Oilers: Dawn of a new Era

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Bob Nicholson and Peter Chiarelli were all smiles this past Friday when Nicholson unveiled Chiarelli as the new President of Hockey Operations and General Manager for the Edmonton Oilers. The press conference wrapped up the most surprising 139-hour stretch in Oilers history. Peter Pocklington’s trade to acquire Wayne Gretzky is the most important move in franchise history, and his trade on August 9th, 1988 was the most shocking moment, but 139 hours between Saturday April 18th at 6 p.m. and the April 24th, 1 p.m. press conference has to be the biggest surprise sequence in a long time, if not ever.

Ten days ago apathy, angst and frustration reigned in Oilersnation and deservedly so.

The Oilers had missed the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season. You had just suffered through a season that saw the team win the fewest games, 24, in franchise history. Craig MacTavish had declared next season as another developmental year, which was accurate, considering how many holes the roster had, but he was responsible for creating many of them and he was still in charge.

Things did not look promising for Oilersnation.

But then the lottery happened. And most of you felt like this. (not suitable for children)

Oilersnation was in shock, but suddenly many of you saw a glimmer of hope. If you strained hard enough you could see light at the end of the Oilers’ tunnel.

On Monday April 20th, Nicholson was announced as CEO of the Oilers Entertainment Group. He said everyone in the organization answers to him. He was the new boss at the top of the Oilers pyramid.

He said Daryl Katz hired him, “To build a winning organization. We have a lot of work to do,
but we know what we need to do to get there. We have great people in
this organization and we are firmly committed to rewarding our fans for
their extraordinary patience and support. It is going to be an exciting
year for our organization and the city in the lead up to the opening of Rogers Place.”

After listening to Nicholson last Monday, I got the feeling he would make changes to the organization, but I didn’t expect a major change in hockey operations to occur four days later. When Nicholson addressed the media and fans on Monday he had already spoken to Chiarelli.

“He called me on Sunday to see if I’d be interested. We didn’t talk about specific titles or roles, he just wanted to see if I’d be interested. We spoke again on Monday, and that is when we got more serious. I arrived in Edmonton on Wednesday and we came to an agreement on Thursday,” Chiarelli said at his presser last Friday.

Nicholson spent the past ten months analyzing every aspect of the Oilers organization. He looked at hockey operations, the business side and the overall aura of the organization. He presented his ideas to Katz, and the owner listened.

In December, I wrote that Katz needed to make some changes within in management group,

and that I expected them to occur before the 2015 draft. It is never easy to make change, but I give Nicholson and Katz credit for realizing it was necessary.

Kevin Lowe was moved to the business side full-time. Lowe was named co-chair with Nicholson last summer, and he still has that title, but now he has no major input in hockey operations. MacTavish is out as GM, and is currently in discussions with Chiarelli and Nicholson about a role within the organization.

In the coming weeks and months you can expect more changes within the organization. Chiarelli will sit down and talk with everyone in management and scouting. Some will stay, and some will go. He will bring in some of his own people. It happens in every organization, and he should have free reign to hire who he wants. If you want someone to lead your franchise, then you must let them decide who they want to work with.

Make no mistake, Chiarelli took this job knowing he would have the final say. Will he and Nicholson consult on issues, of course, but the final decision will be Chiarelli’s.

It has to be that way if you want to build a winner.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS…

Chiarelli impressed me at his opening press conference. He was direct, honest and he sounded like a man with a plan.

“I’m really excited to be a part of this. This team has a lot of good pieces, but we need to make some changes. It is about getting to know the players and really instilling an attitude and philosophy about winning, and knowing the sacrifices it takes to win, both on and off the ice. There is nothing magical about it; it starts with hard work,” said Chiarelli.

It was refreshing to hear that it isn’t just about management and coaching. The players play the game, and I’ve felt for many years that too much of the criticism has been directed at management and coaching while the players haven’t been challenged. I’ve said and written for years this group needs to work harder, and obviously they need better players as well, but Chiarelli made it sound like the players will start to shoulder some of the responsibility of winning.

