Connor McDavid hasn't donned an Edmonton Oilers' jersey yet, but already he has changed the franchise's path.
McDavid hadn't even been the Oilers' prospective pick overall first in June's NHL draft for 48 hours when former Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson was put in charge of Edmonton's business and hockey operations.
"When you look at McDavid day, it was so exciting for all of us," Nicholson said.
Almost immediately Nicholson reached out to former Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. On Friday, Chiarelli became the Oilers' president of hockey operations and GM.
The two experienced hockey men provide Edmonton with the outside voices and expertise that could lead to the end of an almost-decade-long playoff drought.
"These are exciting times for this organization," Nicholson said on a conference call Friday. "For my first move in the National Hockey League, this is a pretty exciting moment."
Getting Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov first overall was supposed to lead to exciting moments, coupled with the drafting of Jordan Eberle and signing of defenceman Justin Schultz. But it took "McDavid Day" for owner Daryl Katz and the organization to make big changes.
Longtime president Kevin Lowe is out of his hockey role and now in charge of business. Under Nicholson, who presided over an era of success for Hockey Canada, Chiarelli is in charge of the day-to-day hockey decisions.
Chiarelli won a Stanley Cup with Boston, and the Bruins got to another final in 2013. He replaces Craig MacTavish, who admitted at the end of the season he might be "losing credibility" after decisions went wrong.
Nicholson wasn't specific about MacTavish's role Friday because the process with Chiarelli moved quickly. It all started with lottery balls falling in the Oilers' favour to land McDavid ??? and Chiarelli.
"It certainly wasn't a deal-maker," Chiarelli said. "The group here with Bob and Kevin and Daryl, the relationships there really helped out. That pick is a tremendous pick. To try and move up from three or four to get that pick under normal circumstances ??? you couldn't do it, and especially with the calibre of player that's available.
"That was a huge, huge cherry on top to have that. But the decision wouldn't have been any different."
When Chiarelli flew to Edmonton with his wife and son, it wasn't a slam-dunk decision. At first the Oilers' interest was "flattering" but then Chiarelli started taking it seriously.
"I said to my wife, it's like when we went out and got our second dog," Chiarelli said. "We we weren't planning on bringing that dog back with us, but when we saw it in the cage, we're like, 'We've got to take it back with us.' I kind of knew that was going to be the same thing."
Chiarelli now has decisions to make, starting with the rest of the front office and the coaching staff. As much as Todd Nelson got out of the Oilers in replacing Dallas Eakins, coaches such as Todd McLellan, Paul MacLean, Dan Bylsma and Peter DeBoer are already available and Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien and Dave Tippett could be soon.
Another decision on the docket really isn't one at all. Even though Chiarelli wouldn't confirm it, the Oilers' store might as well start printing McDavid 97 jerseys.
"He's a heck of a player," Chiarelli said. "I love him as a player."
When McLellan left the San Jose Sharks, he answered a question about coaching McDavid about the team.
"One thing that I've learned: You can have the best player and still not have the best team," McLellan said. "It's about team, it's about a group, it's about the whole organization and the culture of the organization."
With Nicholson and Chiarelli running the show, the culture seems ripe for McLellan or another elite coach to step in and make these very exciting times in Edmonton.
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