• The Worst Management In The NHL

    by  • April 12, 2010 • Uncategorized • 57 Comments

    200610No1

    200610No2

    Some time ago, I wrote about the concept of marginal dollars/marginal standings points – if you need a refresher on the methodology, take a look there. With the most recent travesty of a season having wrapped up and the most recent assault on the Oilers management, I thought I’d take a look at how the Oilers have done in terms of spending money efficiently over the past four years.

    As you might guess from the standings, the Oilers management group has not done well by this metric. They are, by a substantial margin, the worst group in the NHL. Look at the teams immediately above them – these are, with the exception of the Flyers, teams that are almost uniformly regarded as disastrously run and all of them have done a better job with the dollars that they’ve spent in the past four years than have the Oilers. The teams that people like me mock for their managerial ineptitude – the Flyers with their hilarious cap induced goaltending problems, the multi year circus involving the Lightning, the Leafs with deals like Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft and the accidental Jeff Finger signing, the Kings misbegotten plan to play Dan Cloutier – all of these teams have been better at spending their money than the Oilers.

    This stuff is just tiresome. In the wake of Souray’s broadside today, I listened to Bob Stauffer’s program to get a sense of what the team’s reaction to all of this was. This was a happy decision on my part, as Stauffer spent much of the program engaging in Oilers apologia, including a bizarre suggestion that Souray went after the Oilers training staff in Spector’s story, a story in which Souray is quoted as emphasizing that managment was after him to play hurt, not the training staff, as well as a statement that “…Ken Lowe was exceptional in keeping daily tabs on Souray’s medical progress.” I didn’t see anything negative in the story about the training staff – I saw a lot about management.

    Stauffer’s interaction with the callers included a lot of discussion about Oilers management. One fellow phoned in and suggested that Lowe was arrogant. Stauffer rejected this, saying that Lowe has admitted where he’s made mistakes. I’m not privy to Lowe’s conversations with Stauffer, only those which Stauffer shares with the world on those occasions when I happen to be listening to him on the radio but does this not stop being enough at some point? At some point doesn’t he need to move beyond “acknowledges his mistakes” to “takes active steps to prevent them in the future”?

    Lowe might not be the titular head of the organization (although he’s the President of Hockey Operations, whatever relationship vis-a-vis Tambo that might imply) but he’s clearly involved with what the Oilers do. He – and the management group – just look piteously out of their depth. Stauffer mentioned a number of times that they felt like they were just a few players away at various times over the past few years. Clearly, they were wrong about this.

    I don’t know how you can blow the call for four years in a row about how good your team is and plausibly claim to be the man to head the department going forward without some compelling evidence that you’ve learned something from the mistakes that you’ve made. Since Lowe got his budget increase in the summer of 2007, we’ve basically witnessed incontrovertible evidence that he has zero idea about how to do things efficiently when he’s not forced to. He – and the rest of the hockey people – see a budget as an amount of money that you’re allowed to spend, rather than an amount that you have available to invest in players who will generate a certain level of return. For all the good the extra money in the budget has done him, he might as well have put it in a barrel and burned it.

    We have less information about Tambellini but what we’ve seen so far isn’t particularly promising. The Khabibulin move was both utterly conventional and foreseeably disastrous. I’m not as impressed with his trade deadline as some, if only because the Staios move was dependent on finding a sucker more than anything. We had some tough talk at the end of last season when he was axing Craig MacTavish, which was quickly followed by more of the same. This season’s disaster was presumably a complete surprise to him – you don’t hire Pat Quinn to supervise a rebuilding.

    The problem with Oilers’ management, I think, lies with the thought process and approach that they take. I’ve basically laid out a case here for the past four years that they aren’t good at recognizing value, they don’t understand how the CBA works or how to use it to their advantage and that they completely fail to understand the idea that today’s NHL is an efficiency contest that requires a cold blooded, ruthless analysis of how to spend your dollars and make use of the assets that you have.

    The route now seems to be the favourite of every new regime – completely starting over. I’m not sure how a regime that’s basically ten years old gets to do this but it is what it is. Say it works though. Say that one of JDD or DD turns out, MPS, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Tyler Seguin/Taylor Hall form a young nucleus that complements Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner up front, and that Shawn Horcoff fronts the best third line in the NHL. Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert and Taylor Chorney provide the offence from the defence while Ladislav Smid and Theo Peckham form a rock solid shutdown pairing. Say it all comes together and four years from now the Oilers win the Stanley Cup.

    Management will then have to start making awkward decisions about who to pay, who to let go and how much to pay people. Even if you assume that they can make all of this happen and win the Stanley Cup, is there any reason to think that the current management would be able to make the right financial decisions so as to keep the Oilers at the top? Kevin Lowe’s demonstrated no ability to do this and he’s presumably Tambellini’s mentor in that regard.

    Any idiot can manage a hockey team and not screw it up for a few years if the plan is to bottom feed and collect talent through the draft. The real talent lies in making the right decisions in terms of managing the salary cap and the team’s financial commitments as things improve. Nothing in the past ten years makes me think that the current management group are the ones who should be making those decisions. I can’t think of another example where a management group is permitted to run a team into the ground as thoroughly as the Oilers have been run into the ground by the current group, they’ve been given an opportunity to resurrect the team and it’s worked out. If it was up to me, this group wouldn’t be getting that opportunity. Assuming they do, I fully expect them to screw something up while achieving about 65% of what might reasonably be expected.

