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Bob Nicholson speaks on the disappointing season

During last night’s Oilers and Rangers game on Hockey Night in Canada, Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group Bob Nicholson joined David Amber, Cassie Campbell, and Doug MacLean for a short interview regarding the state of the Edmonton Oilers. It sent Twitter into an absolute frenzy, so let’s break down what was said.

David Amber: Thanks for joining us and congratulations on this amazing facility. We’ve got to talk a little bit about how it’s been a tough season for the on-ice product. We’ll start with this, Bob, over the next month during the season and the summer months, what’s the main thing you’re looking to accomplish here?

Bob Nicholson: We’re disappointed with the year, there’s no question about it. We’re going to take our time and we’re going to make sure we evaluate everything about the hockey part of the organization as well as everything within our organization. It’s disappointing. We have a plan and we’re going to get it right.

The interview starts off with a softball from David Amber about the general feeling of the team right now in the final stages of a disappointing season. Nicholson gives a standard non-answer about assessing things moving forward but emphasizes that the team has a plan. Nothing much to see here.

Cassie Campbell: I remember when you went from Vice President to President of Hockey Canada and it wasn’t always easy. Then, all of a sudden, you built it to this enterprise and there was gold medals after gold medals and I wonder looking back at that and then looking back at last year, do you think this team didn’t face enough adversity last year? It almost came a bit too easy?

Nicholson: That’s a good point. Everything worked out for us. All our players played extremely well and expectations were really high in the summer time and we couldn’t get that under control and that hurt us coming out of the gate. But we have some really good pieces. People want change but I’m going to be patient. I want to make sure we do a really thorough evaluation and get it right. Because we do have a lot of good things and we don’t want to destroy that.

This is an interesting question from Cassie Campbell who likely has quite a familiarity with Nicholson from their time at Hockey Canada. Nicholson was with Hockey Canada from 1998 to 2014, and, of course, Campbell captained Team Canada to two gold medals in Women’s Ice Hockey at the Olympics in 2002 and 2006.

She starts the question by brining up Nicholson’s success with hockey Canada and then moves into asking if things happened too quickly for the Oilers last year. In his answer, Nicholson gives away an interesting tidbit in the line “expectations were really high in the summer time and we couldn’t get that under control and that hurt us coming out of the gate.”

Many speculated with the team’s slow start that the players got too cocky, and Nicholson essentially slipped out a confirmation that that’s the case here. Nicholson then turned around and said that the team has good pieces moving forward and then slid back into the non-answer of evaluating the team moving forward.

Doug MacLean: One of the most important things during a tough year like this is motivating your management team, keeping them focused, dealing with that side of things, and then also dealing with an owner that would be very disappointed with what’s going on.

Nicholson: The relationship with Peter Chiarelli and Keith Gretzky has been very good. We’re going to keep to planning. In fairness, I talk to Darryl Katz all the time. He asks tough questions but he’s been very fair with me and I couldn’t ask for a better situation to turn this thing around.

Doug MacLean then comes in with more of a statement than a question, which makes sense given that he was previously the general manager of the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets. MacLean, who knows what it’s like to navigate tough seasons, mentioned interacting with the owner during difficult times.

Nicholson said that the relationship between him and Peter Chiarelli is strong and they’re going to stick to the plan. Then he quickly jumps to talking about his relationship with Darryl Katz being strong how great the situation is to turn things around. No surprise, Nicholson kept his cards close to his chest here.

MacLean: You brought Wayne Gretzky back into the organization as a Vice Chairman. Paul Coffey has recently joined the organization. How has that gone over? What are their specific roles?

Nicholson: Wayne Gretzky is Wayne Gretzky. Any time you can have time, he’s in the building tonight, he’s tremendous, he was here with Commissioner Bettman the other night, Wayne doesn’t get too deep involved into the hockey, you know, that’s Peter’s call. We brought Paul Coffey in because we wanted to look at our speciality teams, the power play especially. He’s in and out but he’s already made a big influence on the players. Where his role will be in the future, we’ll evaluate that at the end of the season.

This is kind of an odd one. Saying Wayne Gretzky is Wayne Gretzky is in no way an answer to this question. Yes, we all know having the greatest hockey player of all time around is a good thing and it’s very likely great for Connor McDavid to have him as a mentor.

But this certainly doesn’t ease much of the speculation that Gretzky is pulling strings behind the curtain here because nobody seems to be able to explain exactly what he does. Nicholson does say Gretzky leaves Chiarelli alone with the hockey operations side of things, though, but it’s still an odd quote.

Then there’s the Coffey line which is predictable. We all knew Coffey was coming in as a part-time guy to help out with special teams and Nicholson clarified it. Then it goes back to the evaluation non-answer.