“In Ottawa we had a real fast, skilled team. In Boston we had a heavy, skilled team. The game is changing so it is about finding a balance between the two. I’ve been an Eastern conference guy for a long time. I know this team, but I don’t know it great. I do know the players.

“There are some areas that have been well chronicled that we will have to look at; the goaltending, the backend, the style of play and all that. There are many, and I probably don’t have enough time to tell you them all. But, as I said in my opening address, there are a lot of good and exciting things here. There are some young legs, complementary players that can help build a good foundation. They play fast, I’d like to see them play a little harder and that will be the challenge.”

Gawd damn, a GM who
calmly, accurately and poignantly says what has been a major area of concern
for the past few seasons. It’s about time.

The Oilers don’t
work hard enough. I’ve said it for years. Much of the Oilers’ past woes have been directed at management and the coaching, and they
deserved the harsh words, but I’ve written numerous times that the players
don’t play hard enough, and often many disagreed.

With Lowe in
business operations, MacTavish demoted to another role
and Dallas Eakins out of the picture the focus will shift to the players.

The Oilers have too many similar players, and I believe Chiarelli will alter that in the coming years, but regardless of the style of player, I felt on too many nights this team simply did not play hard enough.

Veterans like Matt Hendricks and Andrew Ference have said similar things in the past, yet some fans, media and even players didn’t want to believe it.

Saying they need to play hard and getting them to play hard will be challenging.

I asked Chiarelli how he plans to instill that work ethic within his new organization.

“You have to come at that from many different angles, whether it is player personnel, which is simply hard players — but players are hard to find. So it is about the attitude or the ‘heaviness’ for lack of a
better word, whether it’s a heavy stick or a heavy player. There are teams that
don’t have hard, heavy players but they play heavy, they’re strong on their
sticks. That’s something you have to instill.

“I’ve seen the progression here in
past years, in talking to MacT they’ve been trying to get bigger and heavier,
and that’s certainly an area I would like to improve. But I don’t think you can just be focused solely on player personnel. There has to be instilling a belief in the team.

“There are teams that aren’t
necessarily hard and heavy but they strip pucks, they’re hard on battles, they
win more than their share of battles. They win more than their share of battles and they win many one-on-one battles. They are heavy but they’re not
huge. A lot of that has to do with the coach, the philosophy of the
organization, and that’s part of what I hope to instill.”

It will be interesting to watch how he goes about instilling that philosophy into the organization. The harsh truth is that the Oilers have a losing mentality. They’ve lost more than any team over the past six seasons, and learning how to win won’t simply be solved by adding a superstar phenom in McDavid and an experienced GM in Chiarelli.

Chiarelli did give us a little hint about the future.

“Here it is about the next stage of their development. There are some young kids who have to be put in their proper places, whether it is here or in other leagues. I talk about a measured approach. It’s not like we have to get there and we have to get there (end goal) in a year. I think there are a lot of good pieces, but there has to be a measured approach to get there.”

Oilersnation is a much more optimistic fanbase today then you were ten days ago, but as the euphoria of last week’s 139-hour franchise overall begins to subside, remember that there is still much work to do before the Oilers are a playoff team.

Last week was a massive step towards credibility, but now the hard work begins and Chiarelli will have to make over an entire organization. 

Winning in the NHL doesn’t happen in one off-season, but the foundation of building a winner long-term officially began last Friday.

QUICK HITS…

NurseMcDavid

  • If you haven’t watched the first three games of the Erie/Sault Ste. Marie series, I highly recommend you tune into games four and five on Tuesday and Thursday on Sportsnet 360. Connor McDavid has seven goals and nine points in the first three games, while Nurse is playing half the game on the Greyhounds blueline. I love Nurse’s competitiveness, skating and his skill, while McDavid is simply a marvel to watch. 

  • According to Frank Seravalli, Dallas Eakins is one of many candidates Ron Hextall will interview for the vacant head coaching position with the Flyers.

  • Chiarelli will have a long list of  experienced coaches he can interview for the Oilers head coach. Todd Mclellan, Paul Maclean and Dan Bylsma are available now. Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien and Mike Babcock could be on the market as well. Hitchcock’s contract expires in June, and the Blues just had their third consecutive first round playoff exit. Julien is in limbo while the Bruins hire Chiarelli’s replacement and many believe Babcock will test the free agent waters. Nicholson and Chiarelli have a close to connection the latter three, and they know the other three as well.

