TALKING POINTS: Nicholson and Gretzky address the media
Oilers CEO & Vice Chair Bob Nicholson and Interim GM Keith Gretzky addressed the media on Monday
Q: Bob, what's the situation with Ken Hitchcock as head coach moving forward?
A: (Nicholson) As I've stated before when we signed Ken it was to be the head coach until the end of the year. That is up at this time. Ken is well aware of that. We've had 1-on-1 meetings and Ken will be with this organization in some fashion. Will he be the head coach? That will be determined as we name a general manager.
Q: If he's not head coach, what other roles would be a fit for him?
A: It's open. As I go through the GM search, we're looking at all various departments of hockey operations and we'll see what best fits for Ken and what's right for the organization.
Q: Will the new GM make that final call?
Q: Bob, in searching for a new general manager, how much input will owner Daryl Katz have on that?
A: (Nicholson) Right now, we've had lots of chats on that. The process that I'm going through but I can tell you that there are a number of candidates that I'm starting to interview now and the process is going to take a little while. But Daryl hasn't even asked me who all those individuals are. He just talked more about the type of person we want as the general manager.
Q: It's perhaps uncomfortable with Keith here but I'll ask it anyway. Are there any issues with hiring anybody whose last name is Gretzky?
A: (Nicholson) You know what, Keith has built his own resume. Whether Keith is sitting here or not, you've seen his resume. Anyone that's been around hockey has seen Keith. And I will also say that I've really liked the job that Keith has done in the interim. But it certainly doesn't mean that that puts him up at the front of the list. I can tell you that there is no priority right now of everyone that we're interviewing and I want to keep it that way. That will change as the process starts but there's Wayne Gretzky and there's Keith Gretzky, and Keith has built his own resume.
Q: Bob what kind of a deadline do you have for finding a GM and what are the challenges at this time of the year interviewing the potential candidates?
A: (Nicholson) Excellent question. I'd like to hire the general manager tomorrow but that's not going to happen. As I've said before, I'm not going to rush the process. We're going to do a deep dive. I feel I've done a lot of work in preparing myself for the interviews. Now we're going to go through a process. I'd like to have the person as soon as possible but I'm not sure how long that's going to take. Right now, I have a lot of individuals that I'll be able to get together with and as soon as I feel we have the right GM, we'll make that decision.
Q: Do you not find that some of these teams are holding you hostage? You can't talk to them until end of May and the draft is in June. Do you not want a general manager long before that?
A: (Nicholson) You know what, as I said, I'm not going to name anyone that I am interviewing. I've got a lot more leeway on who I can interview than I thought I would. There might be a roadblock or two but most of the general managers in the organizations have been very good and I'll get to have those discussions right away.
Q: Bob, one of the things that fans of the team are saying is whoever comes in, they want them to have a clear say as to what happens from that point on. Before that person takes that job, whoever it might be, will you be making any changes in hockey ops regarding people who are employed now?
A: (Nicholson) I'm going to take that in two different directions. To be very clear, Peter Chiarelli had full say from the day that he got here. And that's not going to change with the new general manager. Your second part of that question is a bit of an interesting one that I've looked at. And I was looking at should I make some changes now and I've made the decision that I won't. I'm going to have those discussions as we go forward with all the potential candidates but I thought, why go two steps or halfway? No. I want to do this in conjunction with the general manager who will take the lead in that area.
Q: When players speak out about their frustration like Connor McDavid did and even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins yesterday, how much does that resonate in the management offices?
A: (Nicholson) Frustration starts right at Daryl Katz to myself. Connor's comment goes right to the organization. Everyone's frustrated and everyone's disappointed. Now we're turning a new page over. I had great discussions with all the players. Everything from all the players to all the staff through the last day and a half. We have good information. We have really good parts in this organization, on the ice and off the ice, that we just have to build on and have to get some better pieces in both those areas. Fans are frustrated and it's our job to get it right. That's what we're going to try to do in the next month ahead.
Q: You came here in 2016 and during this time, obviously the early success was great, but just with what's happened this year and the target that's been on you guys, and the criticism that's been not just from fans but League-wide about how this organization is run, how have you guys handled that internally?
A: (Nicholson) There's a lot of perceptions out there about what's going on here. Some of them are correct and a lot aren't correct. When I hear some of them, I know that there are really good parts in this organization and we've done some things very, very well but not good enough. Every part of our hockey organization has to get better and some have to get a lot better. But as you know in the media, something is stated, it runs and it's just not true at all. It's not the time to be deflecting those. It's the time for us to put our work boots on and get it right. There's a lot to do. The first step will be getting a new general manager.
Q: I think it's safe to say you guys haven't done as well as you want to this point. You got rid of Peter but why would you wait for the new GM to be the one to decide who's not coming back?
A: (Nicholson) You know what, that's a great question. I just thought leaving the structure the way it is. I certainly will be talking about those weaknesses because there are some weaknesses, and want to do that with conjunction with him so he gets the full picture. There's a lot of people that I want to sign right now and will be signed, 99 percent. But we've made the decision just to hold everything as it is today and then move forward.
