Scotty Bowman: Success comes from ownership, goaltending, and I’ve always been thinking that you can have a fire-wagon type of hockey but your ability to play good defence has got to surface. The thread that ran through all of my success was undoubtedly ownership’s commitment to win. I’ve been quite close to some of the owners, and the Bronfmans’ passion for the game as owners in Montreal and the Ilitches’ commitment to create a winning team in Detroit contributed greatly to our success.
That’s an old quote I kept from so long ago I can’t find anyone to attribute it to, but it’s always stuck with me as a fascinating look inside the thought process of a winning coach. You need a goalie, you can let your stars wheel but defensive structure have to be there, and for anything to work you need an owner who understands.
From the time of purchase in 2008 through his hiring of Bob Nicholson in 2014, Daryl Katz was learning on the job as an NHL owner. If you’ve read Jim Devellano’s brilliant book HOCKEYTOWN perhaps there are similarities for you between the early Illitch years in Motown and the Katz regime in the first six seasons.
DEVELLANO AND MIKE ILLITCH IN DETROIT
If you don’t know about Devellano with Illitch, a quick thumbnail sketch: Detroit hires Jimmy D in 1982, they run through Nick Polano and Harry Neale before finding Jacques Demers as a suitable coach. They draft Murray Craven, but piss him away. Next year they draft Steve Yzerman, Bob Probert, Petr Klima and things begin to improve. One year, Devellano tells Illitch about the college free agent signing season, Illitch tells him to sign them all. And they did! NHL teams are mad as hell at Detroit, Wings can’t suss out all the talent (they signed Adam Oates but sent him away for three double bubble and a ball of string).
Now, it was easier to make the playoffs back then, but Detroit doesn’t get anywhere really until 1987—year No. 5 of Jimmy D—and then they go deep a couple of times but eventually Bryan Murray comes in, then Scotty Bowman. Detroit wins Stanley 15 years after Devallano arrives.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
I don’t think it will be 15 years after Daryl Katz bought the Oilers for this team to win the Stanley Cup (that would be 2022-23 by my math but check it to make sure).
I do think it is fair to say that Daryl Katz has learned some things since 2008 summer, including the fact we don’t hear him say much about hockey ops. We don’t have any idea what is going on behind the scenes, maybe not much has changed except it doesn’t make the media.
We are inside the window (I believe) where the Edmonton Oilers can win the Stanley Cup. Winning the Connor McDavid lottery was clearly the biggest change of fortune for this organization since the Messier trade to Gotham.
Question: How do you feel about the owner and his performance since hiring Bob Nicholson? Has he done the right thing for the hockey team by spending to the cap and (from what we know) not interfering with the business of running the club? Is he showing a (in Bowman’s words) commitment to winning? Finally, what, if anything should the owner do to help push this team higher?