Off The Draw
There are two ways to address failure. Keep plugging along and hope for the best or radically change your approach with an eye on getting things right.
The Oilers and Sharks faced those choices in the wake of their disastrous seasons. Only one of them opted for change.
Placing their failures squarely at the feet of hockey operations president Kevin Lowe and general manager Craig MacTavish, the Oilers continued their front office remodel on Friday with the hiring of former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli.
Coupled with the promotion of former Hockey Canada boss Bob Nicholson to CEO earlier this week, this move shifts the conversation about the Oilers. After years of managerial incompetence, this suddenly, surprisingly, looks like a credible organization.
As I wrote last week, the Bruins were absolutely right to fire Chiarelli. For all his early success, he’d created a toxic environment there with a series of trade disasters, poor drafting and salary cap mismanagement.
Every GM makes mistakes, but things had spiraled out of control in Boston. He damaged the foundation of the organization by swapping Tyler Seguin to the Stars for spare change and sacrificing Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders for a pair of second rounders that he later essentially turned into reclamation project Brett Connolly.He painted himself into a corner financially by rewarding support players with massive contracts wrapped with no-trade clauses. And his drafts failed to produce the cheap labor that's necessary to backfill a roster heavy with high-dollar contracts.
Continuing down that same path while hoping things would sort themselves out wasn’t an option. The B’s needed a fresh perspective if they were going to pull out of this mess. By dumping Chiarelli, they’ll get one.
Of course, “mess” is subjective. In Boston, that meant a dispute over how to re-direct a franchise that had won the Stanley Cup and Presidents' Trophy in just the past four years. In Edmonton, it means nine years and counting since the Oilers last made the playoff cut.
That occurred in large part because Oilers owner Daryl Katz wanted to believe that Lowe and MacTavish were on the right track despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. It took him a little while longer than Charlie Jacobs in Boston to catch on, but he finally came to grips with their failures and moved to put together a management team with the ability to turn things around
Chiarelli is key to that plan. The Oilers recognized him as a young man with plenty of upside. They didn’t ignore his failures. Instead, they viewed them as part of his professional growth. What was poison to his career in Boston will be nourishment in Edmonton. He’ll learn from those experiences and be better for them.
There’s still work to be done in Edmonton. The scouting staff has to be rebuilt. A new coach has to be hired. But the Oilers have taken two significant steps in the right direction this week along with winning the Connor McDavid draft lottery. It’s hard to imagine many teams will have a better off-season.
Safe to say the Sharks won’t be one of them. The team’s fans learned on Thursday via a letter from owner Hasso Plattner posted on the team's web site that GM Doug Wilson will remain at the helm.
At a time when every corporate message is micromanaged, it’s charming to read something that clearly came straight from the owner’s mouth, grammatical flaws and all. What’s less charming is the glossing over of Wilson’s failures as the architect of the Sharks.
“Are we perfect?,” Plattner wrote. “No, not all moves will play out as thought and the competition will do everything to keep us at bay. But we have a tremendous core, the older players are still fully committed, and some of the sophomores will enter their third year. With some luck in the draft this summer and a new team behind the bench we will fully attack again and show some good sport. The goal will always be to reach the playoffs and win 16 games there in one season.”
The end goal might be the only thing that the team’s frustrated fans don’t take issue with in that statement. The Sharks are built around a mismatched mix that includes veterans on the verge of aging out, such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, stars in their prime (Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) and the young, promising Logan Couture. Call that group whatever you want, but you can't call it a core. San Jose also heads into the summer without a No. 1 goalie or a true No. 1 defenseman. Its bottom-six group of forwards has some potential but currently ranks among the league’s least effective.
And no matter what happens in the draft, it won’t change the Sharks’ “attack” any time soon.
More troubling? This is a group that lacks any real leadership structure in the room. And based on the Thornton/Wilson contretemps it lacks faith in Wilson’s leadership as well.
Like Chiarelli, he’s not a bad manager, but Wilson is responsible for an atmosphere that has become poisoned in San Jose. It’s hard to see the Sharks making significant progress while he’s at the helm.
The Bruins and Oilers will get their fresh starts. The Sharks will just keep treading water, hoping for the best.
The numbers game
• On Thursday night, the Lightning won a playoff game after trailing by two goals in the third period for the first time in their history. They also became only the fourth team to ever beat the Red Wings in Detroit in that scenario in which the Wings have an all-time record of 137-4. The others to do it: the Rangers (4/18/50), the Canadiens (4/1/58), and the Sharks (5/4/10).
• As of Friday night’s action, six of the eight first round series have required at least one overtime game (Wild-Blues and Flames-Canucks were the exceptions.) Last year, 14 of the 15 total postseason series included at least one OT tilt. In 2013, all 15 had at least one, the first time that has happened when the NHL adopted the best-of-seven format for all four rounds in 1987.
• Filip Forsberg is now the first player in Predators history to score a postseason hat trick. He’s also only the fourth rookie in the past 70 years to do it in a playoff game in which his team was facing elimination. The others: Rosaire Paiement of the Flyers (4/13/68 vs. the Blues), Tommy Williams of the Kings (4/14/74 vs. the Blackhawks) and Pavel Bure of the Canucks (4/28/92 vs. the Jets).
• The “grandfatherly” Wayne Gretzky is being asked to save a Canadian institution. Because that's what grandfathers do, right?
• Sledge hockey has grown from a feel-good story into an elite, high-pressure sport. Excellent piece by Amy Moritz.
• “I knew Kris was tough. I didn’t know he was bull-fighting tough.”