Edmonton Oilers fans may know the name Bob Nicholson, but not for the same reason they know many of the other names in the front office.
After spending sixteen years in the front office for Hockey Canada — he was the President and CEO of the organization from June of 1998 until May 2014, when he stepped down from the position — he moved into the front office of sorts for the Oilers; for the last season, he’s been a vice chairman within the Oilers Entertainment Group (headed by none other than the notorious Daryl Katz). Now, he’s been moved up to CEO for OEG — and the way his role is being described suggests he’s being given fairly large reign over the team’s front office and how it’s run.
Nicholson will take over an expanded set of responsibilities, including authority over all aspects of #Oilers business and hockey ops.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) April 20, 2015
It’s important to note, of course, that the Oilers Entertainment Group is actually not directly related to the Edmonton Oilers themselves; rather, they’re the group that owns the Oilers. They’re also the owners of the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings, as well as the prospective new Rogers Place — the arena and surrounding entertainment district the Oilers ownership group hopes to have completed within the next handful of seasons, which is being projected as a similar concept to Westgate Plaza in Arizona (where the Arizona Coyotes play) and the new arena proposed for the Detroit Red Wings. As the CEO of OEG, it’s important to note that Nicholson is not, actually, the CEO of the Edmonton Oilers — rather, he’s now the CEO of the ownership group that treats the NHL franchise as their primary investment.
Despite this, though, it seems clear that OEG plans on continuing to forge a hands-on relationship with the Oilers. Katz made it clear that the team needs to see improvement, and the club hasn’t done much to shift around the ‘old boys club’ currently running their front office — with the team’s official release regarding Nicholson’s promotion describing him as someone who’s going to become one of the new faces of the organization moving forward, it seems OEG plans to oversee plenty of decisions related to both the business and the hockey side of the NHL organization.
Per the Edmonton Journal, Nicholson is taking on a bit of an ambiguous role — not just for himself, but for President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe:
“It was already fair to wonder what Kevin Lowe’s job actually is, and Monday’s move makes that speculation even more on-point. Officially the President of Hockey Operations & Vice Chair of the OEG/Oilers Alternate Governor, Lowe would seem neither to have overall responsibility for hockey operations (that now falls to Nicholson) or day-to-day control of running the team (which falls to general manager Craig MacTavish). Lowe’s title suggests impressive responsibilities, but it’s hard to decipher exactly what those responsibilities are…”
It’s interesting to point out regarding Nicholson’s appointment and expanded role that he’s not a former NHLer; far from it, actually.
As used to be the case in front offices across the league (remember Ron Caron, St. Louis Blues fans?), Nicholson is a former hockey player who never turned pro; he spent three seasons with the Penticton Broncos of the BCJHL before skating one season with Providence College in the early 1970’s. While many teams nowadays seem to find it best to turn towards former players — particularly tenured skaters who seemed to ‘earn their place’ in the team’s management hierarchy — the announcement that Nicholson is going to be overseeing what many refer to as the ‘old boys club’ in Edmonton suggests that OEG’s Daryl Katz is finished watching former on-ice stars mangle what should be a winning roster.
With an impressive legacy as CEO of Hockey Canada (his sixteen year tenure brought Canada 7 Olympic Golds, 12 WJC titles, 5 Men’s World Championship golds and 10 Women’s World Championship golds), Nicholson is undoubtedly unimpressed with the way the Oilers have performed over the past decade. One playoff appearance since 2003, despite three (now four) first overall picks in the NHL Entry Draft. Six head coaches in that time, including current general manager Craig MacTavish. The only team in the Western Conference who finished worse than Edmonton in 2015 was the Arizona Coyotes, who pressed the ‘reset button’ midway through the year to make way for long-term success under brand new ownership — and that’s a club that, despite being controlled by the league for half a decade, managed to see the post-season three times under league ownership. Edmonton’s legacy recently is about as far off base from Hockey Canada’s as it gets.
The description of Nicholson’s new role with the club suggests that he could be in charge of overhauling the front office; while he doesn’t exactly have the power to draft and trade for Lowe and MacTavish, he does seem to have the power to suggest the two walk out the door if things continue to remain status quo.