EDMONTON – Former Hockey Canada top executive Bob Nicholson is joining the Edmonton Oilers to oversee business operations, promising to take a scalpel—not a bulldozer—to the struggling NHL franchise.
“There are a lot of things that are going very well in this organization. I’m not coming in here to rip things apart,” Nicholson told reporters Friday.
“I know what Hockey Canada was when I started, and I know where this (Oilers) organization is today.
“There are huge challenges, but I think there could be something very special in this city.”
Oilers owner Daryl Katz was not at the news conference, a not unusual occurrence for the reclusive pharmacy magnate.
Nicholson’s hiring is part of a corporate reorganization for Katz’s sports entertainment properties.
Under the newly named Oilers Entertainment Group, or OEG, Katz will be chairman while former Oiler Kevin Lowe and Nicholson will be vice-chairmen.
Lowe will continue to be in charge of hockey operations while Nicholson will handle the business side—but both said they expect the other to help out across the board.
Patrick LaForge remains in charge of day-to-day business operations as president and chief operating officer.
Nicholson spent 16 years as president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada, officially stepping down May 31.
Canadian hockey teams excelled under his watch, winning numerous championships including seven Olympic gold medals.
Lowe and Nicholson worked closely on Canada’s Olympic teams, and Nicholson said that relationship was a key reason he signed up with the Oilers.
“The relationship that I have with Kevin, and the one that I’ve really developed with Daryl over the last little bit, had a big part,” said Nicholson.
“I had a great job with Hockey Canada. I didn’t have to rush into anything. I was going to play a little more golf.
“But when you get a chance to work with the right people in the right organization, the time was right to join the Oilers.”
Lowe said Nicholson has already started delivering ideas on the hockey side.
“Yesterday Bob sat in on pro scouting meetings and was engaged with the scouts,” said Lowe.
“He’ll be as involved as much as we can get him, and I know that will be a massive addition to this organization.
“He’s as passionate about fixing the Oilers as we all are.”
In addition to the Oilers, OEG owns the 2014 Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL), the Oklahoma City Barons (AHL) and the Bakersfield Condors (ECHL).
Lowe said more franchises are part of the long-term game plan.
“Hopefully we’ll acquire more in the future years,” he said.
“(I’m) not predicting anything, but we know that our owner has great vision.”
The Oilers and the City of Edmonton have also broken ground on a new downtown arena that is slated to open for the start of the 2016-17 season.
Nicholson joins a franchise and a fan base desperate for success.
The Oilers have missed the playoffs every year since advancing to the Stanley Cup final in 2006. The team has been criticized for sub par scouting and poor player development, failing to rebuild the team despite having three of the last four first-overall draft picks.
Other changes are underway.
Earlier this week, the team announced Craig Ramsay will join Dallas Eakins’ coaching staff to handle the defence and power play.
Assistant coach Kelly Buchberger will move over to player development.