Game Notes Kings @ Oilers: Finding Leadership

We are two weeks away from another “important off-season” in Edmonton Oilers history. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Oilers should not be closer to the draft lottery than a playoff spot, but that’s their reality. A new GM will be hired, followed by a new coach. But what about other changes. Will there be actual change to the management core. They traded some core players away, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle,  during Peter Chiarelli’s tenure and it was a massive failure.

It is time to change the core of the management team. Will it happen? I asked Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chair of the Oilers Entertainment Group Bob Nicholson.

You can listen to the entire interview here, but I want to focus on a few specific things we discussed. Mainly about the management team and overall direction of the club.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

1. Nicholson spoke a few weeks ago about hiring a GM who would fit with the Oilers culture. So I asked: What does he see as the Oilers culture?

“I’m really taking my time over the last month to talk to a lot of NHL general managers, executives in the NHL, talked to a lot of people in Europe about the different structures of their hockey departments and also what are the key ingredients they feel make a real good general manager.

“As you look at it today the hockey operations is a lot different than it was ten or fifteen years ago and things have adjusted. It’s been really worthwhile and when I looked back over the history of the Oilers, they haven’t really done a GM search, so this has been really good for me individually and I think that it’s going to be really beneficial for the organization. Not just when we name this General Manager, but hopefully long term.”

2. He didn’t really answer the question, so I followed up stating whatever the current culture is, it isn’t working. When I asked again what changes he wanted in regards to culture he mentioned leadership and supporting players. My concern with the use of the word culture, is that is you do not directly outline what it is then it won’t improve. The Oilers have a losing culture in every aspect of the organization: Management, pro scouting and on ice results. None have been good enough. How will it improve? I didn’t get a direct answer to that unfortunately.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

3. Is Nicholson set on just hiring a GM or will they look at hiring a President of Hockey Operations as well?

“Right now what we are looking at is the general manager, but the key is, and it’s a good question, how do we build this department out? And it’s not just about the general manager. As you go through the general manager search you look at all of the various components of what is involved in the hockey operations. There is the pro scouting, the amateur scouting, the European scouting, the free agents scouting and then there is the developing your prospects and the draft. So there is a lot of those departments that you have to look at, and it’s been good because I’ve gathered a lot of information right now and when I start to do the interviews, each person is going to come in and give me a proposal on how they want to run the Edmonton Oilers. And out of all of that you might get some information that you can even add to the general manager that you hire to help make us better,” said Nicholson.

4. This response should give Oilersnation some hope considering Edmonton has never done an extensive GM search, and missed out on learning how those outside the organization view them. The biggest advantage the new GM will have is Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. He can build around those two, and early on he just needs to find complementary wingers, not elite ones. Ideally you want elite wingers, but the first step to being competitive should be to find consistent, solid vets. The biggest challenge will be altering how the organization reacts and adapts to the NHL. They have too many people currently in the organization who have shown an inability to assess what type of pro players succeed in today’s NHL. That must change.

5. I asked Nicholson if he is expecting more changes in management and that it just won’t be Peter Chiarelli paying the price for the failures of some trades, signings and pro player evaluations. Will the new GM have the freedom to make the changes he deems necessary, both on the ice, but also within the off-ice management group?

“That certainly is something that we’re going to talk about with the new general manager. Let me make one thing very clear, the new GM will have the say in what he wants to do with the hockey operations. I’m going to make sure that there is some key components, and that I’m on the same page with him, but when he comes in, as Peter Chiarelli…to your listeners out there, there were questions and suggestions that, there were a lot of people pulling the various strings around Peter Chiarelli. That is not true. Peter Chiarelli had the final say and so will the new GM,” said Nicholson.

6. It is hard to believe that is 100% accurate considering outside of Keith Gretzky, Chiarelli didn’t bring in a lot of people in upper management. Maybe he didn’t want to, but you do wonder why he didn’t. I realize you don’t have to toss out every individual, but this time around there needs to be some changes. The current regime hasn’t worked. Either they agreed with Chiarelli’s moves, or didn’t voice their opposition to the bad trades loud enough. Either way, that isn’t good in my eyes. I just don’t see how Duane Sutter, Scott Howson, Craig MacTavish and Bob Green can all remain with the organization. There has to be some changes. I’m not privy to the inner workings of the team, but it is clear that their collective decisions were not good enough. Results matter more than perception. The truth is this management group has not come close to having the success they should have had over the past four years.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

7. Some will debate how much analytics can tell you, but I don’t think there is any debate that they should be a regular part of your NHL team. I asked Nicholson, “Why was your organization not as heavily invested as others on the analytics side?”

