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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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