EDMONTON — Was it Duane Sutter’s fault? Maybe.
Duane became the first of the Sutter clan ever to work for the Oilers when he joined them as a pro scout in 2011, which always seemed a bit strange considering how close the town of Viking is to Edmonton, just an hour-and-a-half drive down Highway 14.
Sutter was labelled the Oilers’ V.P. of Player Personnel, but in practice he headed a pro scouting staff that has more misses than hits over the past few seasons. In the end, the shallow depth of their NHL roster was too obvious to look past.
No one is sure about how much direction former GM Peter Chiarelli accepted from his staff, but again, the overall performance fell on the head of the department, who will now be replaced.
In related news, the team also moved out 16-year Director of Communications J.J. Hebert, a sign of internal change that makes only a ripple among fans, but took many by surprise inside the greater NHL community. Hebert was the media’s first point of contact with the team, and as Connor McDavid’s internal handler, that came with much responsibility.
So, let’s take stock: Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, who has not met with the media here for years, sits next to Holland at his introductory press conference and declares that Holland will have absolute autonomy. Two weeks later, gone are ex-Oiler Craig MacTavish, Sutter, and a media relations man whose tenure stretches the entirety of Edmonton’s Decade of Darkness.
None of those men can be solely blamed, but when the winds of change began to blow, they were the first leaves on the tree to fall. They will not, however, be the last.
The Oilers delayed both their pro and amateur scouting meetings while CEO Bob Nicholson conducted his search for a new general manager. When the pro meetings began last Monday, Holland was a more avid participant, due to his knowledge of the league. During the amateur meetings, he faded out of the conversation as talk went from Round 1 picks to Round 2 and beyond.
All the while he was observing the room full of hockey men. He was acquainted with nearly all of them, but he didn’t really know them. As he told Sportsnet last week, “When I talk to someone from another organization, for the most part, we’re chatting, we’re visiting. Now, I’m, here in Edmonton and I’m working with these people. It’s a different relationship.”
Sutter would have been given Holland’s ear at those pro meetings, but chances are his fate had already been sealed by the abysmal performance of the pro department under Chiarelli. In the end it was Sutter’s problem.
It should be noted, the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson reported that V.P. of Player Development Scott Howson held the floor for an hour during his presentation, and it is believed that Howson has some currency with Holland from their days when Howson was the GM in Columbus.
Others, however, will have failed their auditions last week. While the Oilers are expected to announce a new head coach by the end of this week — the job appears to be Dave Tippett’s if he wants it — others will quietly be replaced, as Holland remodels his new home.
The welcome reality is, Holland DOES have autonomy. Even though MacTavish moved on by himself, it was always believed that he was the sternest test of that autonomy, as a longtime Oiler — both on the ice and off.
With MacTavish moving on to the KHL, Holland began to address the past. Sutter being fired means he’s addressing more recent issues.
Together, his autonomy is legitimized for those jaded Oilers fans who have heard that word before, but seldom seen it activated.
It all goes back to our favourite Holland utterance from his first day on the job.
“You can only live in the past for so long.”