“Yeah, excellent question and that is something that we talked about when he first came in. When Peter first came in we were probably ahead of the curve in that department. There was criticism that at that time maybe we were using too much of that or using it (analytics) in a way that we shouldn’t have. We had analytics here with Peter, but our usage of them go smaller and it certainly is something we are going to talk about with the new GM. I’ve already had a discussion with a lot of teams of how they use analytics and a lot of the teams are all different. So there are different models out there, but you need them and I really look forward to listening to the potential general managers talk about what their philosophy is, what they’re working in and what their ideas are.”

8. Using too much of it? That must have been coming from within, not externally, because I’ve never read that anywhere, so to me that is another reason why there needs to be more change within the management team. Their belief systems are not conducive to winning in today’s NHL.

9. At the end of the interview I circled back to management and future changes. Here is the interaction.

Gregor: The biggest frustration  I sense from all of the fans who I interact with on my show, at the arena or online is they feel there needs to be more change in the management group. Are you confident there will be a significant, and I don’t know that that number will be, but changes other than just the GM? That there will be other changes in the management and the pro scouting by the time this (GM hiring) process is over?

Nicholson: I’d be very surprised if there isn’t, and as I’ve stated a couple of times that will be the new general manager’s responsibilities, but he’s going to have to get an overview on where I see the organization today. Whether he takes immediate action on a lot or comes in and does that over a time period… I think that we will get through that as we get through the interview process and the type of person that we would hire.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Gregor: You’ve seen the inner workings of the pro scouts much more than I have, so isn’t it safe to say that they haven’t done a good enough job, and there has to be some other people held accountable?

Nicholson: Yeah, there are two sides, there may be even three sides to that. You have to evaluate Peter Chiarelli, did Peter Chiarelli do some of those trades in isolation, how much did he use those pro scouts? Did the pro scouts bring players to the team and into the roster and the coach didn’t use them the way that they thought he would. Certainly it’s an area that has a huge red flag on it. But that’s as deep as I’m going to go now until we get further along the way.

Gregor: When you watched the last 18 months, or two years unfold, and you look at some of those trades, and there were a lot of them that right away people were like, ‘what, that was the trade?’ So how was that able to happen? Because ultimately, I know that you said you hire people and let them do their job, but it’s still under your watch. How much responsibility do you take for that and what do you say to the fans who are thinking,  ‘how can we be certain that won’t happen again?’

Nicholson: I can tell you that I’ll take responsibility for that. I can tell you that this isn’t an excuse, I think that I have nine executives who report to myself and I have to spend much more time on the hockey side.

10. I realize the executives report to Nicholson, but that is why I suspect in the future we they will hire a POHO, someone who has more of a hockey background. Nicholson has an extensive background in the business of hockey, but not in the evaluation aspect of it. That is fine. The business side is massively important, but it requires a different skill set. I won’t be surprised if we see a POHO in Edmonton within a few years. You could make a case they should have one now, but many teams have hired a GM successfully without having a POHO. Also the nine executives include the hockey side and the business side in case you are wondering.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

11. Without question this is the most important hire of Nicholson’s tenure in Edmonton. The Oilers can’t afford to make a mistake, and I really hope the new GM changes the direction and thought process of the entire hockey operations department. Change is needed.

12. The Los Angeles Kings hired Luc Robitaille as President and Rob Blake as GM and Assistant President on April 10th, 2017. The Kings made the playoffs last season, but were swept four straight by Vegas and currently sit in 30th place in the NHL. The difference between the Kings and the Oilers is right now the Oilers’ best players are under 25. They are just hitting their prime, while the Kings won two Cups in 2012 and 2014 and their best players are now older. They will have to re-tool around Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar.

