EDMONTON — “Hey, Spec, who are the Oilers going to hire as their new GM?”
When you’re a hockey writer in a hockey town, good luck leaving work at the office. It must be brutal for Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson — the guy who might actually know something about the hire — if the questions we field are any indication.
Mark Hunter? Ken Holland? Kelly McCrimmon? Keith Gretzky? Mike Gillis? Pat Verbeek?
We’re going to tell you right now: We don’t know who is going to get the job, because Nicholson still doesn’t know. That won’t stop us from laying down thoughts on the various names floating around, however.
Here’s mud in your eye:
• One of the areas Nicholson said he’ll be cognisant of is the new GM’s public persona. His relationship with the media. His openness in the community.
Peter Chiarelli had none of the above, holing up in a separate press box and avoiding public appearances at all costs. Personally, I don’t care much about any of that. Hire a good GM and he will be happy to talk to the fans and media about winning trades and building a winner. Get a guy who loses every trade, and he’ll find a rock to crawl under. That’s how it works.
• Let’s talk about Gillis, who Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek discussed at length in the latest 31 Thoughts Podcast. He doesn’t fit the above mandate, having known him during his days in Vancouver. He can be pretty chilly. Nor can he brag of much draft acumen, having drafted one impact player — Bo Horvat — through six drafts with the Canucks.
But, Gillis did experience building a Cup contender, and if he made any mistakes there he’s no doubt aware and a would correct them in Edmonton. He’s smart — sometimes too smart — and innovative. Sometimes too innovative, as naming Roberto Luongo Canucks captain would encapsulate.
But he’d be all over building the analytics department the current Oilers lack. He’s always been an ahead-of-the-curve guy.
• Ken Holland? Even if Steve Yzerman does come back to Detroit this summer — and not even Yzerman’s Mom knows what his plans are these days — why would Holland leave? He is 63 and has a job for life in Detroit. I doubt he’s moving.
• Pat Verbeek, however… Verbeek has been the assistant GM in Tampa for eight years. He’s worked under Yzerman, who learned at the feet of Holland, and spent lots of time around the knowledgeable Scotty Bowman in Tampa. He’s helped build the best team in the NHL this season, and as a pro scout, Verbeek is known to have an excellent eye for talent.
I’m not sure you want a 60-some-year-old GM, and I am sure you won’t get Yzerman. Verbeek has their inherited knowledge, plus over 1,400 NHL games where he earned the nickname, “The Little Ball of Hate.” He gets an interview for sure.
• Mark Hunter isn’t going to “wow” the folks at the season ticket holders breakfast, they say. But who are you hiring here? An emcee or a GM?
What we like about Hunter is, he spent four years rebuilding a high-profile Canadian club in Toronto, watching a young, analytics-oriented co-GM in Kyle Dubas, while drinking in the institutional knowledge doled out by the granddaddy of them all, Lou Lamoriello.
Hunter clearly knows a player when he sees one — scouting amateurs is harder than scouting pros — and having lived through the rehab of the Maple Leafs has to help when he arrives in Edmonton. Hunter is a Top 3 candidate.
• What about Keith Gretzky? All we’ll say is this: He’s earned an interview, and if he turns out to be the best guy, then hire him. Forget the last name — he’s not one of the Old Boys Club. We’re not saying Gretzky is the best choice in the entire NHL, but he’s an understated, experienced rink rat who is all substance and zero flash.
If he’s not the GM here, he’ll be one elsewhere one day.
• Kelly McCrimmon? He’s from the Gretzky-Hunter mould. Now, some hockey people are saying that we’re giving all those Vegas folks too much credit for building a winner when they played a system that was perhaps easier than it was supposed to be.
But McCrimmon fits the bill as a true scout who can spot a player a mile away — pro or amateur. He’s seen it all running the Brandon Wheat Kings for all these years, and the Vegas experience is uber-valuable.
Another Top 3 guy here. If the Oilers don’t get him, someone else will.