The reality here is that the question was a softball and MacLean didn’t ask why the Oilers continue to bring in members of the same clique with similar voices, and, as a result, we got answers that don’t shed much light on what’s going on and only further the Old Boys Country Club speculation.

Campbell: How are you watching the rest of the season? On the ice and in the room with your managers and coaches, I know you don’t want to be too hands on, but this time of year, what are you specifically looking at?

Nicholson: I think we want to make sure we have the right culture in the dressing room. We’ve got to make sure that this organization wants to be put in a position to win. That includes our management, our coaches, our players. Everyone’s being evaluated every game in the NHL whether you’re winning or losing. I think we have to make sure we take a big approach here and we look at all areas. There will be some change but we won’t make those to the end of the year.

Campbell asks another insightful question here about what Nicholson is specifically looking for to close out the year. Nicholson very adamantly says that they’re looking into the locker room to ensure that the team has a winning attitude and then he finishes off by explicitly saying there will be change.

Amber: It’s such a passionate fanbase here getting to interact with some of the fans. What’s the message to the fans? Preaching patience is great but for a lot lot of them they’re saying it’s been so long now since we’ve tasted what we want.

Nicholson: This is my third year. We had a great year last year. But we did change coaches a lot here and we did make a lot of changes. I really feel that when you make a change, make sure you make a better change, don’t just make change for change. We’re not to that point to make the change but we will be here at some time… The fans will buy-in if they can understand the plan once we make those changes.

David Amber asks about the message to the fanbase, who are clearly irritated with the step back in success from last year. Nicholson mentions how it’s his third year in the organization and before that there was a lot of movement in personnel, and he specifically mentions coaching. He doesn’t want to make a change for the sake of making a change, which is what you obviously expect him to say.

But then comes the interesting part. “We’re not to that point to make the change but we will be here at some time…” Hmmmm. After dropping that line about soon being ready for a change, he quickly jumps to saying that the fans will get on board with it so long as they understand the plan. So there’s going to be a change, we don’t know what it is, but given the fact coaching kind of got blurted out in the answer, that’s where they’re looking. That’s just my interpretation, though.

MacLean: Connor McDavid starts a new contract. $12 million. Draisaitl, $8.5 million. Salary cap ramifications in the next few years will be a challenge.

Nicholson: I think we’re okay on the salary cap. The salary cap is going to continue to go up. It all starts with you want to have two good centres and we have those two. It starts in goal. Cam hasn’t been great this year and Cam will be the first guy to tell you that. We think Cam will get back to where he was so we aren’t too far off with the key pieces.

The last Oilers-related thing comes in the form of Doug MacLean asking about salary cap implications of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Nicholson brushed it off largely by saying that the salary cap was going to go up, but then, sort of unprompted, he goes on and says Cam Talbot hasn’t been good, which is true, and that they expect him to be better. Ultimately, Nicholson appeared confident in the team’s core of two good centres and Talbot in goal.

In summary…

Sooooo… all in all that was kind of your standard intermission, national television interview. You aren’t going to get much out of Nicholson in something like this but I feel like he unintentionally dropped a couple of hints in-between his non-committal, public relations non-answers.

The biggest one, like I said, was the “We’re not to that point to make the change but we will be here at some time” line that really hints that there’s something brewing here. It seemed that he was suggesting they’re comfortable giving Peter Chiarelli time to address the issue, there’s faith in the core, and the step back this year is partially due to the team exceeding expectations last year, but this line about getting to a point to make the change is very ominous. The fact Nicholson mentions coaching specifically in that answer when talking about the absurd amount of turnover the organization has seen is somewhat telling, I find.

What say you, Nation? Is there anything interesting here? Am I looking too far into it? Or am I missing something?



  • corky

    Standard interview with cliches and politician like answers. Im sure Katz asks hard questions. Pebble beach or torrey pines next round Bob? Someone needs to roast these guys and not stop until some real answers are given. But that is a pipedream.

      • RJ

        Connor, Drai, Nuge and Nurse don’t suck.

        Larsson doesn’t suck but the price to acquire him did and does. I don’t mind Puljujarvi or Slepyshev at all but their handling and usage sucks.

        I’m in the fence re: Aberg, but I think he was a good bet.

        I don’t mind the anthem singer and Joey Moss is a hero.

        • fasteddy

          Pulj sucks…let’s face it. Kid has talent coming out his ears but he might be the least effective player in the league right now. Of course one of the periods last night, (I think 2nd), both he and Bear on in last min….great coaching

    • Ginbaby

      I do love how this fan base is made up of people who are acutely aware of how incompetent every professional in this organization because they coach atom hockey or played midget AA. Bob Nicholson is a busoness person, he runs the BUSINESS. Just keep firing everyone every year because that has been so effective.