13. The Kings have a lot of money tied up in older players.

Player                 Age (next year)     Term        Cap hit        Totals this year
Dustin Brown               35               3years      $5.875m       20-25-45 in 64GP
Jeff Carter                    34               3years      $5.272m        12-18-30 in 68GP
Ilya Kovalchuk             36               2years       $6.25m         14-17-31 in 60GP
Dion Phaneuf              34               2years       $5.25m          1-4-5 in 62GP

Brown has had a solid season, but the rest have really under performed. Blake signed Kovalchuk, which was a big head-scratcher at the time. He traded Phaneuf for Marian Gaborik last season and inherited Brown and Carter. Carter might be tradeable because he can still skate, but he was injured last season and doesn’t look nearly as good this year. It is tough to re-tool your team when you have over $22 million in aging players. The Oilers have 15 million in Lucic, Sekera and Russell. I do believe Russell is tradeable with his contract and his skating ability. Starting in June there will be ten teams the Oilers can trade him to without his consent, and I suspect there are some other teams he’d agree to go to as well.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

14. Would Milan Lucic waive his NMC to go back to LA. Would the Kings entertain a deal for Kovalchuk? Lucic only had 5-13-18 and he has four years remaining on his $6million cap hit. Kovalchuk isn’t on this road trip with the Kings, instead he is in LA working with their skills coach. Kings head coach Willie Desjardins hasn’t be enamoured with Kovalchuk’s play. Now, Desjardins might not be back next season, so it might be a moot point, but maybe Rob Blake is looking to fix a signing. Lucic has two more seasons in his deal, so Edmonton might have to sweeten the pot for LA to consider it. But I do wonder if the framework for a deal is there. Lucic has to waive his NMC in order to make a deal and LA is a place he’d waive it to.



From peewee to the pros, Albertans loves the atmosphere, energy, and life lessons that take place at rinks across the province. And where there’s an arena, you’ll find an ATB branch nearby—with our team members cheering and fundraising along with you. See more information at ATB.com.

Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 3/26/2019 – 7:00 am MT

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Gary

    Sounds and looks like a politician, dodges questions and has that far, far away look in his eyes. He’s lost, totally lost. These are not the ramblings of a winner and a strong leader, he’s under qualified and way over his head here.

    • Cody Black

      I don’t necessarily see a problem with that. It happens in most industries, you hobnob with your peers and share info. I would imagine most teams do this to some degree, the optics are bad because it’s Edmonton.

    • Svart kaffe

      Out of all the tools to evaluate an executive the look in his eyes must be the worst one. I hope he uses other parameters when he eventually hires our new GM.

    • Oilers culture is a losing one and shall remain so as the culture for management is you must be a butt kissing sycophant with no real authority, be unqualified for the job you are gifted, and given many years, even though the evidence points to nothing but abject failure. AND THEY ARE GOING DOWN THIS ROAD AGAIN.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      I think what your seeing is old Bob doesn’t honestly know the answer to the question, look at the culture question twice asked twice Gregor got the Ottawa two Step. Bob doesnt know, he talks about cultuire but cant even define it, that tells me the man isnt right for the job. Hockey canada is a great program and I think while there is pressure there it isnt what you see in the NHL, you already have assembled the cream of the crop to make a team, coaches staff etc and your only assembling teams for a short window. NHL teams are trying to assemble mgmt coaches staff players prospects etc for now and the future it is a totally different beast I think Bob is just a little lost in the process, its unfamiliar to him. Great to use buzz words like culture not so great if you cant even back them up and believe in what you say.

      If Bob is a serious candidate for the IIHF job and they want him , I say let him go, he isnt the man to lead the charge. The Oilers have a long history of putting people in jobs and then those same folks not living up to the hype

      • VK63

        Hockey Canada’s mandate is grassroots growth of the game. By that metric it is not a great program, its an elitist mess masked by the optics generated by world stage success.

        • Derzie

          Ironic in that Alberta can also be described this way. With oil prices dropped, the mess is laid bare for all to see. Steering a high end ship on smooth waters is easy. Dingy in a hurricane, not so much.

      • polarcap

        Dallas is right … buzz words like “winning culture” forensic audit, bottom up reviews have lost their meaning and represent a failure to communicate. A wise man said culture is hard to define, but when it exists its like electricity, you may not see it but you can feel it. The concept of one may rule is becoming outdated. Modern organizations, build in diversity of ideas, with processes used to build consensus among the parties. Modern executives are generally subject to periodic oversight and direction. Criteria (metrics) are establish to provide constant feedback on success and failure. The idea that PC could go three years without a changing course would happen if the oilers Nicholson had in put in place measurable long term and short term milestones or targets at the outset.

