If you’re like me, you were probably skeptical Bob Nicholson would have the ability and the mandate from owner Daryl Katz to clean up the mess the Edmonton Oilers have been for years on end when he was unveiled as the team’s Big Boss in April.
Rolled out as Chief Executive Officer of the Oilers Entertainment Group on April 20 after lurking around team offices figuring out what’s what and who’s who since June 2014, it’s absolutely stunning to me how many boxes the Oilers have checked off already on Nicholson’s watch in less than three months. It’s jarring, given the mismanagement fans have endured here.
Nicholson, 62, was front and centre again Monday as the Oilers unveiled their “Ice District” handle for the area around Rogers Place downtown, and while naming the district rates a distant second to what is actually growing out of the ground, the hoopla was the latest bit of business in what’s easily been the most noteworthy off-season in a long, long time.
The domino that kicked off this remarkable three-month stretch, of course, was the Oilers winning the NHL Draft Lottery April 18 and the right to draft Connor McDavid two days before Nicholson took over and began the house-cleaning fans have been screaming for. It’s been whiplash city ever since, a welcome blur of overdue change.
- April 20: Nicholson named CEO. “Daryl hired me to build a winning organization. We have a lot of work to do, but we know what we need to do to get there,” Nicholson said the day of the announcement.
- April 24: Peter Chiarelli was named President of Hockey Operations and GM, taking over from Craig MacTavish, who was retained without title, pending discussions with Chiarelli. Former GM and POHO Kevin Lowe was moved out of hockey operations completely, retaining his title of vice-chair of the OEG.
May 19: Former San Jose bench boss Todd McLellan was unveiled by Chiarelli as the 14th head coach in franchise history.
- June 22: Chiarelli announces several changes to his scouting staffs, notably relieving chief amateur scout Stu MacGregor and head pro scout Morey Gare of their duties.
- June 25: The Oilers announce Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson, both assistant coaches to McLellan in San Jose, will join the coaching staff. It’s a shuffle that sees interim head coach Todd Nelson take a head coaching job in Grand Rapids, while Rocky Thompson takes the head coaching job with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL in the wake of fellow assistants Keith Acton and Craig Ramsay being released.
- June 26: Oilers draft McDavid. Celebrations follow. Chiarelli makes his first trade as Edmonton GM, sending draft picks 16 and 33 to the New York Islanders for former Edmonton Oil King defenseman Griffin Reinhart.
- June 27: Chiarelli sends picks 57, 79 and 184 to the New York Rangers for goaltender Cam Talbot and pick 209. Chiarelli adds blueliner Eric Gryba from the Ottawa Senators for Travis Ewanyk and pick 107 in the 205 draft.
- June 30: Chiarelli trades centre Boyd Gordon to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Lauri Korpikoski.
- July 1: Chiarelli inks UFA defenseman Andrej Sekera to a six-year deal worth $33 million to fill one spot in McLellan’s top pairing and signs UFA centre Mark Letestu to a three-year pact.
Chiarelli, as we know, was also pitching for Boston blueliner Dougie Hamilton, who ended up going to Calgary for three draft picks in a package that many consider was marginally less than what he was offering. Not sure if Chiarelli is done, but even if he is, it’s been a busy body of work.
THE WAY I SEE IT
With the caveat there’s more work for the Oilers to do – that’s true for every team – and that the bar was set pitifully low by previous regimes, these last 12 weeks have been a whirlwind for Oiler fans with Nicholson and Chiarelli at the helm. Less talk, more action about this work-in-progress.
We’ll have to wait, of course, to see how the changes made play out, but there’s absolutely no question Nicholson and Chiarelli aren’t dangling at the end of strings being pulled by the owner or anybody else. From where I sit, this team is in infinitely more capable hands than it was not so long ago.
The new bosses aren’t the same as the old bosses.
WHILE I’M AT IT
McLellan has dipped into his past to add former U of A head coach Ian Herbers to his coaching staff — a move that was a done deal Sunday but wasn’t made official until today. Herbers, 47, played 78 games for McLellan with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the IHL in 2000-01 and was also an assistant coach with San Antonio of the AHL in 2003-04 when McLellan was head coach of the rival Houston Aeros.
If anything, Herbers, who coached the Golden Bears to two CIS titles in three seasons and was a head coach with the Milwaukee Admirals 2011-12 before returning to the U of A, is over-qualified for the position as a third assistant. Solid, solid hire by McLellan.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.