Is the Oilers’ front office top heavy?

Jonathan Willis
August 26 2012 10:29AM

They have a president, senior vice president and director of hockey operations. They have a general manager and an assistant general manager. On top of that, there is a director and senior director of player development, a head scout, and a farm team with its own general manager.

Is there a fear of too many cooks in the Oilers’ front office kitchen?

Judging by other teams in the division, the Oilers are actually decidedly average in terms of the number of people making hockey-related decisions.

Colorado’s model is the one most closely related to Edmonton’s. Like the Oilers, they have a separate president who was ‘promoted’ out of the G.M. assignment – Pierre Lacroix. Under Lacroix is general manager Greg Sherman. Sherman has a number of high-profiles helpers – a pair of vice presidents (former players Craig Billington and Eric Lacroix), an executive advisor (and alternate governor) in Joe Sakic, as well as a director of player personnel and a director of amateur scouting. The titles are different but the personnel count is basically the same.

It’s remarkable that there’s actually very little difference between clubs in terms of the number of people in hockey operations: in the Northwest Division, there’s virtually always a half-dozen listed as senior members of the department. Beyond the guy in charge of day to day operations being titled general manager there’s not a lot of uniformity in the names of the various jobs, and different teams put emphasis in different areas, but manpower is consistent.

Most teams seem to employ a general manager and 2-3 top-level lieutenants. Vancouver has two vice presidents/assistant general managers and a senior advisor, Colorado has two vice presidents and an executive advisor, Calgary has a senior vice president, an assistant general manager and a special assistant to the general manager, while Minnesota opts for a single assistant general manager and an assistant to the general manager.

The unique thing about Edmonton’s structure is the emphasis on player development. The team’s website makes a point of highlighting Rick Carriere, the Senior Director of Player Development and Mike Sillinger, the Director of Player Development, on its main hockey operations page, and the fact that they have both a director and a senior director is outside the norm; most teams have just one guy specifically assigned to the job.

The other semi-unique thing is Kevin Lowe’s role as president of hockey operations, as distinct from the more business-oriented role that the title usually entails. Other teams have people in similar positions – we’ve considered Pierre Lacroix already – but typically they’re handed a title like ‘senior vice president’ like Bob Clarke in Philadelphia and Jim Devellano in Detroit.

Overall, though, the Oilers management structure is very comparable to that of other NHL teams. In Lowe, Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish and Rick Olczyk, the Oilers have a quartet of executives with some hand in making decisions for the team. That’s more or less the norm across the league these days.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Lofty
August 26 2012, 10:46AM
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It's amazing K. Lowe has been able to keep his job for 12 years.

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#2 Wanye
August 26 2012, 10:38AM
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Good article JW. If you think of the Oilers as a privately held company with probably $90 million a year in revenue and a value of North of $200 million they are actually quite a small company in terms of staff.

Now as for too many cooks in the kitchen...

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#3 ItsTheBGB
August 26 2012, 10:47AM
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@Wanye

Didn't you forget something?

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#4 Spydyr
August 26 2012, 11:33AM
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If anything I would add a very good if not top flight contact lawyer.Ricky (the lawyer in the group) does not seem to be cutting it IMO.Too many over pays for average players.

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#5 JohnQPublic
August 26 2012, 11:44AM
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"Judging by other teams in the division, the Oilers are actually decidedly average in terms of the number of people making hockey-related decisions."

There's the answer. No.

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#6 Lofty
August 26 2012, 10:54AM
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K. Lowe = Michael Scott Tambo = Stanley MacT = Jim

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#7 Fresh Mess
August 26 2012, 11:09AM
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Yes they are. Been saying this for years. And the executive titles are laughable.

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#8 Bob Cob
August 26 2012, 11:59AM
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Get rid of Tambellini, move MacT into the GM position and your problems are solved.

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#9 David S
August 26 2012, 12:16PM
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Tambellini plays a very important role in this team's management structure. If the fans sour and the whole "rebuild" thing goes south, he's the point man who takes the pipe. This salvages key roles, the team's reputation and protects Katz, whom I have little doubt was the guy who set this whole thing in motion.