  • KPUZ

    Am I the only one that is horrified that Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chair of the Oilers Entertainment Group Bob Nicholson has to ask other organizations what are the makings of a good GM?

    For what reason did the Oiler’s owner and upper management hire him in the first place? Maybe I am wrong but he seems to be nothing more than a puppet for those higher up.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Yeah, I’ll bet that there are more than a few chuckles in among the other NHL teams Gm’s and management… it’s actually quite pathetic…
      “Now, what do I do”… so sad. What makes it even sadder is the fact that the Oilers Fan-base is one of the top five in the league, when you look at ticket sales.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          That will definitely get his attention. Until then, his team is golden. Would any business person make changes to a cash cow that keeps producing… The Oiler’s management is doing a fantastic job, business wise… No (and I don’t care what business you’re in) owner would change a thing, other than give the management accolades & promotion. On a business level they are earning it, no one can deny that.
          Making money for the owner is what they are hired to do.

          • Kool-Aid Man

            Exactly, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

            It’s a long time coming for the fans to break this insidious cycle. If the owner ices a team worth paying for then the fans will come back. No one should want to come to the games, pay that kind of moneyand watch McDavid lose almost every night. Teir 2 fans can do that at home for what it costs for the monthly Sportsnet package.

        • Odanada

          You don’t get where Katz is in life without being highly competitive.
          Katz must be embarrassed when he sees other owners with teams far more competitive than his.

        • Derzie

          True but people aren’t handing out the ‘good stuff’. They’ll talk about common knowledge stuff but not trade secrets. Oilers not knowing ‘common knowledge stuff’ shows they have been completely on an island for years. Something, or someone woke them up this time. They are crawling out of the cave, blinking at the bright sun, but they are still cavemen when it comes to hockey & business knowledge. This feels like another 10 years of pain ion the making.

  • dsanchez1973

    Can’t imagine Kovalchuk would possibly agree to being traded to Edmonton.

    As for Nicholson, I have nothing to say. I have zero confidence he’s the right guy to lead us to a winning team, and nothing he’s said recently has moved that needle off of sitting square on that zero.

  • rnj

    Culture to me is defined as prioritizing a certain set of values. Even if you were BSing your way through the interview it would’ve been so easy if you know what the word means

    ‘We want a culture of work ethic here in Edmonton. People don’t work hard if they aren’t held accountable, so we’re going to start there by removing players and personnel who have not performed up to the standards of our organization. The message needs to be clear: if you come to Edmonton, you have to pull your weight.”

      • rnj

        Accountability doesn’t mean public call outs. It means the people in your organization point out an issue and work with you to resolve it. If you don’t put in the effort or are incapable, you get your ice time cut, get scratched, and eventually let go.

        Right now I don’t know what’s happening but it isn’t accountability. Optics matter – if I’m going to the Edmonton Oilers for a job I tell my buddies I landed an easy gig. That’s not how you want your club to be perceived.

  • Hemmercules

    I predict they hire a GM less than a week before the draft and it will be a guy no one expects. The new GM then trades Nuge for a winger and a prospect and loses the deal. Any prospects that are even close to decent get thrown to the wolves on the NHL team next year due to lack of actual NHL players. Bobby will force the new GM to keep Mact and Howson and Lowe will stay upstairs doing whatever he does. Hitch will either be let go or promoted to POHO and they will hire a coach that has never coached an NHL team before.

    All of the above is what “Oilers Culture” truly is. I will be back at draft time to hopefully see that my predictions are totally wrong and the team has actually made some steps to becoming respectable again.

      • Hemmercules

        You know its coming.

        Katz hasn’t learned anything or doesn’t care. Personally, I would have shown Bobby the door immediately after that Reider fiasco. The organization is already a joke and then they are in the media for all the wrong reasons, again. I would venture to guess that Edmonton is in the top 3 most undesirable NHL destinations right now and that wont change until they clean house and start winning. It’s going to take at least a couple years to right the ship roster wise. It will take even longer to gain respect in the NHL again and draw any sort of free agents that aren’t ridiculous overpays.