    About

    57 Responses to The Worst Management In The NHL

    1. Schitzo
      April 12, 2010 at

      I’m within one beer of printing out this post and nailing it to Daryl Katz’s front door. I swear to god I can still pass the good character part of the Bar with a trespass charge.

    2. April 12, 2010 at

      What is absolutely excruciating about all of this is that there are folks, outside of the media mouthpieces, who would still disagree with you. Some clown at another site actually pointed to the Sutter/King news conference today as a sign of a franchise in deep deep trouble. He mocked the management of a club that has just missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and he did so without the least sense of irony.

      Now the Flames have their issues but what interests me is that management there is hanging by a thread and could be gone at any moment. Tampa’s management and coaching staff – goners.

      Edmonton seems to have some sort of weird dysfunctional relationship with Oilers’ management. How these guys still retain their jobs is beyond me and the idea that they will supervise this rebuild of a franchise that they have destroyed is absolutely terrifying to this fan.

    3. Schitzo
      April 12, 2010 at

      Tampa’s management and coaching staff – goners.

      This surprised me quite a bit considering that Tocchet pretty much got Stamkos back on track and Lawton (apparently) was the only thing preventing a Stamkos trade. They should be building a statute of these guys, yet they’re the ones who fall on the grenade.

      A-kown-ta-bil-it-eee? I’m not familiar with it, is that how you say it?

    4. Pete.
      April 12, 2010 at

      Ha, that was awesomely scathing and brutal, yet succinct. And you avoided using the term “fucking useless imbeciles,” which, while entirely accurate, would have made your point seem less legitimate. Very nicely done.

      So I take it you don’t think the team’s woes stem from a series of unfortunate coincidences and completely unforeseeable mishaps, then?

    5. David Staples
      April 12, 2010 at

      Strong post, summing up a lot of the work you’ve done.

      It’s clearly time for a change of management in Edmonton for the reasons you outline.

      Lowe has a strong enough eye for talent, and he makes OK trades. In a non-salary cap world, he might have some success. But it turns out he’s among the weakest in the NHL at managing the salary cap and negotiating contracts, and I don’t see that Tambellini is any better.

    6. Bernie
      April 12, 2010 at

      Interesting statistical execise but incomplete. Remove the starting goalie, the leading scorer, and the power play quarterback from all the teams for an extended period. Then make the comparisons.

    7. Pete.
      April 12, 2010 at

      Bernie: And if only someone could have known that the starting goalie might miss an extended period, right? If only…

      Plus, I don’t remember the Oilers missing their starting goalie, leading scorer, and powerplay quarterback for an extended period of the complete seasons 2006-07 through 2009-10, inclusive.

      And so on.

      I’m guessing people are enthusiastically jumping on the injury excuse bandwagon, then. Because it couldn’t be mismanagement. Jesus, is it something in the tap water?

    8. Quain
      April 12, 2010 at

      Uh, you realize this covers four seasons right?

      You also realize the Oilers rank below the Coyotes, Thrashers, Predators, Panthers… teams that, due to budget concerns, essentially have to play every season without the money we pay to our starting goaltender and leading scorer?

      Tyler — this is an interesting statistical exercise, but incomplete. Give every team the shitty management team we’ve suffered through for a decade, then make the comparisons.

    9. April 12, 2010 at

      He – and the rest of the hockey people – see a budget as an amount of money that you’re allowed to spend, rather than an amount that you have available to invest in players who will generate a certain level of return.

      This is the territory Sutter is starting to wander into, albeit with some hesitance relative to the Oilers. He comes out well by the dollars/standing point metric, but I’m guessing the trend is solidly downward since 05/06.

    10. DSF
      April 13, 2010 at

      Best analysis ever Tyler.

      Thanks

    11. April 13, 2010 at

      But it turns out he’s among the weakest in the NHL at managing the salary cap and negotiating contracts, and I don’t see that Tambellini is any better.

      Is there an echo in here?

    12. April 13, 2010 at

      Tyler, how could you do this analysis without looking at the 81-90 Oilers? This is such a bogus post. Totally incomplete, like “execise.”

    13. April 13, 2010 at

      If the choices Oilers fans had for managing the team were
      a) the present regime;
      b) flipping a coin;
      Oilers fans would be better served by choosing the loonie all the time, instead of being forced to flip the bird to those presently in charge.
      Any random Oiler fan plucked out of the stands during any random Oiler game couldn’t do any worse than Lowe and Tambellini have done. Chances are they’d do much better.

    14. April 13, 2010 at

      In a sense, the injuries were actually a blessing in disguise because they were probably the difference between being the worst team in hockey by a country mile and being mired in that lovely 9-12 area we’ve been stuck in the last few years. At least now we get a good draft pick and — God willing — a wake-up call to management and an opportunity to take a mulligan. Not that I’m optimistic or anything.

    15. Pete.
      April 13, 2010 at

      This is completely off topic, but most of the people who post here enjoy taking runs at the media, so:

      Today’s online Journal edition includes the article “Strudwick Oilers’ Masterston nominee.” In the body of the article, the writer refers to both the “Masterston” and the “Masterson” Trophy.

      It’s MasterTon. No S anywhere.