    I see Mclellan as a solid fit. Babcock’s track record is top notch and he would be first on most people’s list, but I’d have Mclellan number two.

  •  I think Todd Nelson is a good coach, and he will get consideration for other jobs, but the Oilers won’t hire a third consecutive rookie head coach. He could be better than both Eakins and Ralph Krueger, but their lack of success will impact the organization’s decision not to go with another rookie. 

Recently by Jason Gregor:   

  • Bucknuck

    I think that this is the Oilers Renaissance these guys are going to get the coaching staff they deserve and not the moronic moves of the past ten years by guys like Kevin Lowe. Bob Nicholson has done a nice job cleaning this house and setting the ship right. The shrewd hiring of Peter Chiarelli means that this guy ain’t messing around. I can see a high profile guy like Babcock wanting in here now, he has a chance to coach the most talented group of young forwards in the NHL.

  • Bucknuck

    Love to see Babcock as a coach and Todd Nelson as his assistant ( provided he does not get a head coaching job). If the Oilers intend to hire an experienced former NHL coach, I hope they let Todd soon enough so that he can find a better job.

  • Petrolero

    The reaction form fans and media to the Nicholson/Chiarelli presser was what Lowe thought he would get when he boldly announced MacTavish as the GM. What a difference credibility makes. Funny how neither man had to angrily answer a question with how much they accomplished as players (or as executives, they did mention it but within the context of what they were talking about, not i self defense).

    Day and night folks, day and night.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Have to wonder where all this sudden change of direction started.

    Was it just long overdue from inside/Nicholson. Or, input from an outside source/Orr camp, McDavids representitives?

    Get your house in order or he won’t co-operate/come.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Quicksilver ballet

    Exactly. Realize your cap issues and fix them. Shultz at 4 million, Nikitin at 4.5 million, Ferrence at 3.2 million, Hall, Hopkins and Eberle at 6 Million each. Man O man you got cap issues.

  • Zamboni Driver

    By far the best and soberest analysis of the ‘week that was’ and the state of the Oilers that I have read. Thanks Jason. The McDavid miracle, Nicholson and Chiarelli in charge, Nurse looking incredible. Hope is back. With one exception, all the holes that were here last week still needs to be filled however, and a culture of winning needs to be installed, extending the work Nelson has begun.

    Success is far from guaranteed but experienced, proven people are at the wheel and that seemed as much like a fantasy a week ago as landing McDavid did. We all know what is needed, generally speaking, and the new bosses will do their best to add the missing pieces, possibly by moving a major asset. The Oilers missed the playoffs by 35 points this season and McDavid is only 18 so this is very much a work in progress, but I am reasonably optimistic and looking forward to the draft, free agency and the trading season, as well as the coming personnel changes. Jason’s comments on the lack of battle is crucially important and must be addressed. I feel as if we have been lifted out of the bottom of a dark pit in the last week and given real open again.

  • Romanus

    I wonder if Messier still has consultant job with the oilers? He was consulted while living in his high rise condo in NYC for how best to make $ from your old team while living 2000 miles away.

  • Ready to Win

    So Ok. I’m going to give you guys something to really blow me up, face plant, call me an idiot whatever.

    Hall, Eberle, Hopkins and Yakapov have not helped your team.

    You ended up 35 points out of a playoff spot this year. 35 points!

    How about this, you have Mcdavid. Trade all the above for young defenceman and some young forward talent, keep Lander, Klink, Hendricks and Roy. Jettison Ferrence, Nitkinin and Shultz and free up 30 million in cap space.

    Destroy, and I mean destroy the TishLowe era, start again.

    Build a team around Mcdavid.

    Edmonton has THE most talented and passionate bloggers in the NHL.

    Tishlowe has left you ranked very, very low in amateur talent.

    http://www.hockeysfuture.com/team-rankings/

    Blow it up Oil, Fix your cap.

    • Ready to Win

      Okay genius… Hall, Eberle, RNH, and Yak are no longer prospects that’s why they’re not listed on hockeysfuture.

