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An off-season of change

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers


That’s been the theme of the Oilers since the 2014-15 season ended in a 13th place finish in the Western Conference. Major changes to hockey operations and personnel have completely changed the look of the club moving forward. Let’s take a look back at some of the biggest announcements made over the course of the last three months. There have been a lot to keep track of.


The NHL held its annual Draft Lottery with the Oilers having an 11.5 percent chance of being victorious. Those were the third-best odds amongst all NHL teams. Edmonton’s combination of numbers came up, giving them the first-overall pick for the fourth time since 2010.

Bob Nicholson took over as CEO of OEG on April 20, 2015.
April 20 - A NEW BOSS

On this date, Bob Nicholson took over as Chief Executive Officer of Oilers Entertainment Group. Nicholson is the former President and CEO of Hockey Canada, where he had a successful run of overseeing the Canadian Men’s and Women’s National Teams. As CEO, everyone in the organization works under Nicholson.

“Daryl hired me to build a winning organization. We have a lot of work to do, but we know what we need to do to get there,” said Nicholson. “We have great people in this organization and we are firmly committed to rewarding our fans for their extraordinary patience and support. It is going to be an exciting year for our organization and the City in the lead up to the opening of Rogers Place.”

April 24 - A NEW GM

Nicholson didn’t wait very long to announce some major changes to senior management. Peter Chiarelli was appointed President of Hockey Operations and General Manager for the club, taking over the top role in hockey operations and reporting directly to Nicholson. Chiarelli came to the Oilers after eight seasons as General Manager of the Boston Bruins, guiding them to the Stanley Cup Final twice. The Bruins won the Cup in 2011.

“I am honoured to join such a great organization with a long history of success. There is a strong, young core here with good complementary players,” said Chiarelli. “I hope to bring it to the next level with a measured approach. Daryl Katz and Bob Nicholson have a great vision here for the team and Rogers Place. I am very excited to be a part of it.”

The Oilers also announced several other changes to the organization. Kevin Lowe retained his role as Vice Chair of OEG, while shifting responsibilities out of hockey operations. Patrick LaForge stepped down as President and Chief Operating Officer.

Todd McLellan took over as Head Coach on May 19, 2015.
May 19 - NEW COACH

Almost exactly one month after Nicholson took over as CEO, the Oilers got the Head Coach they wanted. Todd McLellan was named the club’s 14th Head Coach in Oilers franchise history on May 19.

McLellan had previously spent seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks, compiling a record of 311-163-66. During that span, the McLellan-led Sharks made six playoff appearances, had four 40-plus-win seasons, three 100-point seasons, captured the Presidents’ Trophy in 2009, won three Pacific Division titles and made back-to-back appearances in the Western Conference Final in 2010 and 2011.

"We are extremely happy to introduce Todd as our new head coach,” said Chiarelli. “He is a high-energy person and a high-level thinker who will work well and demand the most from our group. Todd has had success at many levels and we are looking forward to him leading our team next season."


Chiarelli and the Oilers announced they relieved several scouts of their duties.

“These are difficult decisions,” said Chiarelli. “I’m someone who has been on the job for two months and we’re relieving some really good people and people who have been here for a long time. These decisions aren’t taken lightly. In my time here I’ve gotten to know these guys in question and they’re all good people. I wanted to lean out the staff a bit. I wanted to reposition some people in duties. These are hard decisions that we have to make, that I had to make. It was difficult. It was a tough weekend.”


Just one day before the 2015 NHL Draft, the Oilers announced the addition of two Assistant Coaches who will join McLellan this season. Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson will come to Edmonton from San Jose, where they worked underneath McLellan.

Woodcroft has 10 years of NHL coaching experience, both with the Detroit Red Wings and Sharks. Johnson spent 14 years in the NHL as a defenceman and has spent over six seasons in the League as a coach.

“Obviously, familiarity is real important,” said McLellan. “When you’re going into a situation like Edmonton, where both general manager and head coach are new, I’d like to have some people around me that understand how I operate, how I work and keep me organized, keep me focused and can communicate the same message that I’d like to bring to the organization. Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson can do that. We’ve been together many years.”


With the first-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, the Oilers selected Erie Otters centre Connor McDavid.

The highly-touted 18-year-old recorded 285 points (97-188-285) in three OHL seasons with the Otters, second most in their franchise history. He led the OHL in post-season scoring during the 2015 NHL playoffs, with 49 points (21-29-49) in 20 games. He was named the 2015 OHL Player of the Year.

McDavid said he had been monitoring all the changes to the Oilers front office ahead of the draft.

“Not to say any of the other guys did a bad job or anything, it’s just a great change,” said McDavid. “Mr. McLellan and Mr. Chiarelli are great hockey minds. Obviously, Mr. Nicholson has come in and done such a great job. It’s an exciting time to be an Oiler. I know the fans are excited and they should be. It will be a great time.”

Connor McDavid wears the Oilers new Oilers jersey at the draft.
June 26 - A NEW LOOK

As McDavid took the stage, he put on a different looking jersey than fans expected. He became the first player to wear the team’s new orange jersey. The design of the jersey was inspired by one worn in the franchise’s early years as a member of the WHA. It will be worn by the team for seven select home games during the 2015-16 season, including opening night on Thursday, October 15 against the St. Louis Blues.

“This new orange jersey is an exciting addition to the roster of jerseys worn by the Edmonton Oilers over the last 40 years. It is both contemporary and fresh, while also paying homage to the great history of the organization,” said Nicholson. “The wave of orange is going to look great during our Farewell Season at Rexall Place, and beyond.”