Q: Keith, for you, is it GM or bust for you or would you be willing to stay in the organization as an assistant GM, another role or do you want to be the GM?
A: (Gretzky) I do want to be the GM and there's lots of candidates. As Bob mentioned, there's his work he has to do and you have to accept the process and move forward. Right now, it's about the team. We have to get ready for the draft and then we'll discuss it after the draft.
Q: Keith, you've been here for the last three months or close to it. Just a thought on what strategic areas you think you need to improve most in terms of the personnel with the hockey club?
A: (Gretzky) Well, being around them for the last two and a half months every day, you watch practices, you watch the games and you can tell we're not good enough yet. We have great pieces for our hockey club but I think we have to improve on a few areas and that'll improve our hockey club. It's speed and skill and transition game and have more puck possession.
A: (Gretzky) You have a chance to jump up. Teams have jumped up before. Anything can happen and that's the exciting part about it. The way the system is, everybody has a chance, even as slim as ours, and we're hoping to move up.
A: (Nicholson) Same thing. This will be an exciting time for our fans to see where we get to pick and then I think really turns over the work back to Keith and his scouting group to see where we are and really narrow down onto that draft pick.
Q: Keith, when it comes to the draft, you want to have the ability to make trades and make deals and draft as well. How are you guys approaching that side of it knowing a new GM is going to come in?
A: (Gretzky) Right. We have to be ready. I've told the amateur guys, especially, to be ready for anything. If it's myself or another GM that comes in, we're ready for the draft. If we want to move picks or slide down or move up, we're going to be ready. As Bob has mentioned, we're going to put our work boots on, go to work and be prepared.
Q: Is that going to be your call or is that going to be the (management) team? Who's going to make that call?
A: (Gretzky) It will be the GM at the end of the day, whoever that is. I know he'll go to us or whoever it is to lean on for different ideas of the prospects or what we think can help our hockey club.
Q: As someone who is obviously interviewing for the job, at this point do you have a framework for what you want the 2019-20 team to look like? Then the second part is do you think being in it for three years and three months in an interim capacity gives you an advantage?
A: (Gretzky) Everyone has their assets that make them the guy. With me, I have the knowledge of being around for three years. I know what's in their system, I know what we have coming up, and I think being around for two-and-a-half months every day watching practices and the games, you have a better handle of the players themselves. Not just the hockey player, but off the ice I think it's very important to have a rapport with them and I think I've done that. Of course, I have a plan, you have to be ready and I'm confident enough in what we need to improve this club.
Q: [No playoffs] in 12 of 13 years isn't your fault, but it's your problem right now with the position you're in. There are people who look at this organization and say "How can anybody remain, whether it's a scout or an assistant GM, who's been here for most or all of that time when there's been so little success?" How do you tackle that one? Perception matters in a town where you need fans walking through the door.
A: (Nicholson) Perception is out there for sure in a lot of different ways for us. It leads back 14 years, and I can tell you that I'm focusing on going forward. They key is that when you go forward, we'll build the structure from the base to the top. When we do that, I will be able to stand up and really talk about the positives of that structure. That may include people that have been here for a long time, because some of those pieces have maybe done a very good job, and we have done a good job in areas.
Keith can talk to it a lot more in detail than myself, but our shelves were bare in the AHL when Keith came in. He didn't have prospects, but we have prospects today. There are people involved in putting all that together, and how we're developing that. So the new GM and the group, and I don't want to put all the focus on the GM because to me it's about the hockey operations, but we have to improve our hockey operations. It will be led by a GM, but we have to make sure we get the right people in the whole operation to make it successful.
Q: What three traits would management use to describe the culture that they want to see? What would it be for the Oilers?
A: (Nicholson) Very good question. I think that from a manager's point of view, for the team itself or for them as a GM?
A: (Nicholson) If I'm looking at a GM, we really want to make sure we have full communication within the whole hockey operations. We want to make sure we have talent identification in all areas of that. The other areas are we have to look at analytics and sport science to bring into the organization as we move forward.
Q: Bob, I know you said earlier that you planned on doing the interviews alone. Is that still the case, and what would you say to fans who don't think you have the NHL experience to hire a GM?
A: (Nicholson) Certainly the first phase of this by myself. I think it's a proper way to do it. I want to make sure it stays very tight. When I go to the next stage, I'm going to see what comes out of all of those interviews and where we are, and then make that decision about how we'll move forward. I've really used all of my resources to build the types of questions, the types of things that will be included in those interviews.
To someone who says that I don't have the NHL experience, I've gone through this once, wasn't successful, and I think I've been around hiring in the sport of hockey as much as anyone in the game, and I feel very confident in doing this process because I've done it from the Olympic Games to World Juniors. It's about getting to know the person, getting to know what you want in a structure, and I feel more confident today than I've ever felt in my life that I have a lot of various components that we can put in. I certainly don't sit here today and say this is what the Hockey Operations is going to be, but I think there's going to be changes and I think it's going to be better for us because of the process that I'm going through.
