Katz pledges 'Elite' Oilers

 

EDMONTON - Daryl Katz, the self-proclaimed biggest fan of the Edmonton Oilers, takes ownership of the team today, with every intention of bringing the fun back to the franchise.

 
 
 

EDMONTON - Daryl Katz, the self-proclaimed biggest fan of the Edmonton Oilers, takes ownership of the team today, with every intention of bringing the fun back to the franchise.

The 47-year-old billionaire shared that message with his management team, the same men who have long run the Oilers -- chairman Cal Nichols, president Patrick LaForge, GM Kevin Lowe and coach Craig MacTavish -- all of whom will continue in their positions.

"I tell Kevin, Patrick and MacT the same thing -- we're going to have a lot of fun," Katz said in his first one-on-one interview since making the deal to buy the team.

"Fun is a great thing, it's better than the alternative," Nichols said, adding he hopes the team can recapture the magic of the 2006 Stanley Cup run.

Cheques have gone out to the previous owners, the 34 members of the Edmonton Investors Group, closing the deal.

Katz said he wants to do something special with the Oilers. Boiled down, he said, his mission is for the Oilers to be an "elite team at the heart of the city."

"I think the city deserves it, and now is the right time. And I think the Oilers franchise deserves it. This is one of the most storied franchises in the league. This team deserves to be an elite team."

Dressed in jeans and a track-suit top, Katz took time out from his deal-making to sit down for an interview in his riverbank mansion overlooking Hawrelak Park.

Various buzzes and beeps constantly sounded from Katz's cellphones and communicators as he talked, a testament to his busy life in business.

He came across as affable, relaxed but focused, and passionate about turning the Oilers into a top team again.

But he was clearly still coming to grips with his latest acquisition.

"It's surreal. The Oilers have a history in the sport that not many teams have. I guess if I look back today, it's a dream come true."

"How many Canadian kids have dreamed to play in the NHL, let alone own an NHL team, so for me it's fantastic. I'm going to continue to be the team's biggest fan."

Katz said when he first thought about buying the Oilers, he studied the existing management team and was impressed.

He talked to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about buying the Oilers in March 2007 and stressed he would do so only if Nichols was part of the equation.

"If it wasn't for Cal, the Oilers wouldn't be in Edmonton," Katz said. "Cal, more than anyone, deserved to continue to be involved."

Nichols, who will stay on as chairman and also take the role of alternate governor at NHL board meetings, said he's glad the management team will remain in place. "I hope it's a good thing ... I think there needs to be a connection between the past and the future."

But Nichols said his role will change. "To me, it comes with less pressure. I don't have any financial skin left in the game."

Nichols said he was impressed with Katz's commitment to the community, especially in regards to plans to build a new downtown arena. "He is stepping up and making this the centrepiece of redevelopment. The whole community prospers from that."

As for Lowe staying on as GM, Katz said, "I don't think there are many guys out there who put as much into the sport as Kevin, from his playing days to his passion today. It's amazing. The guy hates to lose."

Katz didn't know LaForge until recently, but has come to hold him in high regard. The group is also highly regarded around the league. "We are very lucky to have these guys here in Edmonton. We should appreciate it."

Katz said he already has a close working relationship with Lowe, MacTavish and LaForge. "I talked to them sometimes daily. And they are my friends. And we will discuss things, but the ultimate decision on what is going to happen is going to be made by them."

Katz said he will keep a low profile, but will help recruit free-agent players if called upon. "Clearly, one way I can help is by reaching out to potential free agents and by putting a face on the organization and by developing a relationship that is positive and circulates around the league.

"The guys want to have access to the owner. They want to get to know him. They want to know what his vision is. They want to know how he is going to support the team. They want to know that he is going to take care of them."

Katz's living-room has a window seemingly as big as a movie theatre screen that looks out on downtown Edmonton, an area he hopes will be transformed during his ownership with the construction of a new arena.

"I really think there is an opportunity through the Oilers to do great things for the city of Edmonton.

"It is fairly apparent to me that the Edmonton Oilers should be in a state-of-the-art arena at the heart of the city. To me it's a no-brainer, not only for the team, but for the city."

His goal is to help take the city to the next level, he said. "I don't know if I would have had the same enthusiasm for the transaction but for the opportunity to build a new arena and to revitalize downtown. "I think it's the right time for the city and I think, in my opinion, somebody had to step up or I'm not sure it would have got done."

Katz stands by his commitment to put $100 million into a new building. He now plans to dedicate a team on his staff to have the building project move forward.

"I'd like to see the team get into a new arena as soon as possible. Life is short enough as it is.

"Life is over in a blink of an eye. I'm 47. I think it was yesterday I was 18. It's over like that. So we don't have any time to waste. That is a personal philosophy. We want to move forward quickly and try to accomplish as much as we can in as short a period of time as we can."

dstaples@thejournal.canwest.com

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice
Was the NHL right to cancel the Senators-Leafs game?
 
Yes, it was the only thing
No, the terrorists win
Hard to say
Who cares about hockey at a time like this?