|Daryl Katz speaks to the media at the press conference announcing he had purchased the Oilers in July, 2008. (photo: Andy Devlin/EOHC)
In his first lengthy media interview since the summer of 2008, Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz made it clear that what has transpired on the ice this year is not acceptable.
Speaking to Oilers Radio Network analyst Bob Stauffer in a taped interview prior to Wednesday night's game in Anaheim, Katz was blunt in his assessment of his team's performance. "I'm extremely passionate about winning. Last place is somewhere I never thought we would be and it's completely unacceptable," Katz said.
"Without a doubt, this has been an enormously tough year for the Oilers," he continued. "For me personally, for our management, for our coaches and most of all, for our fans."
After a 6-2-1 start, the Oilers have won just 12 times in their last 50 games and are currently mired in a franchise record 11 game road losing streak. "I've been an Oilers fan for a lot longer than I've been owner of the team, and I'm not at all happy with how the team has performed. It's no fun for anybody," said Katz.
"Most of all, this experience has been no fun for our fans. I know it, our management knows it and our players know it."
THE LONG HAUL
The struggles of the team this season have presented the obvious conclusion that changes need to continue to be made and the eye on the future needs to be focused intently. The last place record has put the Oilers in a position to likely come out of the season with the highest draft pick in franchise history, allowing them to add to a modest stable of young talent already within the system.
"We're entering a very important time for the organization's history," Katz says. "We are in this for the long haul and over the long haul I really like what I see. We have a great young core with a lot more talent coming along."
In past years, the management group has been unsuccessful in their attempts to land star players like Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa, and Katz says the focus needs to shift to cultivating those players from within rather than attempting to acquire talent in the prime of their career. "Clearly we'll be opportunistic if we have a chance to upgrade our talent but there's no question that draft and development are absolutely a focus under our ownership," Katz emphasized.
That said, Katz understands that a rebuild doesn't come easy. It doesn't come without a last place finish, or more. From that standpoint, he knows the only way they'll be able to do it effectively is with a strong push from the consumers that support the team so passionately.
"It's only possible to rebuild if you have a loyal fanbase that are prepared to stick with that strategy," he explains. "Many teams don't have an opportunity to rebuild and it's only because of our fan base that we have the opportunity to take this step, and that's exactly what we're going to do."
In the meantime, the Oilers current roster will need restructuring to make room for younger talent and to ensure that there is salary cap space available to re-sign those players when their entry level deals expire. Currently, the team has spent nearly to the ceiling of the salary cap and have many players whose contracts run for multiple seasons after this one. Katz emphasized that he will financially support General Manager Steve Tambellini in any decision, buyouts and waiving players to the AHL included. "Yes, there's absolutely no question," Katz says. "Tamby has the absolute green light to do whatever he needs to do to rebuild the hockey club. Notwithstanding the injuries, what we have to date is not working. That's clear. I expect, and we should all expect, to see some changes."
THE NEW ARENA
On Tuesday, at a speaking engagement in front of the Building Operators and Manager's Association (BOMA), Katz Group Senior Vice President of Sports and Entertainment Bob Black revealed extensive details pertaining to the Downtown Arena Project. The vision calls for a downtown arena surrounded by a community rink that would double as the Oilers practice facility, hotels, a casino, office space, student housing and a vibrant Winter Garden concept. Katz says the development, pegged at costing north of $1 Billion, is an opportunity that the city shouldn't pass on. "It's crucial as far as we see it," he says. "We have a once in a generation opportunity to do something very special for the city. And, at the same time, develop a sustainable model for the long term for NHL hockey and for the Oilers in Edmonton."
Like any major project with a hefty price tag, funding will likely be a heated point of debate. The model proposed by Katz Group would see the city take out a low interest loan of $400 Million to fund the new arena, which the city would then own, and Katz Group would be the foundation of the development around the arena, assembling other businesses to come on board. The model proposes that taxes from the new business development would be enough to pay back the loan on the new arena. "Funding of a new arena is a complex matter," says Katz. I've said consistently that I'd contribute on the order of $100 Million towards the development of a new arena. Precisely how and in what context the hundred million is to be contributed depends on a variety of issues, the most important of which is who owns the arena."
"The funding model that we advanced sees the city owning the arena. Our contribution in that regard can best be leveraged by facilitating a tax base that can assist the city in paying for the arena over a long period of time."
Katz is looking forward to advancing the project and his associates expect that the appropriate zoning applications could be filed as early as the coming days. The Katz Group will be launching a web site in the near future to serve as a hub for news and information on the project.
A FINAL THANK YOU
In closing, Katz wanted to communicate again his appreciation of all the fans for continuing to stand by the Oilers: "I want to thank all of our fans, and all of our season ticket holders in particular, for sticking with us through what has been a real difficult year. I know it has been frustrating, but I want to assure everybody that we did not get in this to fail. We got into this to turn the Oilers into elite status in the NHL. We are going to be absolutely relentless in pursuit of that goal."
"This year hasn't been much fun for any of us, but looking at the future, it looks very bright. We are going to do everything in our power to see that we achieve the goals and the objectives that Edmonton Oilers fans and sponsors deserve and have come to expect."