The hierarchy of authority is pretty obvious when examining any large organization. There’s typically a president, who oversees a group of executives that are in charge of specific areas. Under each executive are teams with managers that report to them, and under the manager you have various employees with well-defined roles. Individual actions are directed by their superiors and need to align with the corporate goals and mandates to ensure long-term success.
Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each individual, things can easily go astray for an organization. While many individuals collaborate and can influence a specific area of the business, there’s typically one manager or an executive type that has final authority. And the only way a group can progress is if the decisions made across the organization align together in a collaborative manner.
This of course applies to hockey as well, especially around the relationship between the general manager and the head coach. Strong collaboration is required as both roles have a direct influence on the team’s overall performance; each exerting a certain level of control over the roster that is iced.
With any of the Oilers general manager-coaching tandems in the past, it was clear that the general manager had the stronger authority and made decisions accordingly. The head coaches had some flexibility with how they deployed players, but their decisions were typically being influenced by the management team. Rarely would an Oilers head coach make a decision that wasn’t in line with the general managers vision.
Today things appear to be a little different.
The Edmonton Oilers added significant experience to their organization in the spring of 2015 when they hired Peter Chiarelli as the general manager and Todd McLellan as the head coach. Both individuals had previous experience in the positions they were hired for, with Chiarelli serving as the general manager in Boston for nine seasons, while McLellan was the head coach in San Jose for seven.
There’s now a growing body of evidence that indicates that the general manager and the head coach aren’t exactly on the same page. What Chiarelli has said about certain players and the rationale behind his signings and acquisitions, and how McLellan actually deploys the players isn’t exactly in line with one another.
The risk here is that the Oilers need to allocate their dollars efficiently, and if there’s a disconnect between the decisions made by the general manager and the decisions made by the head coach, it could cost them financially and hinder their chances of winning a championship.
The 2014 first round pick has quickly become a key piece of the Oilers roster. After an outstanding 2016/17 season where he finsihed 8th in NHL scoring and posted 16 points in 13 playoff games, Chiarelli signed the German to an 8-year, $68 million contract. Where Draisaitl would fit on the roster was a little unclear as he had played a considerable amount of time on right-wing with Connor McDavid but also centered a successful line with Taylor Hall the year before.
The coach didn’t seem to mind having Draisaitl at wing or center depending on the situation, and even had success with him as a centerman during the 2017 playoffs. Chiarelli on the other hand indicated in his pre-season interview with TSN’s Bob McKenzie that the reason why he paid what he did for Draisaitl’s contract was because he viewed Draisaitl as a center.
“As a manager, I like Leon in the middle because he’s strong and he’s heavy and he’s good on faceoffs. He’s more than that, but that’s why I like him in the middle. That doesn’t mean that Connor and Leon won’t play together because you saw them playing together last year. Leon will take some draws and Connor will be on the wing, and they trade coverage down low sometimes. But as a manager, I think you’re winning a Cup, at the end of the day, on the average, with both of those guys in the middle.” (Source: TSN)
Over the first 21 games of the 2017/18 season, we’ve seen that McLellan has a different vision than his general manager, remaining adamant that Draisaitl play on the top line with McDavid as a winger. Of the 264 minutes Draisaitl has played at even-strength this season, 214 have been playing alongside McDavid. This is a pretty significant issue as it doesn’t make a lot of sense from a cap perspective to have an $8 million player on McDavid’s wing. If a player is getting paid that much, he has to be a driver and give the team secondary offence. Ideally a cheaper winger should be on the top line, as most of the work is driven by McDavid anyways.
After Kris Russell was signed by the Oilers to a one-year term right before the start of the 2016/17 season, he quickly became an integral part of the Oilers defence core. Russell finished the season as a top four option, playing alongside Andrej Sekera for the most part. He earned the coaches trust, regularly being deployed in key situations and often starting in his own zone. While the shot-share numbers took a dive with him on the ice, and the offence of his teammates disappearing, the coach clearly valued Russell’s conservative style and skillset.
This past summer, the Oilers signed Russell to a four-year contract worth $16 million, including a no-movement clause. This level of over-payment indicated that Russell would continue playing as a top-four defenceman. It was also forecasted by the team that Russell would have the same level of success as last season, even without Sekera as he recovered from a knee injury.
After 21 games, it doesn’t look like Russell is being deployed the way the general manager had envisioned. Until very recently, Russell was averaging the fifth highest time on ice among defencemen, playing predominantly on the third pairing. His ice time has gradually increased over the last few games, but it should be concerning to the Oilers that they’re spending $4 million on a player the coach chooses not to deploy as a top four. That decision is fine, considering that Russell is well-suited as a third pairing option. The problem is the general manager invested heavily in Russell as a top-four option, using the money saved by trading away Jordan Eberle. This leads us to our next case. Continue reading