      This is petty, yes. But can’t they even spell it incorrectly, but consistently? I’ll readily acknowledge that my comments frequently contain spelling and grammatical errors – I even pulled a there/their the other week – but I don’t get paid to prattle on here. And if I did, I’d damn well edit my posts. “Edit” doesn’t just mean push “check spelling now” and go for lunch, for the record. Or it shouldn’t.

      Sorry for derailing the comment thread; it’s just that this shit drives me nuts, and I want to complain in a forum frequented by people who have heard of the trophy, and can spell.

    16. April 13, 2010 at

      Excellent article.
      I know that the Brass will not get fired, and I like most rational folks think they should, but how would you replace them with? I would think in order for the Oilers to have A new management in place by the Draft they would have to fired Tambo/Lowe now. Then that new management would still have the old scouting staff.

      Since I am talking in fantasy-land, when would be the best time to fire management, and who in your opinion should they hire?

    17. dawgbone
      April 13, 2010 at

      I remember the first 2 years after the lockout when everyone complained that the Oilers weren’t spending to the cap… those were the times!

    18. April 13, 2010 at

      dawgbone: That’s us Oiler fans. We complain when they don’t spend money, and then we complain when they spend it stupidly.

      There’s just no pleasing us.

    19. Tyler Dellow
      April 13, 2010 at

      DB – I see what you’re saying and have thought that myself. In our collecive defence, I don’t think anyone thought that Lowe would proceed to spend the money as foolishly as possible.

    20. Tyler Dellow
      April 13, 2010 at

      @B.C.B. – I’d have thought that the time to clean house would have been in January or so. The work at the deadline wasn’t super technical. It could have been handled by an interim guy instructed to just get rid of contracts. The draft isn’t a huge issue – the draft boys seem to know what they’re doing.

      As far as who they brought in, I don’t have a name but I’d love to see someone with a business/law background.

    21. John K
      April 13, 2010 at

      In general I agree with the broad thrust of your article, but you do seem to take on a cynical, ‘told-you-so’ attitude when you write.

      “We have less information about Tambellini but what we’ve seen so far isn’t particularly promising. The Khabibulin move was both utterly conventional and foreseeably disastrous. I’m not as impressed with his trade deadline as some, if only because the Staios move was dependent on finding a sucker more than anything.”

      Why discredit a move because, in your opinion, it required a sucker? The skill of a GM is to create ‘suckers’ – I don’t understand why you would undervalue it because it seemed that one GM got fleeced so badly.

      On the eve of the worst season in over a decade, and another bottom 10 finish in that span, yes the numbers don’t lie. We have been bad for that period, really bad in fact. Only one of the seasons has been on Tambo’s watch, and even though it’s the worst, he also had to deal with 530 MGLI – worst in the league. Last year was not a great year for injuries either.

      So to say that Tambo misjudged (i.e. with the Quinn signing), if you think the Oilers would be this bad re-inserting our number one goalie, defenceman, and offensive player, well I’d beg to differ. How much better? We’ll never know I guess…

      In the end, I’m willing to give Tambo a bit longer, as the only move I’ve really been disappointed with was the Khabi signing. I think its clear hes a capable goaltender, but for a 35+ guy, the term was way too long for that kind of price. If next years team is not showing a marked improvement (and the offseason moves poor), sure, let him go.

      “As far as who they brought in, I don’t have a name but I’d love to see someone with a business/law background.”

      Because that would allow them to evaluate talent exchange in trades and promotion of talent from minor orgs? I think that anyone reasonably bright can navigate the cap world, and most of the tricks are out of the bag now. I’d prefer someone with a good eye for talent, and the balls to do what needs to be done. Someone who can’t figure out that there are only 57 cookies to be given out should not be running an NHL org regardless (i.e. a place where law/business background could impact – cap numbers, and contract negotiation).

      In the end, I think you trivialize the GMs job into one of pure math and fantasy. First of all, they are living, breathing people that actually have to go into a room and battle with agents, with owners, with staff, with media – something that is easy to criticize when you are a passive observer. Second of all, the GMs job isn’t just boxcars and GVTs and corsi, it’s also personalities, and locker room drama, and a healthy portion of pressure from this traditional hockey market – our fans and media are rabid for hockey.

      In other words, could you do a better job?

    22. April 13, 2010 at

      John K:

      “I think that anyone reasonably bright can navigate the cap world, and most of the tricks are out of the bag now.”

      I disagree on this, a lot. I don’t think Kevin Lowe’s stupid, although he’s obviously hopelessly out of his depth handling the cap. I don’t think Tambellini’s stupid either, but signing Khabibulin showed a total misunderstanding of risk management and how the salary cap works.

      “[T]he GMs job isn’t just boxcars and GVTs and corsi, it’s also personalities, and locker room drama…”

      These were supposed to be the strengths of this coaching and management group. This is what Tambellini has preached from his first day on the job, and his raison d’etre for hiring Quinn. But between Souray’s statements, rumours that Hemsky wants out and that Visnovsky wanted out, Khabibulin’s DUI, and all the other whispers we hear about, this group has failed in that dept. too.

    23. Bad Seed
      April 13, 2010 at

      Haven’t you heard? Bob Stauffer says that Kevin Lowe is the second coming of Jimmy Devallano! After yesterday’s show, he’s removed any credibility he had left. I can just see Lowe standing behind him whispering in his ear. This organization is inept, arrogant & unlikable. Why do I even care anymore?