      • Beut

        I am a fan. I don’t coach hockey. I do manage a business. If I have the wrong person in charge, bad things happen. Hiring the wrong person and then keeping him there, despite the continuous damage that he does, just to have continuity is absurd.

      • RJ

        The 1974-75 Washington Capitals have the record for the fewest points in NHL history (21) and the fewest wins in NHL history (8).

        If the Oilers end up with a worse PK at home than the 1974-75 Capitals, you’re really ok with bringing back the assistant coaches who manage the special teams?

        Something else that’s probably also historic. Say the Oilers finish 31st on the PP and McDavid wins the Art Ross. These are both possibilities at this point. You’re really prepared to keep the assistant coaches who oversaw this? Let’s say the Oilers finish 28th in PP% and McDavid finishes top-5 in scoring. You’d still bring back the assistant coaches?

      • Serious Gord

        Nicholson had very little experience relevant to running an nhl hockey op. At his age the job was a retirement present.

        What Fogs and foks have been fired since he was put in charge?

    • That's My Point

      A good coach can turn this team around instantly.

      Look at what Torts did in Columbus overnight.

      Just sitting and waiting while playing Lucic on the 1st line and Cammalleri with his TWO goals on the season on the 2nd line instead of giving the younger players experience is insanity.

      Get someone in NOW to evaluate the team so they know who to keep and who to sign in the off-season.

  • Mr.Snrub

    With the OBC in charge i expect the following this summer…

    >Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan along with his staff are retained
    >Ryan Strome resigns for 5 years/$20 Million
    >Ryan Nugent-Hopkins,Jesse Puljujärvi and Oscar Klefbom are traded for a 3rd line winger, 3rd pairing defensive prospect on his ELC and a couple AHL pluggers
    >Sign a unrestricted free agent defenseman to a too long too rich deal (Mike Green,Ian Cole,Zdeno Chara?!)
    >Kailer Yamamoto opens the season on the 2nd line after putting up 3 assists in the preseason
    >Anton Slepyshev leaves for the KHL while Iiro Pakarinen leaves for the Finnish Elite League
    >Cam Talbot & Al Montoya return as our # 1/2 goaltenders
    >Plan another 80’s team reunion
    >Golf Trip with Katz, no make that 2 golf trips with Katz

      • OilersGM

        Idiots like you don’t like hearing people that make sense. He is not a troll but you on the other hand are. Idiots like you oilerjed get me fired up and how ON let dumb asses like post is unbelievable. Get the fu@k outa here.

        • oilerjed

          Really? constantly making negative statements just to her your self doesn’t mean you are making sense. Nor does saying the same thing you hear others say. As for ON letting me post, guess not using foul language and insulting other ON commenters with childish names earns me some tolerance for calling out negativity like MR Bung, yourself and others like to write. Been here for awhile now and don’t plan on going anywhere thanks.

          • OilersGM

            I make negative comments in self defence when you make comments suggesting I have no pro hockey management experience, how do you know me so well? Don’t make comments based on what being blind.

          • oilerjed

            “I make negative comments in self defence when you make comments suggesting I have no pro hockey management experience, how do you know me so well? Don’t make comments based on what being blind.”
            So Are you saying you have Pro hockey management experience?
            I know, I’m just egging you on now. How about we agree that you are unnecessarily negative and leave it at that.
            Me, i’m just hoping that we can move the hockey discussions on here past “Chia sucks. TMac sucks..Fire them………” and get on with some intelligent conversations that aren’t high jacked by trolls.

      • MrBung

        I will give it a rest when this team stops being a lottery team. The organization that needs to give losing a rest is The Oil. 11 out of 12 years now…who is really the broken record? If you don’t like what I have to say then don’t respond to it.

        • oilerjed

          You just don’t get it, you don’t have to be happy about how the team is doing but if you can’t help but write ridiculously bitter comments endlessly until your team is winning maybe you should stop watching sports and take up a new hobby.

          • OilersGM

            You want to have hockey conversations that’s fine we can have a dialogue but don’t come out swinging and assuming things. I gave my opinion on a subject, you can disagree that’s fine not everyone has to agree.
            Just because you don’t like my opinion doesn’t at all make you better or smarter than me. just know that when replying to others going forward.

  • Svart kaffe

    “this certainly doesn’t ease much of the speculation that Gretzky is pulling strings behind the curtain here because nobody seems to be able to explain exactly what he does.”

