades and signings. When assessing Chiarelli’s work, it unfortunately comes with the caveat of how it looked before. He’s been here just over two years now so it’s time the roster decisions start getting a lot better. Kris Russell signings and Eberle trades need to stop. I personally hope that the Oilers take note of everything he’s doing, how a chain of command works and have an idea of how a front office is structured. He’s given the OEG a template, it can be fixed. Just not with a mass firing that (rightfully) blood-thirsty fans want to see. I’d love it to be something as simple as just changing out a GM but I believe the problems run far deeper than that.

So, in relation to Mike’s original tweet... Where’s the problem and what’s your solution?