    24. April 13, 2010 at

      Oh, and I also meant to add that “most of the tricks are out of the bag” doesn’t strike me as true, and I’m sure we’ll see that demonstrated this July, as it’s been demonstrated every July since the lockout.

    25. Quain
      April 13, 2010 at

      A play, in three acts:

      “Second of all, the GMs job isn’t just boxcars and GVTs and corsi, it’s also personalities, and locker room drama, and a healthy portion of pressure from this traditional hockey market – our fans and media are rabid for hockey.”

      “‘It’s not a players’ thing. It’s not a fans’ thing. It’s not a city thing. It’s a management thing. They’ve given up on me, and it’s a two-way street,’ the Oilers defenceman said.”

      “In the end, I’m willing to give Tambo a bit longer, as the only move I’ve really been disappointed with was the Khabi signing.”

    26. Pete.
      April 13, 2010 at

      John K:

      Agree with you on the critique of the “finding a sucker” thing. I loved this post, but that was a cheap shot – Tambellini found his sucker, right? Good work. It wasn’t an amazingly impressive move, but if us management haters discount or minimize the odd good moves Tambellini/Lowe make, it makes our complaints look less legitimate.

      “I think that anyone reasonably bright can navigate the cap world…”

      JW summed up what I think about this statement, but I’ll add that the team management’s continued failure to navigate the cap world means either (a) your statement is correct, thus management have proven themselves to be stupid, and should then be replaced; or (b) your statement is false And management should still be replaced.

    27. Tyler Dellow
      April 13, 2010 at

      In general I agree with the broad thrust of your article, but you do seem to take on a cynical, ‘told-you-so’ attitude when you write.

      I’m actually like this in person too.

    28. April 13, 2010 at

      In the end, I’m willing to give Tambo a bit longer, as the only move I’ve really been disappointed with was the Khabi signing. I think its clear hes a capable goaltender, but for a 35+ guy, the term was way too long for that kind of price.

      I defended the signing at the time, but even I was like, “Wait a minute. You won’t give Roli two years, but you’ll give another old-ass man — with a longer injury rap sheet — four? And more money? The hell?”

      I don’t think Kevin Lowe’s stupid

      I do.

    29. April 13, 2010 at

      I wouldn’t give T-bone much credit for the Staios trade either. Sutter was fleeced by almost everyone he dealt with this year.

    30. dawgbone
      April 13, 2010 at

      For the record, that was entirely in jest… I just found it amusing how things changed over 2 years.

      And John K, I don’t think having a business/law background and having an eye for talent are mutually exclusive.

      Not only that, but why employ scouts and a coaching staff if they can’t tell you what they want/need and who fits that need?

      Having a combination of a good talent evaluater, strong legal mind and a guy who can understand the idea of good value contracts should be the basis of every NHL management team. You need all 3 and if you don’t you end up with issues.

    31. Hawerchuk
      April 13, 2010 at

      “In other words, could you do a better job?”

      I have the utmost respect for the vast majority of general managers in this league and in other leagues. It’s a competitive profession and you usually don’t get to make it your career unless you are very good at it.

      But there are a few people here or there who don’t have the skills yet remain employed. Brian Sabean, the GM of the San Francisco Giants, is one glaring example. The Oil Kings management team is another.

      Could Tyler do a better job than they do? I think the answer is yes. I’m sure he would have to hire somebody to take on the player development side of the organization, but nobody’s perfect. But on major-league operations, I’m convinced he would do better. Do you honestly think Tyler would let his coach roll his 4th line at home against the other team’s 1st line?

      None of this means that there aren’t hundreds of other potential executives out there who are better than Tyler. Just that Kevin Lowe is about the 900th-best choice.

    32. April 13, 2010 at

      Tencer’s tweet this morning:

      Moreau, Strudwick and Pisani…all with basically no comment on Souray. Wondering when we’ll hear from someone who’ll put the team first…

      I think we just did, Danny Boy. I think we just did.

    33. John K
      April 13, 2010 at

      @JWillis:
      I was making a double point about Tambo’s ‘cap navigation’ abilities, or what it takes to make cap transactions in general.

      Cap numbers, as much as we treat them as cold math, are more then that. We say: ‘price X for player Y is too much’. But we do not make the deals, we don’t know the behind-the-doors financial landscape of the multi-million dollar hockey contract universe. You don’t just go to an agent and say ‘corsi, %fo in o zone, GVT, 2 million, bye’. That’s the gist of what I’m getting at: its deeper than math, and arm-chair gm’ing.

      Commentary on cap transactions from our perspective is like commentary on stock market transactions. We see the final outlying numbers (and can pass judgement on earnings per share) but in reality investors have no real idea how we ended up with the EPS number.

      Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day as ‘investors’ we don’t care about the EPS as long as it’s a number big or bigger than we expect – I just caution everyone against making sweeping statements about the cap transactions where we are privy to an iceberg-above-water’s worth of information.

      @Doogie2K:
      I like to think the Khabi deal was a mistake, a possibility for any NHL GM, regardless their past, present, or future. Let’s just hope that kind of thing isn’t a regular occurrence, or it won’t matter who we put in charge: they will be inheriting a sinking ship.

