In recent years, the similarities between the Edmonton Oilers and the Colorado Avalanche have been striking. These organizations are both young, rebuilding teams with similar approaches to their front office, and thus, it seems a perfect time to compare their strengths and weaknesses. This first part will analyze their management and upper-level staff, while the next two parts will focus on coaching and players.
— The Management —
For years, Oilers fans have viewed their team as an old boys club, and with good reason. Edmonton’s management team features several ex-Oilers, including General Manager Craig MacTavish, President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe, and Assistant Coaches Kelly Buchburger and Steve Smith, all of whom have won multiple Stanley Cups with the team.
MacTavish, in particular, was chosen almost instantly after former GM Steve Tambellini’s dismissal, indicating that the Oilers had little intention of making an outside hire.
Yet in recent years, the Avalanche have been moving in the same direction, hiring some of their former stars for executive positions. Their upper management group is spearheaded by Joe Sakic as Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, and includes Patrick Roy as a VP.
While Greg Sherman is still technically the GM, Sakic and Roy have been directing all hockey-related decisions, essentially making them the true managers of the team.
Both the Edmonton and Colorado managers were likely hired in part because of their past history with their teams, yet it would be too hasty to say that MacTavish is equivalent to Sakic or Roy. For one thing, these men differ significantly in terms of management experience.
MacTavish holds a master’s degree in business, has eight years of NHL coaching experience, and spent nearly a year as the Oilers senior VP of Hockey Operations before becoming the GM. During his time as senior VP, MacTavish was heavily involved in the operations of the team; for example, he played the lead role in acquiring coveted defenceman Justin Schultz.
Sakic, however, has no formal management education and no coaching experience; while he was a great player, he has never had to analyze the ins and outs of a team. He has two years of management experience in the Avs front office, but served only an advisor and an alternate governor before becoming Executive VP.
Roy fares slightly better in this department, as he served as the coach, owner, and general manager of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts- however, running a junior team is very different from managing an NHL team. Roy has never previously held a management position at the NHL level, so it would be premature to suggest that he can easily fit into his Hockey Operations role.
In that sense, it appears that MacTavish seems to be the most astute hiring between the two teams. Considering Sakic and Roy are lacking in terms of formal experience and education, it is likely that the organization chose them primarily because of their stellar playing careers and relationships with the team. While past history with the Oilers was certainly a factor for MacTavish’s hiring, it appears that MacTavish is truly qualified for the position.
In the end, none of these managers have had the chance to prove very much. MacTavish was promoted to GM only three months ago, while Sakic and Roy were hired back in May, so we have yet to see either group’s results on the ice.
But when it comes to the question of which of these teams will be best served by their managers, my money is set squarely on the Oilers.
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