EDMONTON, AB – Bob Nicholson became the new CEO of Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) on Monday. He promised that day to start “rolling up the sleeves” as he took charge of the entire organization. After observing the entire organization as Vice Chair of OEG for the past year, it was time to implement changes in his new role.
If a big fish, the right fish, became available, Nicholson would be interested.
Nicholson made his first splash as CEO on Friday, reeling in a respected member of the NHL management community, Peter Chiarelli, and making significant changes to the structure of the organization.
Chiarelli, effective immediately, will assume all roles and responsibilities as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager.
“I had been looking at the whole organization, and when the opportunity to be able to talk to Peter became available I certainly reached out very quickly to do that. Then it took off and we went through this process in the last few days,” said Nicholson.
Chiarelli had spent the previous eight seasons with the Boston Bruins, before parting ways with the organization on April 15. Nine days later, he found a new home.
“It’s been a real whirlwind,” said Chiarelli. “But it seems like… a week and a half ago I got bad news and today I got terrific news. I’m really excited to be part of this organization. It has a long and rich history. I come from an original six team with a long and rich history so I know to respect the legacy, to embrace the legacy and the same is going to apply here.”
It took just nine days on the open market and just four for Nicholson to get his man.
“I’m going to take my time, but when it’s right we are going to strike quickly and get the right people and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” said Nicholson.
Chiarelli helped Boston to a record of 386-233-85 during his tenure, which included a Presidents’ Trophy in 2013-14, two trips to the Stanley Cup Final and one championship in 2011. Prior to his time in Boston, Chiarelli worked with the Ottawa Senators as Director of Legal Relations, before being promoted to Assistant General Manager.
“He’s going to lead this group, he’s going to lead hockey,” said Nicholson. “He’s the President of Hockey Operations, the General Manager and he’s going to make sure that he has strong people around him. And I know that we’re going to get this organization headed in the right direction.”
When Chiarelli looks at the Oilers roster he sees young pieces to work with, not unlike his previous stop in Ottawa. It’s about going to work and finding the right fit for those pieces.
“It’s about getting to know the people, getting to know the players, really instilling an attitude and a philosophy about winning and the sacrifices it takes to win, sacrifices on the ice and off the ice, the mentality that we all have to embrace and there’s really nothing magical about it and there’s nothing magical about me. It’s about hard work, it’s about connecting, communicating and that’s what I plan to do,” said Chiarelli.
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The new hockey-ops boss says there are still holes to fill, citing the obvious need to solidify goaltending and defence, along with adjusting the style of play. He’s shown a knack for solidifying defence in Boston. The work ahead with the Oilers doesn’t temper his enthusiasm.
“There are a lot of good things here and exciting things,” he said. “There are a lot of young legs, complementary players that can really help build a good foundation. They play fast. I’d like to see them play a little harder and that will be a challenge.”
Chiarelli comes from a Bruins organization that boasts they play their own brand of hockey, which is heavy. When Chiarelli sets out to bolster the Oilers roster, it doesn’t necessarily mean getting bigger. It comes down to an attitude, a philosophy and coaching.
“I don’t think you can just be focused on player personnel, there has to be a real instilling (of attitude),” he said. “There are teams, I won’t name them but you probably know them, that aren’t necessary hard and heavy but they strip pucks, they’re hard in battles, they win more of their share of battles, their 50-50 battles are won all the time and they’re heavy but they’re not huge. A lot of that has to do with the coach. A lot of that has to do with the philosophy of the organization and that’s part of what I hope to instill.”
Chiarelli says his “to-do list” is pretty big. One of the first things on that list will be finding a coach. Chiarelli says he doesn’t have a timeline on that, but would like to have it done before the NHL Draft at the end of June.
With Chiarelli now taking over hockey operations, Kevin Lowe will remain with the organization as Vice Chair of OEG. Former General Manager Craig MacTavish's role is yet to be defined. OEG also announced today that Patrick LaForge has stepped down as President and COO.
It didn’t take long for Nicholson and the Oilers to realize that Chiarelli was their man. Nicholson and Lowe met with Chiarelli and didn’t need much convincing. Knowing it’s the right fit himself, Chiarelli is ready to get started.
“I’m excited about this opportunity,” said Chiarelli. “I think this is a real energetic team, it’s a young team and I see a lot of challenges but I see a lot of opportunity. I’ve had some success in my previous two jobs and I plan to have some success here.”