Vanity project

The Edmonton Oilers are a team in the National Hockey League. They currently rank fifth in the Pacific division and 20th in the league.

Despite having the best player in the world on their team for eight seasons now, and currently on a value contract for three more, the Edmonton Oilers will spend the second half of the 2022/23 regular season fighting for a playoff spot. A lot will need to go right for them to qualify for the post-season and for the Oilers to compete for a championship.

Of course there will be plenty of solutions the Oilers can pursue to improve their on-ice performance and improve their chances of winning games. You can make changes to the roster depending on what you think the team needs, whether it be on defence or up front on the wings. You can call for different tactics at even-strength and the penalty kill, where the Oilers performance and results have been poor this season. Maybe you go as far as replacing the manager who constructed this roster and has lost so much value for the team across numerous transactions. Or maybe you even replace the individual who hired this manager and had hired the previous manager who failed so spectacularly trying to build a competitive roster.

Identifying the problems, which are numerous, and looking through the team’s performance numbers and all of the decisions made that have led to this situation, I’m constantly reminded that the Edmonton Oilers do not operate as a proper business. This hockey club, to put it simply, is a vanity project for the owner. So a lot of the decisions made throughout the organization aren’t always geared towards winning.

The people, the internal processes and (hopefully) technology the Oilers have in place today – it’s not working. The decision-making processes they use when setting up their operations, hiring the right staff, finding the right players and constructing their roster – all in the hopes of winning hockey games – it’s not helping them progress towards being a contender. There’s clearly a flaw in how the owner is running things, and it’s hard to have faith considering the direction this hockey club is going. It’s embarrassing considering the progress other NHL clubs have made over the years, and how teams, including those outside of hockey, are finding success.

It’s a stark reality that the billionaires who own professional sports teams, including the Oilers, do so for fun and to build their reputations among their friends and the public. For some like Daryl Katz, just owning the team and getting to be associated with the legacy of former players and the dynasty years is good enough. But having a plan from the very top of the organization, building out the proper business operations, implementing sound decision-making processes to achieve big things – that all takes courage. That drive, that willingness, that creativity – it’s lacking at the ownership level. So it should be no surprise that it’s lacking across the executive, management and coaching levels as well.

We know the situation the Oilers are in and the expectations when you have the best player in the world on your team. And there’s plenty of changes that should be made throughout the organization to get things on track. But before making any decisions on the roster, the coaching staff or the front office, the owner needs to decide if owning the Oilers is a business or if it’s going to be operated as the vanity project that it is today.


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