Cam Cole: Oilers welcome new Boss of Hockey

 

Ex-Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, with Connor McDavid in tow, will be change agents for stumbling franchise

 
 
 
 
Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson (left) listens while new president and general manager Peter Chiarelli speaks during a news conference in Edmonton, on Friday, April 24, 2015.
 
 

Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson (left) listens while new president and general manager Peter Chiarelli speaks during a news conference in Edmonton, on Friday, April 24, 2015.

Photograph by: JASON FRANSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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NEW YORK — Did you feel that, Edmonton?

Bob Nicholson just opened the window a crack, and let some fresh air in.

And then Peter Chiarelli, the man he hired as general manager and president of hockey operations — in short, as The Boss of Hockey — pushed it open a little wider.

And suddenly, with Connor McDavid soon to be in their hip pocket, the Edmonton Oilers no longer look like the Keystone Kops, perpetually doomed to take seven wrong turns and end up in the ditch while trying to get from Point A to Point B.

It has yet to be proven, of course, that the Oilers’ dark ages are behind them just because Nicholson, the CEO and vice-chair, has made the initial move to break up the franchise’s nepotistic culture by shifting Kevin Lowe sideways, cutting Craig MacTavish off at the knees and bringing in the man who led the Boston Bruins’ hockey operation for the last eight years.

But if you can think of two franchises further apart on the philosophical spectrum than the Oilers and Bruins — not just lately, but from the beginning of Edmonton’s major professional hockey lifetime — we’d be happy to hear of them.

It didn’t take a detective to catch the clues in Chiarelli’s initial message at his introductory news conference Friday:

He has traded young players before (see Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin), and isn’t afraid to do it again;

The Oilers play fast, but not hard, and he wants to instill a “heavier” style of play;

He believes that the change to a heavier game comes from the coach, more so than from adding players.

So the head coach is the next tumbler to fall, and the new guy, who will replace Todd Nelson who replaced Dallas Eakins who replaced Ralph Krueger who replaced Tom Renney who replaced Pat Quinn — and that’s just in the last five years — will also be someone Chiarelli picks from outside the Oilers’ poisoned well.

Chiarelli wasn’t out of work 10 days after being fired by the Bruins for missing the playoffs for the first time in his Boston tenure.

It was quick work by Nicholson, the former Hockey Canada CEO, to snap him up, and Chiarelli didn’t waste any time signing on the dotted line.

He’d have gotten other offers, to be sure, but when the Oilers won the draft lottery, and the right to pick McDavid — who Wayne Gretzky predicted will be the best player to come into the league in 30 years (though he wisely revised that to list Sidney Crosby as the exception) — everything changed for Edmonton as a destination.

Not that anyone is mistaking it for the Paris of the Prairies. Let’s be honest. I’m from just outside there, and I can say that without hurting my own feelings.

But put McDavid together with a spectacular new downtown arena well underway, and the Alberta capital might just be ready to emerge from the image of Buffalo West, the place Chris Pronger couldn’t wait to get out of, the place Ilya Bryzgalov likened to the North Pole, the place that had to grossly overpay for every free agent.

Make no mistake: the looming presence of McDavid on a roster already teeming with high draft picks made it easier to attract a first-rate GM, who in turn likely will have a choice of A-plus coaching candidates eager to work with all those ingredients.

Well, not quite all of them.

Someone is hitting the road, probably at the draft — at least one of the good young forwards, likely packaged with the Oilers’ other first-round pick — for help on the blue line or in goal, or both.

Without a radical retooling on the back end, they’re still not a playoff team.

“This team has got a lot of good pieces, and the way I handle these things (is) nothing very flashy,” Chiarelli said.

“I’ve made some trades, and I’m not afraid to do that, but it’s about getting to know players, instilling an attitude about winning, the sacrifices it takes, the mentality we all have to embrace.”

He said the task in Edmonton won’t be quite like Ottawa, where he started, nor like Boston, where he built the team that won the 2011 Cup and made it to the 2013 final.

“I think it’s kind of right in the middle. In Boston we had to add a lot of pieces,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the case here. Some young kids have got to be put in their proper places, either here or in other places …”

And the mentality has to change.

Really, that was true of the entire organization. Nicholson was only formally made the CEO on Monday. Already, things are moving in a way they haven’t in a decade or more.

The casualties are not all fair. President and chief operating officer Pat LaForge had to go in order to find a landing spot for Lowe, who has close ties to Nicholson and the owner.

MacTavish is still with the franchise in an unspecified role, but who knows if he’ll stay. Ditto Nelson, who did the best he could coaching the young lineup after Eakins was fired.

But harder-edged, more experienced hands are needed now.

“Some day” just became “soon.”

The Oilers, Nicholson couldn’t have said more clearly, are all done screwing around.

ccole@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson (left) listens while new president and general manager Peter Chiarelli speaks during a news conference in Edmonton, on Friday, April 24, 2015.
 

Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson (left) listens while new president and general manager Peter Chiarelli speaks during a news conference in Edmonton, on Friday, April 24, 2015.

Photograph by: JASON FRANSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson (left) listens while new president and general manager Peter Chiarelli speaks during a news conference in Edmonton, on Friday, April 24, 2015.
Edmonton Oilers new president and general manager Peter Chiarelli speaks at a news conference in Edmonton on Friday, April 24, 2015.
Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson, new president and general manager Peter Chiarelli and director of communications J.J. Hebert (left to right) make their way to a news conference in Edmonton on Friday, April 24, 2015 to announce Chiarelli’s hiring.
Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson (left) and new president and general manager Peter Chiarelli speak during a news conference in Edmonton on Friday, April 24, 2015.
Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson (left) and new president and general manager Peter Chiarelli hold up an Oilers jersey with Chiarelli’s name on it during a news conference in Edmonton on Friday, April 24, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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