Thoughts on the hiring of Ken Holland + CBC Edmonton News segment

 

Bob-Nicholson-and-Ken-Holland-press-conference

Professional hockey  remains in the dark ages when it comes to managing teams and looking for competitive advantages in the front office. Whenever there is a job opening for a general manager or when club re-structures itself to have an executive overseeing hockey operations, you realize that the list of potential candidates is small and the overall talent pool is extremely shallow.

The Edmonton Oilers at a critical juncture in their history, with the best player in the world and pressure mounting to deliver a championship went down a very predictable path to find a new general manager. They interviewed a number of assistant general managers, sought out the ones with potential and those that had connections to Hockey Canada. And while Ken Holland has the experience, the credibility, the knowledge and the professional network to handle the assigned tasks, his hiring isn’t all that exciting or inspiring. Going with Holland perfectly exemplified the Oilers risk-averse nature, their conservative approach to building a championship contender, and their lack of innovation and creativity when it comes to finding any competitive advantages in the modern era.

Now Holland does have a history at finding inefficiencies in the market when constructing a roster, being one of the first to tap into Europe for players and discarding one-dimensional enforcers from his teams. The problem is that the rest of the league caught up to him fairly quickly, and in the salary cap era he hasn’t done anything that sets him apart from his peers. He’s also shown a lack of understanding when it comes to player’s prime ages, giving out a lot of bad contracts with no-trade and no-movement clauses to players who are well past their primes, but he feels a deep connection with. Holland doesn’t appear to have that ruthless nature that’s needed to get the Oilers out of their current cap and roster issues. And we know that in the modern era one of a general manager’s key tasks is to find roster inefficiencies and squeeze out as much production and value from all corners of the club.

The one other issue I have with Holland is his “over-ripening” philosophy when it comes to developing prospects. While I do agree that prospects need time to develop and that a strong AHL program is critical to support the regular influx of talent to the NHL roster – management needs to be able to leverage a player’s entry-level deal and get production from players especially on the third and fourth lines. This would require identifying those players earlier and if appropriate, take on some risk by signing them to team-friendly deals. Again, it’s fine to allow players to develop in the minors, but managers need to be very strategic so that they know what they’re paying for when a player completes their entry-level deal and needs a new contract. Highly recommend checking out Iyer Prashanth’s piece from 2016 on entry-level contracts and asset management related to Holland’s time in Detroit.

Coming to Edmonton, Holland will have a lot of work to do including assembling a coaching staff, improving the roster and addressing the team’s scoring issues when McDavid isn’t on the ice. He’ll need to add a goalie and possibly add more skill to the blueline. And he won’t be able to do any of this without shedding some salary and also getting a better sense of the prospect pool and which players may be ready to contribute at the NHL level.

For me though, the biggest area Holland needs to address is the overall decision-making strategy and processes within hockey operations. This of course will depend on the management group he surrounds himself with, the professional and amateur scouts and (hopefully) a well supported and integrated analytics department. But Holland needs to focus on implementing the right processes that leverages all of that information that’s going to inform the roster construction. Hopefully he can do that and have the support from ownership to get all the resources required including people, technology and infrastructure – but we’ll have to wait and see.

While I do hope that the hiring of Holland is what turns this team around and start competing for championships, I remain fairly skeptical that the Oilers gained any sort of competitive advantage through this hiring.

For one, I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Oilers owner and his ability to allocate the right infrastructure and resources to support the general manager. We’re hearing that Holland will have a lot of control overseeing the entire hockey operations, but it remains to be seen what changes he’ll make to the people and processes in areas such as scouting and player development. Secondly, I don’t have a lot of faith in Bob Nicholson who facilitated the hiring process, had the opportunity to talk to anyone in hockey, but yet picked someone from his own history through Hockey Canada. In his time with the Oilers, the team took a reactive approach to several issues, and he’s a big reason why the Oilers are in the mess they’re in.

Lastly, I have little faith in the current hockey management talent pool. There’s clearly a need in hockey for common sense business acumen and a better understanding of risk management. The fact that the same names from the same demographic with the same type of backgrounds come up again and again makes it obvious that hockey management isn’t progressing. And that an opportunity exists for a team if they want to exploit an inefficiency in their management structure and find a significant competitive advantage.

Recommended:

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-capping round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Nancy Carlson on the CBC Edmonton News to talk about the first round of the playoffs. Segment is here and starts at the 7:50 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, April 25)

Topics we covered:

  • Observations from the first round, and how unpredictable the tournament has been.
  • The early departure of the Flames, Leafs and Jets from the Stanley Cup playoffs and the reasons for their failures.
  • What lessons the Edmonton Oilers can take away from the first round.
  • Edmonton Oil Kings in action against the Prince Alberta Raiders in the WHL conference finals, and what to expect.

 

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Oilers season post-mortem, GM search and off-season approach

cbc edmonton logoI joined Nancy Carlson, the new host of the CBC Edmonton News, for my weekly television segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 19:30 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, April 8)

Topics we covered:

  • The key reasons why the 2018/19 season was such a disaster. Included on the list: poor roster construction, lack of offensive production, poor possession numbers, horrible penalty kill, inconsistent goaltending – just to name a few.
  • Key takeaways from the Oilers press conference this morning: lack of urgency among executives when it comes to long-term strategic planning, the same messaging we’ve been hearing for a while (and little action), and the overall, passive approach the Oilers are taking with their general manager search.
  • Course of action this off-season, which should include being ruthless with their cap situation, and creating a market for the players whose value might be perceived as higher than it actually is.

