The Edmonton Oilers aren’t directly overseen by Oilers Entertainment Group CEO Bob Nicholson, but OEG — the ownership group responsible for the Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, and the projected new arena and entertainment district, Rogers Place — has made it clear that he’s got plenty of influence.
The team announced Nicholson’s expanded role working with the Oilers just a week ago; since then, he’s made quick work of rearranging the team’s front office staff for the better. That means bringing in former Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, dismissing former Edmonton President and CEO Pat LaForge, and appointing current President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe to a… well, different role. It took the team all of two days following the reported meetings between Oilers personnel and Chiarelli in Alberta for the changes to be announced.
Lowe has been moved from Hockey Ops to team President and CEO, shifting him from the ‘hockey’ side of the front office to the ‘business’ side of the front office. Chiarelli, the team announced Friday morning, will take over Lowe’s former position with the club.
Since OEG handed Nicholson the reins to the Oilers, the former Team Canada CEO has been scary good for the club — and it stands to reason that OEG president Daryl Katz knew that was a possibility. Under Nicholson’s decade and a half reign, Team Canada met with tremendous success — something that’s been kept up even since he stepped down to join OEG just over two years ago. Although never a player at the pro level — he never made it past a one-year stint playing at Providence College in the early 1970’s — Nicholson has a clear understanding of who and what it takes to create a successful hockey team at every level of their development; his role overseeing both business and hockey operations for the Edmonton Oilers at the NHL level and the Edmonton Oil Kings at the WHL major junior level make him a perfect candidate for his new position.
The shifts in personnel are somewhat brilliant, as well.
Nicholson did what many critics had observed the Oilers needed to do for years — started from the top when cleaning house. He still showed some mercy for an old friend (Lowe managed a number of men’s teams for Team Canada during Nicholson’s tenure, suggesting he likely had no plans to dismiss the former Director of Hockey Ops altogether), but brought in a name that many associate with the rebuild of an empire in Massachusetts — after watching Peter Chiarelli build a perennial legitimate Stanley Cup contender in Boston, it’s likely he could do the same in Edmonton.
Nicholson’s second smart move was doing nothing, in essence, with the personnel who will now work under Chiarelli directly. General manager Craig MacTavish and head coach Todd Nelson are still, in theory, employed with the Oilers — so Chiarelli can now work to find suitable replacements for both if he so desires.
Finally, Lowe was moved to the business side of things — and while Chiarelli was a smart general manager who made only a small handful of egregious blunders, his management of a team budget was less than desirable. Lowe has been known, in conjunction with MacTavish, to value the wrong players — hopefully a tandem of Chiarelli’s roster management skills with Lowe and MacTavish’s history of operating within the salary cap (with a bit of breathing room, unlike in Boston) will create a more competitive roster.