      @Tyler:
      Color me shocked ;)

    34. April 13, 2010 at

      Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day as ‘investors’ we don’t care about the EPS as long as it’s a number big or bigger than we expect

      Frankly, this is something a really terrible investor would say.

    35. Schitzo
      April 13, 2010 at

      You don’t just go to an agent and say ‘corsi, %fo in o zone, GVT, 2 million, bye’. That’s the gist of what I’m getting at: its deeper than math, and arm-chair gm’ing.

      It’s a shame there isn’t a profession where negotiations and settlements are a big part of the job description. Because if there was, boy, we’d want to hire one of those guys!

    36. Woodguy
      April 13, 2010 at

      “I think that anyone reasonably bright can navigate the cap world, and most of the tricks are out of the bag now.”

      I disagree with that. I think the biggest “trick” is to go into the season with $5-$7 million in cap space available, with the intention of using if a cap strung team is having a fire sale and you can get some value, but no GM does it.

      Like Tyler mentioned in the article, almost every GM spends to their budget, regardless of what the budget is. They prevent themselves from being able to raid other rosters.

      There are rosters costing from $40 million to $56.8 in the playoffs, so it is possible to ice a competitive team without spending to the cap.

      I thought Gainey might be the first GM to really do this, but like the others he saw his budget number as the $$$ he had to spend and so he spent it.

      Also,

      “I’m not as impressed with his trade deadline as some, if only because the Staios move was dependent on finding a sucker more than anything.”

      The number of moves made by NHL GM’s every year that fall into the “what the $%&* was he thinking category” never seems to diminish. A lot of blog commentators, myself included, always thing a Staios or a Vandemeer are always going to be impossible to move, yet those types of players with their terrible cap numbers continue to move.

      I think that is due to the irrationality that a lot of GM’s suffer from when there is pressure to win so they do not fully take the long term into context. Why worry about the long term if you lose your job if you don’t make the playoffs?

      Other GM’s are simply just bad at what they do (see MacLean, Doug)

      You can’t deride Tambellini’s move here simply because he needed a sucker. I think the moves that require a sucker are to be applauded more than “win-win” moves as the sucker bets are harder to get someone to take.

    37. Hawerchuk
      April 13, 2010 at

      @John K

      “But we do not make the deals, we don’t know the behind-the-doors financial landscape of the multi-million dollar hockey contract universe. You don’t just go to an agent and say ‘corsi, %fo in o zone, GVT, 2 million, bye’. That’s the gist of what I’m getting at: its deeper than math, and arm-chair gm’ing.”

      I think you’re being naive. Teams use even-strength save percentage to evaluate goaltenders. They evaluate injury risk. They look at Corsi and Scoring Chances. They work all of that into their contract offers. Contracts get done in a matter of days or hours.

      They may not talk in wins above replacement, but the former agents who work for teams negotiating contracts with current agents are not getting bent over because there’s something nebulous in contract negotiations beyond a player’s value.

      I really don’t get your take. Tyler couldn’t do Kevin Lowe’s job because Kevin Lowe is a better talent evaluator than Tyler, but Lowe’s results are poor because he keeps getting railroaded in contract negotiations? Does not compute.

    38. John K
      April 13, 2010 at

      @Mr. Cosh:
      “Frankly, this is something a really terrible investor would say.”

      My statement was akin to saying that, at the end of the day, we make money from EPS, regardless of whether it’s a byproduct of astute judgements, insider knowledge, or saying the ‘Babu-wabu-jambu’ chant under the almond tree at midnight. I *did not* state that I don’t want insider knowledge or that I don’t want comprehensive information about inner workings. I’d love those things so I could make a killing :)

      @Hawerchuk (and tongue in cheek Schitzo):
      I’m being naive because I’m stating that there is more involved then math and GM’ing is easier from a zero-pressure, backseat viewpoint? Really? Once again I’m not saying *don’t* use hard math – I hope to god they do, but that illustrates another point. I have literally no idea what a multi-million dollar contract negotation with a pro-athlete is like. Do they bring is applied stats? How much does ego factor? How much does the agents silvery tongue influence? Unless I’m mistaken, you don’t know either (apologies if you are an agent/GM ;)).

      Lets get this in perspective here: most of us probably have day jobs that are far removed from an NHL GM position. Maybe Tyler would be better, but I can’t imagine he would step into Tambo’s shoes and go ‘Gee, this is as easy as crunching some stats and posting a blog’.

      If you want my take, it’s simply this: readers of this blog (and Tyler as well to a certain extent), boil the job down to something it’s not. Something much simpler, something much more visible for criticism. I’m not saying his criticisms are not valid, I’m just saying that the relentless negativity is a classic losers position.

      The question is not ‘what is wrong with the Oilers’, the question is ‘how do the Oilers get better’. Wait you are going to point out that they are linked. Well of course they are, but one is half of the right approach, and the other is the right approach. Wallowing in the negativity, glorying over the pie-in-face moments for Tambo & Co is wasted energy.

      @Woodguy:
      I guess I should clarify further as my message is getting lost. The basic math of the cap is likely well comprehended by the individuals, both Lowe and Tambellini (and to the guy who said Lowe is stupid, I would question your own intelligence at making such a statement). What is not well comprehended is how they deal with pressure, what the market situations are like, what player demands are like.