    Wayne’s not pulling any strings. The reason nobody knows what he does is because he doesn’t really do anything except show up before the crowd and sponsors, shake hands with people looking to invest and so on. He’s there as a famous face even non-hockey fans recognize to lend some glamour to events.

  • OilersGM

    I have no faith what so ever in Nicklson, Chiarelli or McLellan.
    He says he has a plan but doesn’t put it in concrete what the plan is beside bringing back the manager and the coach which doesn’t change anything and doesn’t guarantee a better season next year. The only guarantee is they trade some other assets like Nuge or Klefbom for someone like Krug and put this team in a deeper hole than they already are in.
    When Nicklson can’t see how bad management and coaches have been means to me he is incapable of leading.

    • oilerjed

      Did it ever occur to you that you, being the one with ZERO Pro Hockey management experience, that just maybe you don’t have a clue what you are talking about? Frustration is one thing but listening to people talk about how much better they could run an NHL team is getting really tiring. Mistakes or not, these guys are far more prepared to make the decisions and live with the results then any one of us on comment boards.

      • Big Nuggets

        I don’t think so. I think the only real asset that these hockey experts have is personal connections throughout the league. You don’t need to be a supposed expert to see the trades and contracts have been bad. Also I can accept a few mistakes from a GM but in such a short period Chia has made numerous bad decisions.

      • Beut

        I’d like to see Chiarelli ‘live with his results’. That would mean unemployment. Not gonna happen. And the fact that they are far more prepared and still make the decisions they do, is even more damning of their management skills. Why has Toronto and left us in the dust in the standings, and have a stockpile of young assets ready to step in? Because they are well managed. But hey, I’m sure Chiarelli will have a great summer this time. 4th time lucky eh?

        • oilerjed

          This has been a season where EVERYTHING that could go wrong went wrong. PP/PK were terrible. Multiple players that there was noway to predict are having terrible seasons. Bad calls, hit posts, deflections in our own net…..Etc are all reasons the record is as bad as it is. Even with the Chia trades you hate so much, if even two of the above don’t happen this year has a completely different tone to it. So while the record speaks for itself it doesn’t tell you everything.

  • deferoiler

    Boy wouldnt it be nice if we had a management group that actually told us were this team was going. At least the Rangers publicly came out and stated they are committed to a rebuild. This whole “evaluating the team” is total crap and they know that. You should be constantly evaluating your team or you’re not doing your job. Im losing my patience as the same cliche answers get tossed around. Connor deserves a managment group that will do everything in its power to plan a winning team. Cant do that if they are constantly getting the bad end of trades and continue to hire the same Boys Club regime. Enough is enough already….good God 10 years is enough.

  • crabman

    I don’t think it was just the players that were over confident to start the season. Coaches didn’t seem to have the team ready and Chiarelli overestimated roster.

  • Peter Chiarelli

    The Oilers have had a lack of success in drafting and developing younger players, salary cap mismanagement, and players that were traded away have flourished elsewhere. As bad as this looks, Bob has a plan to turn this around. Were going to use Bill Scott’s “lucky socks” at each and every draft lottery. Bill Scott’s socks are going to pull us out of this mess.

  • Nicholson seems like a nice guy.
    I caught the interview last night and as mentioned above, he didn’t say much which is the standard in interviews like that. The part I found most interesting though is this: “We have a plan and we’re going to get it right. The fans will buy in if they can understand the plan once we make those changes.”

    What’s the plan Bob?

    • Beer

      Ok, the fan’s will buy in if the player’s do first, and the standing’s suggest the player’s arn’t buying whatever hokey pokey the coaches and GM are selling.

    • nijames

      Nicholson is a nice guy but comparing running the Oilers to running Hockey Canada is a joke. Lots of people could run Hockey Canada you get to chose from the best players in Canada all the time as opposed to trying to build a team. No comparison one, job any hockey person can be successful at the building a successful NHL organization is difficult and not many can succeed at that.

      • crabman

        @nijames, Nicholson’s job with hockey Canada wasn’t picking the teams. And it had a lot more to do than world championships and Olympics. He was in charge of hockey Canada from the grassroots up. That was the head of a much bigger organization than the Oilers. And besides hiring Chiarelli asGM and POHO, which he did, what is his role in the day to day operation of the team. Chiarelli trades, drafts and signs the players. He hires the coaching staff, and scouting department. I don’t think Chiarelli is doing a good job and his hire is on Nicholson but everything else is on Chiarelli.

  • Serious Gord

    Infuriating.

    Nepotism and cronyism From top to bottom.

    There needs to be a gutting of the executive offices starting with Nicholson. Nicholson’s comments prove that. Wayne being Wayne – what a crock.

    And clearly nothing is going to happen.