Thanks again to the team at CBC for making it all happen. It was cool to be the first guest on the new set with Nancy!

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Recent success, depth players and the GM search

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Lindsay Highmoor on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly television segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 16:50 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, March 28)

Topics we covered:

  • Re-cap of Tuesday night’s 8-4 win against the Kings and the star players leading the way.
  • The Oilers depth issues, and the importance of finding reliable talent on value deals for next season.
  • The Oilers overall numbers at even-strength (5v5) this season
    • Goals/60 – 2.21 (26th)
    • Shots/60 – 28.44 (26th)
    • Goals against/60 – 2.59 (21st)
    • Shots against/60 – 31.34 (20th)
  • Special team results:
    • Powerplay – Goals/60 – 8.06 (7th)
    • Penalty kill  – Goals against/60 – 9.44 (30th)
  • The Oilers search for a general manager, and the importance of collecting as much information and insight as possible before hiring someone.
  • Preview of tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Loss to the Devils, recent ten games and the general manager search

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Min Dhariwal on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly television segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 16:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, March 14)

Topics we covered:

  • Last night’s loss to the Devils and the playoff aspirations. For me, it’s been obvious for a while that the Oilers aren’t playoff contenders.
  • The key drivers for their recent success, which has largely been goaltending. Over their last 10 games, the Oilers have six wins, but it’s due in large part to their team save percentage at even-strength (93.42%, 6th in the league). The team has posted a 45.15% Corsi For percentage (score-adjusted) over that stretch, a good indicator that this team has some major issues to address.
  • The penalty kill, which allowed another two goals last night, and continues to be one of the worst in the league. I mentioned a couple things the Oilers could look into doing, which I had also written about recently: Drivers and Anchors on the Penalty Kill – The SuperFan (2019, March 4)
  • The general manager search, and the importance of expanding their scope and looking for ideas from outside the industry. Related article here, which includes my previous work.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Oilers winning streak, Draisaitl’s performance and upcoming games

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Alicia Asquith on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly television segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 17:45 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, March 7)

Topics we covered:

  • The Oilers recent road trip, with three straight wins against Ottawa, Columbus and Buffalo.
  • The Oilers last 10 games, and some of the keys. Worth noting that the team was trending upwards in mid February, largely due to improved defensive play, but are now finally getting results thanks to improved netminding.
  • Leon Draisatl’s performance. Noted that his individual shooting percentage is at 20.0% at even-strength (Data: Natural Stat Trick). Well above his career average of 10.96% heading into the 2018/19 season – so definitely worth tempering expectations for next season.
  • Upcoming home games against Vancouver and Toronto.

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Loss against the Leafs, trade deadline re-cap and the penalty kill

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Alicia Asquith on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly television segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 19:15 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, February 28)

Topics we covered:

  • Wednesday night’s loss against the Leafs on national television. Good reminder of how far the Oilers are from being a competitive team and becoming a legitimate contender. The Oilers could not match up with the Leafs skill and depth. And if there’s anything the Oilers can learn from Toronto, it’s the long-term vision and strategic planning that needs to happen before a general manager is even hired.
  • The Oilers penalty kill, which remains as one of the league’s worst. After 64 games, the Oilers rank 28th in the league at 4v5, allowing 8.15 goals against per hour. In their last 25 games, the Oilers have allowed 9.44 goals against per hour. What’s especially alarming is the increase in the rate of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) against over the course of the season (Data: Natural Stat Trick). Note, the red line indicates the league-wide average of 70.5 Fenwick against per hour.

Oilers - 4v5 - Fenwick - 25

  • Early on in the season, the team was allowing one of the lowest rates of Fenwick against on the penalty kill in the league, but unfortunately their goaltending had been dreadful. The team has seen a gradual increase in Fenwick, and are now one of the league’s worst at preventing unblocked shot attempts – something that the coaching staff needs to address considering the penalty kill is bleeding goals and  off-setting the goal production from the team’s powerplay (currently generating 8.2 goals-for per hour, 8th best in the league). Considering Hitchcock’s previous success with penalty kills, I was expecting a lot better.
  • We also touched on the Oilers passive approach to the deadline, and the importance of leveraging opportunities like the trade deadline and the upcoming draft to get things on track. Asset management and finding efficiencies in the cap (i.e., value deals) are critical, and the Oilers have got to be better at this, and far more aggressive and ruthless, if they want to win championships.
  • With playoff hopes dwindling – Moneypuck had the Oilers at a 1% chance of getting in to the playoffs – we discussed what the Oilers should hope to accomplish over their remaining 19 games. It’ll be important to give Koskinen lots of starts to get a sense of what they have, and give ample ice time to the younger forwards who have contracts with the Oilers next season. The off-season should be busy for the Oilers, so they need as much intel on their own players to make well-informed decisions. Hopefully the Oilers are gathering more information on every other roster as well, and getting a better understanding of what the market will be like – pretty much for every position – this summer.

Big thank you to everyone at CBC for putting it all together. 😉