      I don’t know how I can be any more clear: some of this is in their control, and some of it is not. To use another analogy, anyone familiar with poker knows that even the best players cannot control play all the time. Sometimes the table situation just does not work out for you. However (and this is the point I’m sure Tyler would make), over the long run, the good poker players DO control the table, and are rewarded. I don’t think Tambo has had enough table time to be sure. His massive bluff on the river (Khabibulin) has failed, but even the best poker players in the world misjudge from time to time.

    39. Tyler Dellow
      April 13, 2010 at

      But we do not make the deals, we don’t know the behind-the-doors financial landscape of the multi-million dollar hockey contract universe. You don’t just go to an agent and say ‘corsi, %fo in o zone, GVT, 2 million, bye’. That’s the gist of what I’m getting at: its deeper than math, and arm-chair gm’ing.

      Snarkiness first: I can name an NHL executive who was shocked that the salary cap went up three months before it was announced. Considering the information available to them, that lack of knowledge of the coming financial landscape was appalling.

      As far as negotiation goes, leverage is leverage, whether you’re selling your services as a hockey player or the rights accruing to you as a result of somebody else’s negligence. It’s the same thing. There are books written on this – “Getting to Yes” is the one I’ve read and taken a course in – that talk about identifying the other side’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) and letting that inform your understanding of the other side’s breaking point. These principles apply to all negotiations.

      The idea is that if there’s a zone of possible agreement (ZOPA) between each side’s BATNA, an agreement should be reached. So if you were a sane team negotiating with Nikolai Khabibulin last summer, there’d probably be no ZOPA – you had tons of options and he had a 4 year, $15MM offer.

      I thought that this stuff was relatively common knowledge but, judging from the reaction to some stuff I’ve written here, it’s apparently not. It’s a framework that I apply to every negotiation that I engage in and, in my experience, it works well.

      I’m amazed at the people who think that running a hockey team involves some formula that sort of entails an 80% mystical knowledge imparted to you by some sort of deity who comes to you in a vision. It’s a business, like any other, that requires a certain amount of specialized knowledge about hockey and then lots and lots of negotiation.

      As far as the question of whether I (or someone with a similar skillset) could have done better goes…yeah, I think I could have spent the Oilers’ ownership’s money more efficiently over the past few years and had them in a better position today than they’re in and that any number of rational people could have done this.

      My approach would be to recognize the areas in which I have deficits – specifically, in the assessment of hockey players, and rely somewhat more heavily on the people with expertise in that area, subject to my own veto on the stuff on which I felt like I had some competence. In the areas where I felt like I could bring something to the table – negotiations etc., I’d rely on my own expertise.

      Historically, there’s been an overweighting of the “hockey expertise” skillset amongst NHL GMs, I think, although we’re seeing a shift away from that and a recognition that other skills are equally vital to the job. Hockey expertise is like any other sort of expertise – it can be learned. I’m not sure why there’s a bias towards the idea that it has to be acquired by playing high level hockey.

      If the Oilers just understood things like the marginal value of wins to them at a given point in time, how to get a good sense of what last year’s performance might means going forward and the concept of leverage and how to use it, they’d be a million miles ahead of where they are now. These are easily acquired (or hired) skillsets that they seem to have a hell of a time finding.

    40. Deano
      April 13, 2010 at

      John K – If the table situation constantly works against a player can we conclude that the player may be terrible – or is that too much of a stretch?

      Signing rickety, old players to premium contracts is well within a GM’s control. Blaming circumstances after the fact is abdication. You are talking through your hat.

      Listening to the Oilers brass constantly whine about being up against the cap with their portfolio of overpaid contracts is tiresome.

      The Oilers get better if Lowe is replaced by a real ‘hockey man’ instead of a former hockey player. We are fortunate at this time because George Armstrong happens to be working with Hockey Canada so the Oilers extensive executive search strategy might actually back into just such a guy.

    41. Asaad H
      April 13, 2010 at

      John K is right the rest of you guys are tards.

    42. Tyler Dellow
      April 13, 2010 at

      I’m not dumb enough to call someone a “tard” while on my employer’s ISP and using an email address that generates a last name that produces a name linked to that employer.

      So we all have our failings.

    43. John K
      April 13, 2010 at

      “If the table situation constantly works against a player can we conclude that the player may be terrible – or is that too much of a stretch?

      Signing rickety, old players to premium contracts is well within a GM’s control. Blaming circumstances after the fact is abdication. You are talking through your hat.”

      I’m talking through my hat? I just said that with enough time we can gauge the relative worth of the GM. I have identified the Khabi signing as a strike against several times – but there are also strikes for. With enough table time, you get a good idea of the players worth. Every player who has ever played enough hands of poker has made a mistake. I’m willing to give him his ‘fudge’ room: the space where a cold deck or a power stack to your left can make you look bad (to continue the analogy ;)).

      @Tyler:
      I’m glad you have publicly stated that you consider yourself an NHL caliber GM. It’s a bold claim, but you certainly blog with that kind of swagger. I do think that once again it’s easy to say ‘I can do a better job’, and actually doing a better job. Writing is one thing (you have some talent ;)) but face to face negotiation is an entirely different animal. So is dealing with a billionaire owner and multi-million dollar athletes. I certainly wont pass judgement either way – if that’s how you feel, that’s how you feel. But it’s certainly not your every day message board statement.