Q: When you said there might be a roadblock or two, you wouldn't get into specific names, but is it fair to say that there might be a few candidates who would be on your list who might not fall into your timeline? And are you concerned about more teams now that need coaches and if you have to wait too long, that the coaching pool thins?
A: (Nicholson) There's always going to be the reason you should hurry. I'm going to really take the patient route because you want to get it right and get the general manager in place. There are a lot of good coaches out there. There's been a good coach hired today and there's going to be more. That shouldn't change the process. Again, I'm not here to delay the process. I want to get it done quickly but I really want to make sure that we're comfortable with that first step.
Q: Would you consider hiring a President of Hockey Operations like Toronto has with Brendan Shanahan?
A: (Nicholson) We've looked at that. At this time, we're just going after the general manager now. Is that something we look at in the future? It could be but the general manager is the search we're looking for today.
Q: If Keith is staying around, can he make deals before you get a general manager? Does he have that authority?
A: (Nicholson) Yes, he does.
Q: When's the next one?
A: (Gretzky) Right now, we're just looking at our club. We all talk. Bob and I talk 10 times, 20 times a day about our team and to sit here and say it's okay, it's not. We have to make changes. The players know that. They're aware of it. When something comes up, we'll make a deal but we have to analyze everything. You look at it just analytically, our possession turnover rates in our own end are very, very high. That has to improve. So, you start using the data and put it towards the players and we have to improve in that area.
Q: So you need better role players to help out the stars?
A: (Gretzky) Exactly. When you have the players we have, they're high-end. We need some better supporting players. Our bottom-six has to be better. We can't rely on two, three, four guys to score every night. I think we did that too much and we're just waiting for them to always carry the torch and it can't happen.
Q: A guy who is technically a free agent is Mike Gillis (for a General Manager position). Would he be somebody who you want to interview?
A: (Nicholson) Certainly, Mike is on the list of people that I'm looking at. As I said, I'm not going to talk about any names here because I know who I've made contact with. If it gets out to the media, no one in our organization knows who they are and that's the way I want to keep it.
Q: What went wrong with some of the pro evaluations in trades and how did the team come to conclusions on some of the trades?
A: (Gretzky) Well, you look at it and on the pro side, a little bit has to do with how we were trying to fix on the go with the injuries especially on defence. We were really short-handed. We overpaid, the players didn't pan out and of course, it looks bad. Again, that's where we have to use all of our tools of analytics, all of our scouts and depend on each other to make smart decisions.
Q: Is it fair to say then that some of the pro evaluators have to change?
A: (Gretzky) For me to say that it needs to be changed, that's not my call today. That will be the general manager's call and he'll go through and sift through all of the scouts and everybody in the organization and make his decision on what he wants to do to improve in those areas.
Q: If you were the GM, would you make those changes?
A: (Gretzky) If I'm the GM, I'll sit back and evaluate it. I have a plan but I can't tell you my plan right now.
Q: You know how passionate of a hockey market this is. How much urgency is there on your part to get this right after the lack of success there has been? The fans are still coming but at some point, you have got to turn this around.
A: (Nicholson) We have to give the fans a plan and we have to make sure the fans understand the plan. It starts right away, as soon as the general manager is in place. We have to make sure that we're getting that out in front of everyone. The one thing I can tell you is we're going to be a much more open organization in communication in all different ways. That includes internally. Real good discussions with players and how we're going to buy them into decision-making processes. We've got to clarify what that is but we want the fans to feel more part of day-to-day operations of Oilers Entertainment Group in all areas and that includes hockey.
Q: Do you draw Connor McDavid in and have him be a part of big decisions with how important he is in the organization? Does he want to be a part of any of that decision-making process?
A: (Nicholson) I can tell you that Connor and myself have had good dialogue. We're talking a lot more lately because of the role I'm put into. Yes, he has to be part of decision-making processes. As a captain, we need leadership involved in part of the process. To what level? Connor doesn't want to have to be fully engaged in it. So, we have to find that out, not with just with Connor, but with all of our players on a lot of decisions that are made within the organization. People want to be part of the process and then they buy into the plan. That's a change that we have in the world today and it's something that we're going to try to really ingest within this organization. I don't clearly have what all of those are but it's certainly something that we have to start to talk about and start to figure out as we work through the year.
Q: How is Connor doing with this injury?
A: (Gretzky) He's good. He had the MRI yesterday and we'll just keep on it and make sure it's improving every day.
Q: MRI did not show anything specific?
A: (Nicholson) We can't go too far into it. We're still evaluating it but it's not as serious as we thought. But it's Connor. If it's an injury, it's serious for our organization.
Q: The Draft has come a more active trading ground than the Trade Deadline. If this isn't a Draft that the Oilers can let go by with the amount of activity and if you don't have a new general manager in place, will Keith be able to make any trades that need to be made?
A: (Nicholson) The one thing that Keith has is that he has the authority to do that. The other thing that I want to be clear about is that we're going to use all of our assets. All of our assets being everyone in pro scouting or amateur scouting is involved with the information to make the decisions. That's going to be key as we go forward and that's where Keith's authority sits for the draft and making trades leading into the draft.