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#10 David S
August 26 2012, 12:18PM
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Wanye wrote:

Good article JW. If you think of the Oilers as a privately held company with probably $90 million a year in revenue and a value of North of $200 million they are actually quite a small company in terms of staff.

Now as for too many cooks in the kitchen...

Solid comment Wanye.

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#11 Reg Dunlop
August 26 2012, 12:27PM
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Is it a coincidence that Minnesota are lightest on top while they were the team to make the biggest move to improve this summer? While one may be unrelated to the other, history tells us that if you want to get things done one guy in charge is the way to go. Hitler may have been psychotic but he got the trains to run on time.

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#12 Dan_H
August 26 2012, 12:47PM
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I just ended up watching office clips for about half an hour

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#13 Lexi
August 26 2012, 01:15PM
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I think an NHL team might be the simplest $100Mil revenue organization to run in business. There are barely 50 key employees to hire, from a relatively small talent pool (both players and management), with pretty restrictive rules regarding compensation and movement and at least 15 guys per year are pretty much immovable. Plus it's pretty limited where the talent is, compared to the other sports (it's not like there is a hockey prodigy waiting to be discovered in the Dominican Republic or Sub-Saharan Africa). So for that reason a small committee of guys is probably okay from a decision making purpose as long as they are the right guys.

My gut says the most important guy for a hockey team to be hiring in this day and age if they want to be "ahead of the curve", is the smartest analytics/stats guy. My hope is that the Oilers have either found that guy or are looking for him and he will have the ear of one of the decision makers. Given that it seems at least a third of the leading edge guys in this area live in Western Cananda, I would hope they can find the right one.

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#14 Rama Lama
August 26 2012, 01:22PM
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Someone will get sacrificed........exactly what does Mac T do on a day to day basis. What does Klowe do on a day to day basis?

What does Tamby do on a day to day basis? That one is easy...........nothing!

What does Ricky do..........what everyone else tell him to do.

It's a hockey boys insider club......no one actually does anything.

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#15 David S
August 26 2012, 01:35PM
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Lexi wrote:

I think an NHL team might be the simplest $100Mil revenue organization to run in business. There are barely 50 key employees to hire, from a relatively small talent pool (both players and management), with pretty restrictive rules regarding compensation and movement and at least 15 guys per year are pretty much immovable. Plus it's pretty limited where the talent is, compared to the other sports (it's not like there is a hockey prodigy waiting to be discovered in the Dominican Republic or Sub-Saharan Africa). So for that reason a small committee of guys is probably okay from a decision making purpose as long as they are the right guys.

My gut says the most important guy for a hockey team to be hiring in this day and age if they want to be "ahead of the curve", is the smartest analytics/stats guy. My hope is that the Oilers have either found that guy or are looking for him and he will have the ear of one of the decision makers. Given that it seems at least a third of the leading edge guys in this area live in Western Cananda, I would hope they can find the right one.

I could be wrong but I think I've heard the Oilers are collaborating with these guys:

http://www.darkhorseanalytics.com/

If so, that would be a good move. Pros versus part-time excel jockeys.

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#16 The Real Scuba Steve
August 26 2012, 01:58PM
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I don't know why they brought back MacT? Too many managers and not enough trades to help the team.

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#17 striker777
August 26 2012, 02:40PM
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There is no Cap on how much team can spend on management of the team. I just wish they would also overspend on both amateur- and pro-scouting.

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#19 Oilers Al
August 26 2012, 07:24PM
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Whose desk does the Buck stop on? I am convinced that Tambelini is the front man , [ now you can add Mac T], and deep down inside the tunnels of this operation.., the calls are being made by Katz and Lowe.Tamby and MacT, might be doing the leg work , but the big calls come from the tunnel.

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#20 RexLibris
August 26 2012, 08:03PM
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It's funny. I was thinking that the Oilers have only just recently joined the ranks of the average NHL team in terms of staffing.

It seems obvious that they would be management heavy in the player development department, but in spite of that, if I were putting together a management group for an NHL franchise, regardless of whether they were rebuilding, I would invest more resources in player development and scouting (amateur and pro) than perhaps in other areas.

What I'd like to see this team do is take a page out of the San Antonio Spurs' handbook and work on physical rehabilitation and training a little more. I realize that the player retreads are more of a Toronto tradition, but the Oilers staff has probably seen enough triage in the past few seasons to be able to submit a few papers to The Lancet on the subject.