      One other point, I do tend to agree that ‘hockey knowledge’ tends to be overstated mostly because hard/applied number work is understated. I don’t think there is mysticism involved, but in regards to any kind of speculative work, it’s not as simple as learning a template ‘how to identify hockey player worthiness’. I don’t think you can chalk up book knowledge and rigorous applied technique to be the end-all evaluation of talent. That’s not to say it wont help, but it would be akin to saying that musical talent and artistic talent could also be systematically identified.

    44. Boondock
      April 13, 2010 at

      I have no idea why anyone would assume that to be an NHL GM, you must be a smart guy when there is so much evidence to the contrary.

      A few examples of the calibre of GM that not only exists in the league, but is allowed to stick around:

      According to Wilson’s explanation of the deal, Fletcher signed the wrong guy to a huge UFA deal.

      http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=16043

      Holmgren unknowingly saddled the Flyers with a big cap hit if Pronger retires early.

      http://www.tsn.ca/blogs/darren_dreger/?id=284062

      Tallon allowed 6 RFA’s to possibly become free agents because of a missed deadline, and it’s assumed he paid more than he would have otherwise needed to to keep them on board.

      http://www.kuklaskorner.com/index.php/psh/comments/chicagos_rfa_mistake/

      And that’s just the ones we hear about, I’m sure there are some mind-boggling things happening behind the scenes that never see the light of day.

      With all the amateur and pro scouts on staff, not to mention the coaching staff, I would rather have a strong business or law mind who knew nothing about hockey in the GM seat than a strong hockey mind that knew nothing about running a business or simple negotiating techniques.

      Daryl Katz wouldn’t dream of hiring a pharmacist with very little management experience to run Rexall Pharmacies and hope he could figure the business side out as he went, but that seems to be the norm in the NHL.

    45. Tyler Dellow
      April 13, 2010 at

      John -

      Your response assumes that I think that the Oilers have had NHL quality management for the past four years, which I don’t. And I very carefully didn’t limit that statement to myself – I think that there are lots of people with backgrounds similar to myself who could have bettered the results of Lowe & Co over the past few years, at least in terms of not burning large piles of management money.

      I mean, we’ve basically witnessed an historic orgy of burning money, which is made all the more special because they managed to piss away assets like the first two years of Gagner’s ELC and the draft picks used to acquire Penner at a time when they were nowhere near competitive. I’m not sure that you appreciate just how low the bar is set here.

      Judging by your comments, you may not be aware, but I actually do a lot of negotiation in my day job. I’ve sat down face to face with people (or hashed things out over the phone) and worked out deals. I’ve observed negotiations more complex than anything an NHL team does at the player level. I’ve also had instances in which I’ve been able to improve my hand by paying strict attention to detail.

      Candidly, there are guys about my age with something approximating my skillset running MLB teams – Jon Daniels, Alex Anthopoulos and Theo Epstein. Anthopoulos is new to his gig but the other guys have enjoyed some success.

      Again, two points that I can’t emphasize enough: 1) I think that pretty much anyone my age with a similar skillset could do alright and 2) the bar (and question to which I’m responding) is the Oilers record over the past four years, which is horrific.

    46. Hawerchuk
      April 13, 2010 at

      @John K:

      “I have literally no idea what a multi-million dollar contract negotation with a pro-athlete is like.”

      I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve built stats packages for a handful of contract negotiations in football, baseball and hockey, both on the player’s side and on management’s side. All of the players were still under team control. Generally, there isn’t a lot of daylight between what the player wants and what the team is offering.

      Both sides offer comps, presumably ones that would get used by an arbitrator, which means that they use somewhat worthless stats (RBIs were still used five years ago in baseball.) 95% of the time, the parties split the difference between the two figures. It’s not a trivial process, but it doesn’t take long. If a team thinks the player’s contract is going to be onerous, it generally punts him long before it gets to this point.

      Free agency is a whole different ballgame. A GM should know what a win costs and make some attempt to determine how many wins a player is worth. That’s where the Oil are a failure and Tyler quite clearly has skills that Lowe does not.

      I know that there are many other skills a GM needs. Paul DePodesta is a good talent evaluator and a solid analyst, but he couldn’t play the press and got worked by Tommy Lasorda – now he’s in the background with the Padres. Maybe Stan Weir and Lowetide would slit Tyler’s throat. Who knows?

      But none of that means that the guys running the Oil right now aren’t incompetent.

    47. April 13, 2010 at

      I don’t know that Tyler could be an NHL GM, but the argument that negotiation would be a particular weakness for a professional litigator, as compared to an ex-jock in an expensive suit, is cosmically preposterous.

      Of course you could argue that a GM has to foster a unified locker room and deal sensitively with high-strung athletic personalities like Sheldon Souray. You know, people skills!

    48. Pete.
      April 13, 2010 at

      John K:

      The question is not ‘what is wrong with the Oilers’, the question is ‘how do the Oilers get better’. Wait you are going to point out that they are linked. Well of course they are, but one is half of the right approach, and the other is the right approach.Wallowing in the negativity, glorying over the pie-in-face moments for Tambo & Co is wasted energy.

