Bob Nicholson has more gold than Fort Knox and that winning pedigree needs to be put to better use with the Edmonton Oilers. If the Oilers are going to rebuild, who better to oversee the process than the former president of Hockey Canada?
So Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish was scheduled to meet with the media on Friday morning to “address the Oilers performance through 26 games and take questions.” That promises to be a pleasant exchange of ideas.
By all accounts, MacTavish will not announce either of the two things for which many Oiler fans are clamoring – that he’s firing the coach or he’s making a blockbuster trade to upgrade the roster. In reality, with an 11-game losing streak and the stench of defeat permeating the organization, neither of those would provide much relief. The best thing the Oilers could do now is stay the course and finish in the standings exactly where they are now. That would guarantee them at worst the second overall pick and the best chance at the first, meaning they’d have the opportunity to draft a potential generational superstar in either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Not even the Oilers could screw that up.
MacTavish’s meeting with the media dovetails with a complete forensic analysis that the organization is undergoing at the moment. The team’s brain trust is apparently looking at every aspect of the operation of the team to determine whether systemic changes need to be made.
And as the kids would say, well, duh. The Oilers have been so bad for so long that any owner would be justified in overhauling his organization. They’ve been spoon fed high draft picks that have been squandered, they can spend as much as the NHL’s salary cap allows and they have the financial wherewithal to attract the best hockey people in the business (cough, Mike Babcock, cough). And still they’ve been among the worst teams in the NHL since going to the Stanley Cup final in 2006.
This must change, and dramatically. And the one person to whom owner Darryl Katz should be turning at the moment to do it is Bob Nicholson.
Perhaps you remember Nicholson. He was the man who turned Hockey Canada into a cash cow and gold medal factory before he left to enter the morass of the Oilers front office as something called the vice-chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group. There is some speculation that Nicholson doesn’t hold as much sway as he should, either on the hockey or business side of the organization, but if Katz has any interest in improving his team, that should change.
Katz should be taking advantage of all the experience and acumen Nicholson brings to the organization. After all, what’s the point of asking president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe what’s wrong with the team? Or MacTavish, for that matter? If you’re Katz, wouldn’t you want to have the direct input of a proven winner who has come into the organization from the outside?
Katz should be asking Nicholson what he thinks of how the Oilers are run. He should be asked whether the Oilers would be better served with people other than Lowe and MacTavish in charge. He should be asked what he thinks of Dallas Eakins as the coach. In short, he should be used for more than simply being the front man for the new arena.
When you have one of the best minds in hockey right at your fingertips, you take advantage of that. And if the Oilers front office is the political minefield some outside the organization claim it to be, then Nicholson should be charged with cleaning up the mess. If it’s deemed that the hockey operations people should go, Nicholson has enough names in his contact list to find the best people. And he obviously has an eye for management talent.
Nicholson spent the better part of two decades building Hockey Canada into a gargantuan business operation and he obviously knew what it took to build winning teams. For the Oilers not to allow him to be at the center of any rebuild would be doing a disservice to their fans and underutilizing one of the game’s great consensus builders and keenest hockey minds.
The new arena in Edmonton is well on its way. That should not be Nicholson’s focus at the moment. The team that is going to play in that building is in shambles and desperately needs major changes to all facets of its operations. It’s time to put Nicholson to work doing what he does best.