      And if you count Connor as part of of our prospects (not official now but almost a certainty by June) then we blow away the competition.

      Btw, Yak is just $2.5M against the cap which is a good deal.

      …sorry guys for feeding the troll.

    • bazmagoo

      Hockey’s Future is a great resource but its team rankings are unfortunately flawed for purposes of actually quantifying a teams outlook due to how they do their cut-offs.

      As it is a team could be made up of ultra-talented players top to bottom but if they were all in their 3rd seasons that team would be ranked last on Hockey’s Future. Meanwhile if another team may have a gaggle of promising but unproven players in their 1st and 2nd seasons and they would be ranked first.

      The Oilers obviously have a ton of young talent but they are ranked poorly on HF because all of that talent has reached the cut-off for HF. But for the teams actual outlook this is a good thing, as it means those young talents are no longer total greenhorns. Given the choice between having A) a bunch of talented hopefuls that boost your Hockey’s Future ranking and B) a bunch of talented young guys who have 3+ seasons under their belts and a bad Hockey Future ranking I’d take the latter every time, as would every single executive in the business.

    • Give it a rest Gary. Cap issues because we have too many budding superstars under the age of 24?!? It’s like saying I have a problem because my wallet can’t fit all my money.

      The bad contracts are expiring or spare parts we’d be happy to lose for a 7th rounder. I can’t think of 1 real bad contract (longer than a year or two)

      I shouldn’t even have entertained your mindless garbage this much, but please just go away.

      A Happy McDavid evening to you.

    • furious_tiberius

      this doesnt even deserve a response. Hall Eberle and Hopkins are the only things that are helping this team. along with Yakupov when he has an NHL centre beside him. you want us to trade our 4 best players for what? 2 defencemen and a couple forwards? sounds like a great way to sink this team even further. this is not the time to blow up the roster. this is the time for measured moves that improve the chemistry and make up of the team

  • BigMcD

    I for one am not happy that Lowe, MacT and Howson are still moving in the background. Katz seems unable or un-willing to make a clean break with the three prime figures who are largely responsible for the ‘smoking crater’, not my words, that the Oil have become.

    It looks suspiciously like they are going to let Chiarelli make the corrective moves and when or if he stumbles they are right there to kick him aside and take over again. With those suckers still in the picture how can it be anything else.

    Name if you will another team who has fired the POHO and GM and then allowed them to hang around still actively giving advice and having input with the owner and still GM’ing and POHO’ing with their replacements.

    Do you honestly think MacT has Chiarelli’s best interests at heart. I freaking doubt it.

          • BigMcD

            Let’s not kid ourselves… Katz, the Armchair Gen Man. is so insecure that he still has these clowns hanging around.

            Lowe and MacT have a better pipline to Katz than Chareili.

            Think about it, what the heck does Lowe know about business, don’t think he even graduated high school in Laval. He could not manage hockey, an area where he had spent his life time at.

            More chair shuffling on the Titanic , is what it is.

        • BigMcD

          Dear Mr.BigMcD.,

          If you actually believe that nonsense I have a real nice banana plantation north of High Level that you would likely be interested in. Great beach front. Sand like sugar!

  • Ready to Win

    You don’t want to have too many similar players. Small skilled players. Better trade Nuge and McDavid.
    Who needs those when you can have big brutes that can barely play hockey.

    Good players. A good player in net would sure help, .890. Good players on defense would help also, regardless of size. Skill is what you need to win.

  • Ok, I’m dumb.

    You have 33% of your cap hit tied up in only 4 players until 2020. Hall, Hopkins, Eberle and Pouliet.

    Whats a Seabrook gonna cost? 7 million?
    A Niemi. Another 6 million.

    Now you’ve spent 35 mill on 6 players.

    You still need 15 more players. Shultz @ 4 Mill, Nitkinin @ 4.5 Mill now you got only 25 Mill left.

    Get the picture, your hopelessly hooped for a long time.

    • The only accurate thing you’ve said is that you’re dumb. Your comments are ao stupid that it’s hard to believe that you’re serious. We finally have a centerpiece to this clusterf–k and now you want to blow it up? You are an IDIOT!

