After the Oilers won the draft lottery in 2015, the goal was simple: build a competitive roster around your generational talent and start contending for championships as soon as possible. Assemble a coaching staff, enhance your hockey operations department, draft and develop players – the standard items part of any professional hockey team’s plans. The Oilers, however, had the added advantage of having a good cluster of talent featuring an elite player.
Instead what the Oilers did was make a long series of roster decisions that were clearly misinformed and lacked the proper foresight. Peter Chiarelli failed to assess/identify talent, properly evaluate the player market, manage his team’s salary cap and calculate the risk involved in his moves. Every single one of his decisions served as an example of one or more of these managerial flaws.
What’s especially troubling – I think even more so than some of the decisions themselves – was the fact that an entire hockey operations department supported these decisions, and were part of the environment that allowed this level of incompetence to continue driving decisions. So much damage could have been prevented had someone internally been properly monitoring and assessing Chiarelli’s work.
While it’s a relief that Chiarelli is no longer the general manager, the Edmonton Oilers now have a lot of work to do to pursue a championship. And I don’t think traditional hockey-operation-methods is what’s going to get them out of this hole. The Oilers really need to take a more drastic, more innovative approach that will make them competitive and steer them towards their goals.
For example, rather than hire an individual who was a former player or who has been serving as a scout or assistant general manager in the league, the club should look outside of the traditional hockey circles and construct a hockey operations department with people who have extensive decision-making experience and understand how to manage finances, and evaluate labor markets and risks. A general manager needs to understand what it takes to make evidence-based decisions, and how to identify and collect necessary information.
I fully get that hockey isn’t even close to where baseball is in terms of progressive, outside-the-box thinking. But I think it’s that type of mindset that I think will turn the Edmonton Oilers around.
One last note: I’m glad people are finally recognizing how poorly Chiarelli managed this team. But the early warning signs were there and were regularly discussed and documented by those paying careful attention and willing to think critically. Hopefully we’ll see less appeals-to-authority when discussing the game and hear more individual opinions based on sound logic and reasoning. Hockey discussions can be a lot more valuable that way.
ICYMI: I joined host Tanara McLean on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss Chiarelli’s dismissal. Clip is here and starts at the 7:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, January 23)
I also joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to discuss this topic. Full audio clip is here: More Change for the Oilers – CBC Radio Active (2019, January 23)