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New Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz promises hands-on management

EDMONTON - Daryl Katz, the local pharmacy billionaire expected to be approved as the new owner of the Edmonton Oilers, promised Wednesday to be a hands-on executive who will demand minimal bureaucracy and maximum accountability.

"I believe the Oilers can benefit from that philosophy. Management will be empowered to make decisive decisions very quickly," the 46-year-old said on a conference call.

"We will not spend time with committees and meetings and I personally will be actively involved with senior executives on a day-to-day basis to discuss strategic and other issues."

Katz said he will go forward with a guarantee to keep the Oilers in Edmonton. He added that since he's also trying to help finance a new arena for the NHL franchise, it would be folly to move the team.

"I don't think you build a new building and make this kind of a commitment to a city with a view to moving the team. I just think it's ridiculous speculation," he said.

He declined to assess the current state of the team - which is mired near the bottom of the standings and in danger of missing the playoffs for a second straight season - or speculate on changes he would make.

"It's way premature to talk about any kinds of personnel decisions," Katz said.

"Every GM and coach in the National Hockey League knows there's no such thing as a job for life. At the same time, I think Oilers management are extremely dedicated and talented and have done very well."

On Tuesday, all 34 members of the group that owned the Oilers for a decade - known as the Edmonton Investors Group - agreed to sell Katz all 7,492 of their shares at $22,000 a share in the C$200-million deal.

He has promised to put up $100 million for a new rink, build the team a practice facility and spend the maximum allowed under the salary cap.

He said he'd like to see a new rink "as soon as possible" but will wait for a pending city report that will outline options for a new facility.

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel applauded Katz's commitment, but reiterated that local taxpayers won't foot the bill: "As I've said about two, three, 400 times, we will not put any property tax dollars or grant money into a new arena. We will be glad to find other ways."

The NHL still has to approve the deal, a process that could take weeks or months, but league deputy commissioner Bill Daly has said he expects they will OK it.

Katz - a born and bred Edmontonian who grew up in the city, getting a law degree and launching his pharmacy business while watching the Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers win Stanley Cups in the 1980s - had been trying for close to a year to buy the team in a series of five escalating offers that began last March at C$145 million.

The bids fractured the EIG. A splinter group of owners on the board of directors tried late in the day to match his offer, but fell short over the weekend and finally urged everyone to sell.

The Oilers, a financial mess and in danger of relocating to Houston when the EIG purchased them, are now a success story. Rexall Place is routinely sold out and player salaries - which must be paid out in U.S. dollars - are more manageable now that the Canadian dollar is strong.

Katz's privately owned company, the Katz Group, is the largest retail pharmacy network in Canada and one of the largest chains on the continent. It comprises 1,800 pharmacies and more than 15,000 employees, with annual sales exceeding $7 billion.

Katz said he's friends with many of the Oilers from present and past but that when some members of the EIG approached him last year to buy in, the Katz Group looked first at the bottom line.

"We see a lot of value for us in the Oilers' media assets, and we see a lot of value for our retail brands in becoming a major sponsor of hockey from coast to coast," he said.

"There's nothing like hockey to get to the consumer."


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