        • OtOil

          They can move players over the next three years. Nikitin should be bought out now but even if they don’t, he’s gone after this year. Ferencr can be bought out and Shultz can be moved for a pick if need be. Worst case, they move Eberle down the road. Your suggestion to move everyone now because the cap may give us problems in three years is stupid. That’s the kind of poor planning and mismanagement we have been dealing with for years. Hopefully those days are behind us now.

          See, not only is calling you an idiot easy…it’s accurate.

    • No one is saying that Nikitin and Schultz aren’t dead weight. We are just saying your plan re-sets another rebuild that doesn’t need to be done.

      I won’t resort to name calling, but really? That plan you proposed would only work for Flames fans. There is a saying that whoever gets the best player back in a trade is the winner. It would be very hard to win any trade involving Hall, Yak, Eberle, or RNH going away. I am not against trading one or even two, but the return has to be greater (either in value, or in value when considering position) or else you are taking crazy pills.

  • You cant win any trade involving Hall, Eberle or Hopkins immediately. But you need cap space.

    You can win in the end. TashLowe really screwed your team up man, it’ll take years to fix.

    • Anton CP

      yeah, it must be nice knowing that Flames will have no cap issues for next two years right? I wonder how will Flames handle their future cap issues, but I guess it is much easier to fix it when almost NO ONE will have a contract. Also, guess which team had a great playoffs run but also had almost no one under the contract by the end and massively overpaid everyone then suffered for almost a decade? Cheers.

  • bazmagoo

    This is a dream off season for me:

    Buyout Nikita Nikitin

    Trade Nail Yakupov and Martin Marincin to the San Jose Sharks for Marc Eduard Vlasic (the bold move we’ve all been waiting for)

    Trade Justin Schultz to Minnesota for Darcy Kuemper

    Trade #33 overall and Martin Gernat to the New York Rangers for Kevin Klein

    Trade Montreal’s 2nd round pick to Winnipeg for Grant Clitsome

    Draft Connor McDavid with #1 overall

    Sign 2 3rd line free agents, big forwards who are good defensively. Eric Fehr and Matt Belesky would be a great fit. Maximum 3 year deals (the McDavid contract renewal could be very expensive).

    Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and Laurent Brossoit all start 2015-16 in the AHL

    Buyout Nikita Nikitin again!

    • OtOil

      You know other GM’s have to agree to a trade right? In what do you live in where Yak + an AHL dman get you Vlasic? And what makes you think Gernat and a pick get you Klein? You couldn’t get a pair of dirty pair of Calvin Klein’s for Gernat.

      • bazmagoo

        San Jose missed the playoffs, and Doug Wilson is a moron. The Rangers need to trim some salary, Gernat would simply be an AHL throw in. Note the first part of my post “This is a dream off season for me”.

  • OtOil

    Agree fully with the statement by Chiarelli that the Oilers need to play heavier and the observation by many posters that the Oilers were playing soft.

    This changed slightly when Nelson took over. It was very apparent in the play of Nuge and Eberle once Hall went down to injury. Nuge had been playing well on both sides of the puck all year and kept it up while Eberle seemed to finally get engaged and his efforts were reflected in his results.

    Hope reigns eternal that Chiarelli can get the entire team playing a committed brand of hockey.

  • How about about this Gary? Get rid of Schultz, Nikitin, and Ference. Buyouts for Nikitin and Ference, trade Schultz. I honestly don’t care what what the oil get back for Schultz because I’m assuming he has very little value.

    Use the PITT pick, next year’s first, Davidson, and if you must, Yakupov to obtain two dmen and a goalie. If you have to, add Marincin to the deal. But I’d like to avoid moving him. There goes two pieces of MacT’s ‘core’.
    Get another goalie via free agency.

    2 first round picks, Yakupov, Marincin, and Davidson is still an overpay IMO but the oilers need two top pairing dmen and 2 goalies in the worst way.

    Petry cost a second round pick to become MTL’s #3 dman. The pieces I’ve offered up sound like a ridiculous overpay, but yet Nuge, Ebs, Hall, Klefbom, and Draisaitl all remain oilers.