The Oilers made no secret prior to the draft that they were open to trading picks to acquire impact players. Chiarelli didn’t waste much time making his first trade as General Manager of the Oilers. He sent the 16th and 33rd overall picks to the New York Islanders, in exchange for defenceman Griffin Reinhart.

Reinhart was originally taken fourth overall in 2012. He has played eight NHL games in his career so far, registering one assist and six penalty minutes. The 6-foot-4, 217-pound defenceman played his junior career for the Edmonton Oil Kings, recording 30 goals and 81 assists in 209 games. He was Captain of the Oil Kings when they captured the 2014 Memorial Cup championship.

“We’ve been hunting for defencemen and there’s a lot of intelligence on Griffin internally,” said Chiarelli. “I’ve always liked him as a player. He’s been behind a lot of good defencemen in Long Island. I’d had discussions with Garth, on and off over the last month or so. We just kind of ramped up those discussions. I saw him in pro a couple times last year. I saw him in London at the Memorial Cup and he was just a horse. Happy to get him. We had some guys at 16 we liked but this was something we decided to act on. He’s ready to play and he’s going to be a very good part of our D.”


Finding a netminder was a top priority for the Oilers heading into the draft. They were looking to bring in someone who could compete for a number one job, and sitting at the top of the list was New York Rangers netminder Cam Talbot.

Chiarelli sent the 57th, 79th and 184th picks to New York, in exchange for Talbot and the 209th selection. Talbot played 36 games this season for the Rangers, posting a record of 21-9-4 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. While Henrik Lundqvist was sidelined with a vascular injury, Talbot went 16-4-3 with a 2.61 GAA and .929 save percentage.

“First of all, he’s a mature-inexperienced goaltender,” said McLellan. “When I say ‘inexperienced’ it’s due to a lack of games played. But he’s played a lot of big games in the limelight of New York City, he’s had tremendous coaching there in New York, he’s been able to experience playoff hockey at a high level. There are a lot of positives about that. On the other hand, I think his ceiling hasn’t been reached yet. The ultimate end for him is still pushing the limits, it’s further out and that’s a positive thing. The pressures will change now because it is a Canadian market and he’ll be given a lot of starts or earn a lot of starts, pardon me, and that will change a bit. When Lundqvist went down he started to prove he’s extremely capable of covering that.”


In their continued attempt to change the complexion of the team’s backend, Chiarelli traded for Ottawa Senators defenceman Eric Gryba.

Gryba is a big, physical right-shot defenceman and adds a new piece to the Oilers blueline.

“He’s got a bite to his game, he’s got a nastiness to his game, he enjoys the physical part of it and he plays it fairly well,” said McLellan. “You have puck movers and those guys jumping up in the play, and Eric’s very capable of that, but his bread and butter is his tenacity and passion he brings night in, night out. To add that ingredient to our blueline is something we were looking for.”


In re-working their roster depth, the Oilers flipped centre Boyd Gordon to Arizona for winger Lauri Korpikoski. The 28-year-old forward was taken 19th overall in the first round of the 2004 NHL Draft. He has played in 469 NHL games in his career, recording 68 goals and 91 assists.

“I have time for Korpikoski, I really have,” said Chiarelli. “I know he’s under performed, but it gives us a winger with speed and some size and he can close on pucks.”


The Oilers didn’t make a big splash in free agency with quantity, but they added two contributors to their lineup. The Oilers signed defenceman Andrej Sekera to a six-year deal and forward Mark Letestu to a three-year contract.

Andrej Sekera skates for the LA Kings last season.

Sekera is expected to be inserted into the Oilers top four right away and can play on the top pairing if need be. He has played in 486 NHL games for the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings.

“I don’t have to temper (my enthusiasms) with him,” said Chiarelli. “I’m very happy we got him. He is a first-pairing defenceman, which means he’s a tool the coach has to put in the first pair. It doesn’t mean you have to be in the first pair to be a first-pairing defenceman. With him it’s about versatility. He’s very versatile. I mentioned the different spots he plays in and sides. He’s solid, he’s very strong. He’s just a solid player who has a good sense of the puck and can play a lot of different positions and can defend, can push the puck. He’s got a lot of good things.”

Letestu is a depth centre who is versatile enough to play on the wing if asked to.

“What we wanted was a right-shot centre who was good on faceoffs,” said Chiarelli. “That was the general premise behind it. It’s another tool that your coach has. You put a left-shot, right-shot centre on important draws. There was some familiarity with Mark and that was really the driving force behind it.”

Letestu has played 318 NHL games, recording 127 points (58-69-127).


On July 3, Oilers Entertainment Group announced a new organizational structure to help “facilitate growth in its burgeoning sport and entertainment business.”

◦Daryl Katz, Chairman

◦Bob Nicholson, CEO & Vice Chairman

Kevin Lowe, Vice Chairman

◦Peter Chiarelli, President of Hockey Operations and General Manager

◦Darryl Boessenkool, Chief Operating Officer

◦Stew MacDonald, Chief Commercial Officer

◦Bob Black, Chief Project Development Officer

◦Jason Quilley, Chief Financial Officer

◦Adam Barrie, Vice President, Human Resources

The company also announced the additions of three senior leaders.

•Stuart Ballantyne, Sr. Vice President, Operations

•Kevin Galvin, Sr. Vice President, Enterprise Security and Risk Management

•Jeff Harrop, Sr. Vice President, Marketing


Also on July 3, the Oilers announced that their first-overall pick had signed his three-year entry level contract with the club.

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