  • hagar

    Its interesting that they say they are trying to fix things they should have done differently in the past. For example saying the Oilers have never done a proper gm search…
    If they are admitting that they didnt do things properly over the last 13 years, why in the heck are the same people in charge of trying to fix it now?
    Do they believe they can eventually make enough mistakes to learn what works and what doesn’t, then become successful from the lessons?

    • Hemmercules

      They already tried the mistakes strategy. The did nothing but make mistakes for years coming off that playoff run in 2006 and are still making the same ones. The game changed on them a couple years ago and they missed that too. It feels like it isn’t even reality when you see that the guys upstairs have been with the team through 3 rebuilds. No other NHL team would touch these morons and yet here they are, shuffling positions, making terrible moves and keeping their jobs. Does Mact, Greene, Howsen or Lowe get an NHL job elsewhere if they ever get let go? I strongly doubt it.

      • hagar

        No they wouldn’t. Make no mistake, people all around the NHL know they are the problem. A couple nhl players I played with growing up told me flat out everyone knows they are a joke.
        Its beyond speculation, there is no way anyone would hire them.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    On moving management & making changes to the front office, Nicholson says: “I’d be very surprised if there isn’t (any changes), and as I’ve stated a couple of times that will be the new general manager’s responsibilities, but he’s going to have to get an overview on where I see the organization today.”
    The new GM’s responsibility to change the front office? (WTF) If this comes out in the interview process by a prospective GM, do you really think that Nicholson will hire him? The Oilers are doomed, as this is a vicious circle. If it were politics, it’d be almost like a conflict of interest? Why would anyone hire someone that would affect their own future in a negative way. To do the right things for this team, will negatively affect the people doing the hiring… Sooo, there we have it…

  • Spydyr

    Fast forward three years and Burger Bob will say the reason they missed the playoffs is Lucic has not lived up to his contract.

    Same old ,same old.

    The Katz curse continues.

  • Spydyr

    Oilers culture?

    Do they want a GM that misses the playoffs almost every year?

    Does the Gm need a good golf game?

    Does the GM have to answer to the OBC?

    Of course he does.

  • camdog

    Nicholson “I’m going to hire a GM that fits in with the guys we already have in place – that GM will have 100% control of the team”

    Sounds just like what the Oilers did when they hired PC. If PC keeps playing nice with Nicholson’s Boys would he still be the Oilers GM? It wasn’t performance that got PC fired, it was turning his back on the Old Boys.

  • Oiler Al

    Interviewing Nicholson, is like talking to a politician…..a lot lip flapping and no answers!He dosnt deserve any mic or camera time.Ignoring him would be no loss.Oiler… a circus run by clowns.Tragic.

  • That's My Point

    Kings have $88,000,000.00 tied up in the 2nd WORST D-man in the NHL.
    Doughty will start making $11,000,000.00 per year in 2020 for the next 8 years until 2028 when he’s 39 years old.
    He’s currently 2nd worst in +/- in the league.
    I thought the Oilers were bad a cap management.

      • That's My Point

        What’s the POINT of paying a player to LOSE AFTER you’ve won???
        Pay the player to WIN the CUP, then fix your team with good players once again to WIN AGAIN.
        Why pay HUUUUGE money for a BUM!? for 8 years???
        Try to win again not wallow at the bottom with boat anchor contracts.
        After 27 years old players have peaked.

  • What the

    BN is an older gentleman. In his era, culture was not often considered or talked about. It’s really become more prevalent in the last 10-15 years.

    The way BN answered your first two questions, first by talking about his search, and second by talking about skills and leadership of the players, I’d say BN does not understand what culture is and why it’s important.

    He missed the point, and if he hires the next GM, he’ll miss that mark again too.

  • Derzie

    Interview was a complete waste of air. We know 2 things about OBC & Nicholson:
    1. They have no idea what they are doing
    2. See number 1

    I can’t find the link but I recall when Treliving & Chiarelli were first hired, TSN did pre-season interviews. I remember watching them thinking ‘here are 2 guys that could not be more different’. Tre came across as thoughtful, eloquent and sharp. Chia came across as dopey, clunky & dull. I remember thinking: we’ll see how this plays out.

    THAT interview proved to be a spot on predictor of results. This one with Bobby will be one to check back on in the future. Can a leopard change its spots? Odds are stacked heavily against it.