TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

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.

HOCKEY-OPS CHANGES

Reaper

  • 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.

PLAYER MOVEMENT

MakeMoves

  • 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

SherlockHolmes

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

BTW

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.

  • Serious Gord

    This is the best Oiler off season in recent memory. 75 days that shook the Oilers world. McDavid in and the incompetent managers either out or taking lessons from Chia. Draisaitl, Nurse and Reinhart are on the brink of starting, which for me, ends the focus on kids for a little while. Chia is properly focused on adding men and has done an excellent job filling the many holes. To compete for a playoff spot this season we will need another Top 4 D man, and that could still happen. Shultz’s arbitration hearing is next week and that means Nikitin, or possibly even Ference are on the way out, possibly opening enough room to acquire a D man like Erhoff, if he is still around by then.

    It is asking a lot to fill every hole in one summer, especially when Chia and McLellan want a year to evaluate our key players from close up and see whether Justin Shultz, the poster boy for mismanagement, over played, over-hyped and over-matched. There may yet be a player there. There certainly seemed to be one before Hurricane Eakins struck. And if there isn’t, we get what we can and move on.

    Just as our promising young defenders need a few years, Chia needs another off-season at least to continue fine-tuning this squad. I have not looked forward to a season this much since the 1980s. I do not expect the playoffs, but I expect to see considerable improvement. The tanker is finally turning in the right direction.

  • ziyan94

    The Reinhart trade showed that Chiarelli has the guts and intestinal fortitude to make big moves which will undeniably define the Oilers’ path for the foreseeable future.

    • mcjesus take the wheel

      You mean the Reinhart trade that the Oilers have been working on for over a year? The one that he ended up drastically overpaying on? Jesus.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    A lot of the Oiler possible successes this season will hinge on T.D. Forss’ contributions.

    He’ll be the first guy Griffin Reinhart sees after getting knocked out cold. It’ll be T. D’s job to remind him his name is Shea Weber.

  • mcjesus take the wheel

    Another pathetic attempt to pump the changes. Hardly anything has changed. You guys are hilarious at your attempts to pump up the new guys that have done and said the exact same things as the previous guys. Sheep. Baaaa.

  • Serious Gord

    Well, I have pleased, but not 100% satisfied.

    To truly do this correctly; Lowe, Mac T, and Howson all have leave. They are all collective misfits and couldn’t run a lemonade stand.

    I do not fault PC, as I think Katz told him they had to be kept.

    Why fire Laforge? He was the one that kept the building filled with the worst franchise in professional sports. He was the only one doing his job. The rest, a kindergarten class could have been better.

    MacDavid does not ensure a Stanley Cup. Crosby only one. Lindros zero.

    You can have all the best ingredients in the kitchen, but without a good chef the soup is spoiled. That is what we have had for 10 years. Hopefully, PC can do better that the last bunch.

    • Serious Gord

      Laforge was responsible for possibly the worst off ice entertainment and food and Bev packages in the league – should have been fired years ago. I figure he was number one on Nicholson’s hit list.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Nobody was even fired. How do we know it wasn’t just Kevin Lowe reacting to public pressure and bringing these new people in? Like so many other times before.

    Katz probably asked Nicholson to make these announcements/additions to create the desired illusion. Everyone still has their job. Everyone was still at the draft. It’s rather obvious by this draft they all still impact the decision making process. Certainly conforms to the already established Daryl Katz organizational pattern. Katz knows Kevin could never find another job. That’s why he’ll never fire him/he’ll always remain in charge.

    One would have to be bought and paid for (msm) to think this isn’t entirely possible.

    • Nobody was even fired?

      GM Craig MacTavish, demoted.

      Chief amateur scout Stu MacGregor, dismissed.

      Amateur scouts Brad Davis, Kent Hawley, dismissed

      Head pro scout Morey Gare, dismissed.

      Pro scout Dave Semenko, dismissed.

      Bill Moores, director of coaching, dismissed.

      Interim head coach Todd Nelson not retained after hiring of Todd McLellan. Associate coach Keith Acton and assistant Craig Ramsay, dismissed. Assistant coach Rocky Thompson not retained.

      ‘Everybody has their job?”

      “Katz knows Kevin could never find another job. That’s why he’ll never fire him/he’ll always remain in charge.”

      The changes are a facade and Lowe is still running the show? Unless you were faking sanity the two times we talked at my shop, and doing a masterful job at it, I can’t believe you’re goofed up enough to believe what you’re writing.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        I guess i should’ve clarified. Lowe, MacTavish or Howson were the targets i was talking about. The rest are support staff that rotates in and out on a regular basis. Nobody in the important roles were turfed.

        Apologies on the whole fall from grace thing Robin. I never really felt comfortable up there anyways. Maybe it’s just i can’t believe the number of fans and msm that have fallen for this latest charade.

        It is possible that i did miss the latest “People can Change” update from Windows though.

        • Serious Gord

          The top three people in the org remain on the payroll. The three people still on the payroll prior to the draft lottery most to blame for the tire fire.

          One of the top prospects that they had been chasing for over a year was the biggest acquisition at the draft (save the automatic mcdavid pick)

          Coincidence? Maybe. But it strains credulity to think they had no input whatsoever.

      • @Robin Brownlee

        The only question mark I have at this point is targeting Reinhart and whether it is an overpay in a deep draft. This wasn’t Chairelli’s target, it was Bob Greene’s with the probable support of the whole Oiler’s organization Klowe and MacT, no? Now, it could be that Chiarelli held the same very high opinion of Reinhart and he himself felt secure that he was worth the picks. We may never really know but they rolled the dice on someone who struggled in the AHL last season.

        On another note, would a 16th and 33rd in that draft land you an established top 4 NHL dman? I have my doubts on that.

  • Serious Gord

    Done deal. Things have changed.

    McDavid and Co. are the new orange and blue on the horizon.

    As much as I respect the Oilers of the 80s its a new day. D Katz has put a very talented group together to move forward with. His hockey organization of the AHL Condors and ECHL Admirals under the Oilers is far beyond the Oilers Owner Group’s NHL and a bit group.

    The brass is polished and the new staff are top shelf as shown by the latest coaching hire.

    This October looks like the Oilers will have a realistic chance of reaching my far too lofty expectations.

  • Johnnydapunk

    your pictures are what did it for me. they clearly elaborated that there was deep unbending desire for a story that just had to be told, and that story was told.

  • Al Theeathoone

    Just to be clear Bub. Robin didn’t say MacT was fired. He said he was demoted. As far as I know MacT still doesn’t have a new “title” and even if he gets a new title which I doubt he will his new title will provide him with no authority whatsoever. Chia has been and will continue to milk MacT for everything he can get out of him before he leaves. That’s why MacT is still around (so far).

    Lowe and MacT were finished the day Nicholson was hired and both of them were living on borrowed time. Just because they didn’t get hauled out of their offices by security while holding cardboard boxes of their personal stuff doesn’t mean they haven’t been let go.

    They’ve been replaced. That’s good enough for me.

  • Serious Gord

    Hmmmm. You mean Lowe was finished the day Lowe hired Nicholson or are you naïve enough to believe that Lowe had no influence in his hire.

    I don’t know how much influence Lowe and MacT have now but I’m not foolish enough to believe that they are completely out of the loop. And honestly, I don’t give a damn. They were not suited for the jobs they were in but they are not stupid and their knowledge has value.

    Be it because of the lotto pick or reorganization or what ever, the one thing that is very apparent is the way this organization operates has dramatically changed (hopefully for the better.. time will tell) and that creates hope.