A new chapter in Edmonton Oilers franchise history is about to begin as the organization turns the page on the Peter Chiarelli era after he was fired from his role as general manager and president of hockey operations.
Keith Gretzky, for the time being, will shoulder most of the general manager’s duties as the team begins its search for a full-time replacement. Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson told reporters Wednesday at a news conference in Edmonton that he’s in no rush to find a new GM, instead aiming to find “the right one.”
So, what exactly are the Oilers looking for?
“You can’t define it in a couple words or a sentence but I want to make sure the general manager really can evaluate the players,” Nicholson told Sportsnet’s Gene Principe. “I think that we have really good assets but that’s the key, and I really want to have open communication. I want all lines of communication to be open in this organization and make sure that that’s done within the dressing room, so the players feel comfortable speaking to all the staff and when you do that you’ve got to then make sure you’re all pulling in the same direction.”
Some familiar names began surfacing upon news of Chiarelli’s firing, so with that in mind here’s a quick look at a handful of potential candidates.
Nicholson said at Wednesday’s press conference he wants the next GM to be “a person to assess talent” and Hunter is undeniably one of the top talent assessors in hockey. Nicholson added that he thinks it would benefit the Oilers if they kept their young players in the minors longer than they currently do. Hunter’s vast experience as GM of the OHL’s London Knights lends itself well to knowing when a player is ready to take that next step.
Doug MacLean has known Hunter for more than 30 years. He coached Hunter when the two were with the St. Louis Blues during the 1987-88 season and the Sportsnet analyst said Hunter would be one of the first people he’d call regarding a GM vacancy.
“He’s a hockey guy, he’s a strong guy, he understands team building, he understands chemistry in a room, he understands the modern athlete,” MacLean said of Hunter on Hockey Central at Noon.
Hunter returned to the Knights this past August after spending the previous four years with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The move came after Kyle Dubas was named Leafs GM.
The Golden Knights assistant GM played an integral part in building the league’s most recent expansion team and the fact Vegas came within three wins of earning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season is clear sign McCrimmon knows how to help construct a roster efficiently.
McCrimmon accrued nearly three decades of experience in various roles (including owner, GM and coach) of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. He’s now had an early taste of NHL success.
When he was hired by the Golden Knights he was quoted at the time saying: “The chance to build a team, an organization from the ground up, the chance to develop an identity and establish a culture will be challenging, invigorating and rewarding.”
Even though the Oilers are in their 40th NHL season, McCrimmon would essentially have the same opportunity to build from the ground up – only instead of Reid Duke being the launch point, the Oilers have Connor McDavid.
Although Hextall was fired earlier this season, the former NHL goaltender pulled off some impressive moves during his time as GM of the Flyers – many in the form of damage control after inheriting some rough contracts from Paul Holmgren. His tenure in Philadelphia may have ended poorly but if nothing else his time in the role was a valuable learning experience that should serve him well in his next gig.
Futa has been a mainstay in the Los Angeles Kings organization since 2007. He joined L.A. as director of amateur scouting, worked his way up to VP of hockey ops and director of player personnel before being named assistant GM following the 2016-17 season. The Kings have won two Cups since Futa was hired and his extensive experience in the OHL prior to making the leap to the NHL makes him an intriguing contender for any GM vacancy. Futa, who also served as GM of the AHL’s Ontario Reign in 2017-18, was briefly in the running for the Carolina Hurricanes GM job in 2018 but withdrew his name from consideration.
Futa’s old boss with the Kings was thought to be a contender to land a front office role with the Vancouver Canucks after Trevor Linden left the organization last summer, and he was rumoured to be a contender for the New York Islanders job before Lou Lamoriello came aboard this past off-season. Lombardi is a veteran hockey exec and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he winds up a GM once again. He previously served as Sharks GM prior to joining the Kings.
John Shannon reported on Sportsnet 650 Wednesday the former Canucks GM is looking for work and that his name could be brought up as a contender. The former player agent is rumoured to be interested in joining the new Seattle franchise once things get rolling on that front, so the Oilers gig may not be an ideal fit.