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#21 Fresh Mess
August 26 2012, 10:39PM
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What happened to Bill Moores? This summer he was hosting orientation camp.

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#22 DonDon
August 26 2012, 11:45PM
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This is almost too funny -- Dunlop's statement: "Hitler may have been psychotic but he got the trains to run on time."

Where did this attribution come from? Actually, it wasn't Hitler that supposedly got trains running on time. There is a myth though that Mussolini was able to get Italy's trains to run on time.

See scopes about the myth: www.snopes.com/history/govern/trains.asp

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#23 dessert1111
August 27 2012, 07:20AM
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Fresh Mess wrote:

What happened to Bill Moores? This summer he was hosting orientation camp.

I believe he retired this year and is still hanging around helping out in some capacity--they had a few articles up on the Oilers website and in the Journal when it happened a couple months ago.

Reg Dunlop: I believe the idiom you're referring to is Mussolini running the trains on time, and though it's true, having one person in charge often leads to decisions being made quicker, but as history shows us, that is only good if the decisions made are the "right" ones. I'd argue that the ones Hitler/Mussolini made are not great ones...also, just a trivia tidbit, apparently Mussolini didn't actually make the trains run on time, and there's a reason why that became a phrase, I just don't recall what the reason is.

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#24 Robin Brownlee
August 27 2012, 08:56AM
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Spydyr wrote:

If anything I would add a very good if not top flight contact lawyer.Ricky (the lawyer in the group) does not seem to be cutting it IMO.Too many over pays for average players.

He does not set the price point or term on any contract he does. That comes from above. He's just the paper man.

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#25 Pat Hughes ruled
August 27 2012, 09:52AM
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We needed MacT for a reason. MacT may have learned a couple of things while being an analyst. How Tamby got an extension and Lowe keeps his job is beyond me. 30 30 29 gets you a three year extension but the coach gets fired?????? Apparently we need to hire even more people and maybe get someone with a clue.

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#26 SOLOMON
August 27 2012, 12:30PM
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Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15:22

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#27 NewAgeSys
August 27 2012, 08:07PM
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We need all hands on deck,and we will need to work hard to keep this group together for as long as we can.

We are not top heavy simply because the way we are structured now the organization could survive a terminal dynamic,if we lose one and possible two people through unforseen circumstance we can still maintain our managerial integrity at a functioning NHL level.

We have a lot of managerial talent on the upswing in their careers,and we need to carefully plan our strategy of retaining them all just as we do the core players,its a system requirement.

I see no weaknesses on any front in the Oilers office.

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#28 NewAgeSys
August 27 2012, 08:07PM
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We need all hands on deck,and we will need to work hard to keep this group together for as long as we can.

We are not top heavy simply because the way we are structured now the organization could survive a terminal dynamic,if we lose one and possible two people through unforseen circumstance we can still maintain our managerial integrity at a functioning NHL level.

We have a lot of managerial talent on the upswing in their careers,and we need to carefully plan our strategy of retaining them all just as we do the core players,its a system requirement.

I see no weaknesses on any front in the Oilers office.

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#29 Cowbell_Feva
August 27 2012, 09:33PM
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Thats quite the pic of Mac T. As far as I am concerned you can slap rediculous titles on whomever you want, but as long as KLowe is in the picture, its his show and the rest are just figureheads.

That IMO isn't a good thing. He is afterall, the man who signed Horcoff to this evil hell of a contract that we as fans have to suffer through. FML.

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#30 puckheadshockeyworld
August 28 2012, 08:46AM
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I honestly do not have much faith in Steve Tambellini to get the Oilers to the Cup. I am surprised they signed him to a three-year extension, but I suppose under the circumstances what choice did they have? In my opinion, I feel that if the Oilers don't make a significant improvement next season (whenever that is) Tambellini will be toast. At that point I feel the inevitable will happen, Craig MacTavish will be handed the GM duties while Kevin Lowe oversees him. This is a setup I would prefer. Yes, Lowe and MacT have made their mistakes in the past, but I would rather see Oiler people making Oiler decisions and Tamby to me is not an Oiler.

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