      Yeah, but being a sports fan in general is wasted energy, is it not? I mean, it all just comes down to some kind of deeply-submerged primal instinct, lived vicariously through mercenaries for three hours until we all return to our mundane existences. And (assuming that nobody who posts here is in a position to change the team, which I think is a fair assumption) for me, you, or anyone here to be asking either of the questions you lay out above is an equal waste of energy.

      I choose to wallow in negativity and revel in pie-in-face moments because every time the Oilers’ current ineffective management screw something up horribly, it increases the odds that they’ll all be fired, so I can get back to cheering for the team I grew up with, like a normal hockey fan.

    49. Hawerchuk
      April 13, 2010 at

      The other thing I’d say is that there sure are a lot of lawyers inside NHL organizations, even though GMs tend to be former players who worked their way through the scouting and coaching ranks.

      It doesn’t make sense that a lawyer would be unsuitable for a job inside hockey because he spends his days watching hockey on TV and prognosticating instead of watching hockey in a freezing arena in a small-town in Saskatchewan.

    50. John K
      April 13, 2010 at

      @Tyler:
      Like I said, I can’t possibly pass judgement on your relative strengths or weaknesses of being an Oilers GM since any situation where you ended up with the position borders on fantasy.

      I wholeheartedly believe there is a huge opportunity in the NHL for someone with the right skillset to take management to the next level. I won’t, however, belittle the intellect of people I’ve never communicated with – as some are wont to do.

      Personally, I think your efforts would be better served by focusing on what are the positive moves we can make in the future versus what are the negative moves we have made in the past.

      @Boondock:
      “I have no idea why anyone would assume that to be an NHL GM, you must be a smart guy when there is so much evidence to the contrary.”

      Once again, smart is a relative term. Einstein made the mistake of refuting uncertainty principle, which was highlighted by his quote “I refuse to believe God plays dice with the universe.” All evidence points to the fact he was wrong, and he is widely regarded as one of the smartest men to grace the surface of the earth.

      In reality these NHL GMs could be *stupid* by some classical measure, but let’s be honest: not many of us are in the kind of position to make strong arguments to identify true lack of intelligence. In other words, tone down the rhetoric. Misguided, maligned, mistake-prone, inept, whatever you want. Heck, I’d prefer ‘bad at their job’ than stupid (and lets be honest no Oiler GM will ever touch Mad Mike in terms of total balls-to-the-wall ineptness :)).

    51. Boondock
      April 13, 2010 at

      @John K:

      You’re right, I worded that poorly. They’re not stupid, just not very good at their jobs.

    52. John K
      April 13, 2010 at

      @Colby:
      I make no judgement about the relative worth of a lawyer versus a hockey player as the base for an NHL GM. I think both have served well in the league (i.e. there are successful examples of both). As Tyler stated, I’m certainly not familiar with anyone’s day job. I would not claim that a professional litigator has a handicap as a negotiator (after all that’s all they do every day). I’m not even sure how you got that from my comments.

      @Pete:
      Your point is valid to a certain extent. But obviously EVERYONE here gains some kind of emotional reward (or punishment *coff*) by following a sports team that they have become attached to.

      So yes, before this becomes to esoteric, in the end Tyler, myself, you, etc are trying to get everyone to buy into a logical space where our own logic rules the day.

      I’m trying to offer a different viewpoint, and that’s it.

    53. Pete.
      April 13, 2010 at

      John K:

      Fair enough. While I might not agree with some aspects of your viewpoint, I respect anyone who’s willing to express a dissenting opinion, especially on a site like this where he’s likely to catch a fair bit of (generally) articulate shit. It’s good to poke at things every now and then, just to make sure groupthink doesn’t take hold.

    54. Samson
      April 14, 2010 at

      A bit of a tangent, but that “accidental” Jeff Finger signing by the Leafs under Fletcher really is one of the most ridiculous stories if you consider that they gave him 4 years @ $3.5 mil without anyone (surely) competing for his services anywhere near that price point.

      Meanwhile, the much better player that they confused Finger with (Kurt Sauer) signed for literally half the cost with Phoenix. Even if they had made the $3.5/year offer to the right guy, they would have been overpaying by double the market!

      I wonder what Finger and his agents’ reaction was when the offer came through.

    55. nightfly
      April 14, 2010 at

      Oh, John K, you had to bring up Milbury, didn’t you? I suppose that once the thread on inept GMs got past the 30-comment mark, I was reading on borrowed time. :)

      But if I can offer a little hope to the Oil fans here – even Mad Mike had some hits. And some of the misses were of the variety that Hawerchuk mentioned, where a team will cut ties with a player they know they can’t afford a few years down the road. The Isles sent a lot of young talent out of town because they essentially had no owner and nobody paying the bills. Now they’ve got an owner willing to spend, a GM who looks like he knows what he’s doing, and some hope.

      I think Edmonton is basically where the Isles were two years ago: with a gravity-bending number of man-games injured, the amateur-hour goaltending (DD and Deslaurier and a perpetually-injured Khabi instead of Danis and Joey Mac and a perpetually-injured RDP – boy that’s creepy, innit?), twelve bottom-six forwards, etc. etc. The biggest difference is that you guys are still in cap hell. I still think it can turn around in a couple of seasons for you. Granted that Lowe and Tambellini haven’t inspired much confidence, but neither had Snow and Ryan Jankowski, especially after the trade-down for Josh Bailey.

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