EDMONTON – Daryl Katz, the reclusive billionaire who now owns the Edmonton Oilers, held a rare news conference Wednesday to talk about his management style and the team’s quest for new talent.
“Decisions will be made very quickly,” the Rexall Pharmacy chain owner said of his involvement with the NHL team. “We instil a vision of limited bureaucracy. We won’t have committee meetings or board meetings.”
Minutes before the news conference, the Oilers latest hopes of landing a marquee forward were dashed when word surfaced that Marian Hossa had signed a one-year deal with Detroit.
But Katz simply smiled as he talked about the excitement of working this week with Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe as they bid for Hossa to give Edmonton some much-needed scoring punch.
“We’ve had a lot of fun,” he said. “The experience of pursuing Marian was great for us and it won’t be the last time.”
Lowe appeared equally pleased with their first major collaboration since Katz took over as team owner.
“As he said to me some weeks ago, ‘Let’s have fun,”‘ said Lowe. “And the last couple of days have been a lot of fun.”
Katz, 46, took over the Oilers franchise in February after all 34 members of the team’s then-ownership group agreed to the US$200-million deal. He received final approval last month from the NHL to purchase the team.
His news conference capped a busy week for the Oilers, who acquired winger Erik Cole from the Carolina Hurricanes for defenceman Joni Pitkanen and also traded for centre Gilbert Brule from Columbus in exchange for rugged winger Raffi Torres.
Head coach Craig MacTavish spoke glowingly of the recent trade that brought defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenceman Matt Greene and forward Jarret Stoll.
“We bring in a player like Lubomir Visnovsky who is a world class defenceman,” said MacTavish. “And then bring in a player like Erik Cole that’s going to be another top six forward.”
“He’s on the last year of his contract, so you’re going to have a highly motivated player.”
Lowe says there is a new enthusiasm in the locker-room with Katz in the owner’s box.
“Our players are energized already with the trades we made,” said Lowe. “We sort of filled in some areas where we needed some strength and a little more consistency.”
Veteran Oiler defenceman Steve Staios says it’s great to see this aggressive approach with free agents and the willingness to make trades to acquire talented players.
“This is taking it to a new level where there’s one committed owner,” Staios told reporters. “I think decisions are going to be easier to make from the top and that will filter down to the on-ice product and instill confidence for us as a team.”
Katz announced Wednesday that Cal Nichols will remain as chairman of the Oilers under the new ownership arrangement. Nichols will also serve as Katz’s alternate on the NHL board of governors.
“I can think of no one better than Cal to represent this team in the community and in the broader hockey world,” said Katz, whose takeover of the team was somewhat fractious.
Nichols says having a single owner will provide the Oilers with more stability in dealing with the players and the other NHL owners.
“I’ve created a lot of babies and brought them to a certain level and eventually had to pass them on to somebody else,” said Nichols. “I like what I see so far.”
Katz has already pledged $100 million towards a proposal to build a new downtown arena. But there was little talk Wednesday about a new arena, especially with regard to possible taxpayer involvement.
“I think it’s far too premature to consider or even look at ways of financing the new facility,” he said.
Katz joked at the start of his first news conference in many months that he had only agreed to hold a “presser” because he mistakenly thought it was some kind of drink, rather than a media conference.
But he also dropped broad hints that his future media appearances would be rare.