Read the full transcript from OEG CEO and Vice Chair Bob Nicholson speaking at today's press conference.
Bob Nicholson: Welcome, everyone. First of all, I'd like to say yesterday was a very tough day for the organization. I'd like to thank Peter Chiarelli for his time with the Oilers organization. It was really felt that with the way this team was trending that we had to make this change.
I want to clearly give the message - I know there are people out there that believe this team can't make the playoffs. We believe in the organization, and we believe in the dressing room that we can. I think the other key is we're not going to trade our assets away for a quick fix. We'll make some trades at the deadline if they're the right trades to get to the playoffs, but we're not giving away the future.
Going forward today, Keith Gretzky will take on more of the general manager's duties, and I will oversee hockey operations. My main task will be looking for a general manager. We are not in a rush, but as soon as we find a general manager we feel is right for the culture of the Oilers, we'll name that person. When that will be, there's no deadline on that.
Last night we made the decision with Peter Chiarelli after the second period. We'd made that decision before the game started. I thought it was necessary to do it with the team having the break. After the game, I had the opportunity to meet with the leadership group. I wish it would've been longer, but there has to be more conversations with this group because we have good leaders and we have good players on this team. I also met with the overall staff and the players. We have a lot of work to do here in the organization over this break, we have some good time to do that, and we've got to find answers on how we can make this team better to make the playoffs. But I emphasize again that we're not going to give away the future. Thank you.
Q: Bob, was there a tipping point in the last period of time when you were making this decision that you decided it had to be done mid-season, which is generally rare?
A: I think the key thing is the way our team started to play again. We made a coaching change, and when we made the coaching change I really thought the team played well. We saw that we have it in the players in the dressing room to play at a top level in the league. We slipped again.
Some of the moves we've made have not worked, and I felt that Peter had done everything that he could to make this team better, so we need a new direction. We've been talking about it for the last few days. The decision was made before last night.
Q: If you've been thinking about this for a few days, it would pre-date the (Mikko) Koskinen deal. How much oversight was there on that Koskinen deal and did you give a GM with two days left in his tenure the flexibility to make that deal all by himself?
A: Peter did not make that deal all by himself. This deal really started when we got together with our pro scouts in Palm Springs in our meetings. We looked at the depth of the goalies that would be available next year. We really believe in Mikko. We had to make a decision between Mikko and Cam. We made that decision to go with Mikko and sign him to a three-year deal. Cam Talbot is still a big part of this team and he's been a great teammate. We hope that Cam will continue to [lay well for the team.
Q: Can you back us up to when you basically delivered the word to Peter? Did you say second period?
A: Yes, I called Peter. I went and met Peter and we did it after the second period for two reasons. One, I thought it was right that Peter would have the chance to leave the building in the way that he saw fit. I can tell you that I had a good conversation with Peter. He was very professional about it. I've already had a couple of texts back with Peter. But the focus for me was to be able to get in front of the staff and to get in front of the leadership group and the players before they went on break and we did that last night.
Q: Are you suggesting that if the team had gotten off to a different start in the game, you might have delayed it?
A: No, the decision was made before the game started.
Q: Again, just on the overview. There's a whole city out there that wonders how you're going to fix this. How would you answer that?
A: I can tell you clearly. You look at the way the team has played at times this year. We just have to get them consistently playing that way. We know that we have to bring in some other pieces but we're going to put all of the onus on the group inside the dressing room because they have shown that they can do it. We will look to try to bolster the offence and the defence but again, we're not trading away our first pick. When you look at some of our other top prospects, we're not giving them away unless we get some really good pieces back.
Q: Given that these twitter hashtags were trending about firing Peter Chiarelli and also that you said this decision was not made yesterday but prior to that, how surprised did he seem when you delivered the news to him?
A: He was disappointed. Is how I took it when I spoke to Peter. He really felt that he had let the organization down by not having this team in the playoffs. Any time it happens a person is shocked but I really feel he knew there was a lot of chatter so it wasn't a huge surprise to him.
Q: When you spoke to the leadership group, in particular, Connor, I don't know if reaction is the right way but your sense of the response because maybe they felt like something may happen prior to the break.
A: They were really good. They felt they had gone through a head coach, gone through a general manager now. The responsibility goes back to them in the room. We have to make sure we give them the right tools to find the winning formula here. We're going to have a lot more discussions with that group. We have good leaders. Are there other pieces that we have to try to bring into this room? That's what we're going to look at in the next 10 days. Nothing huge but you've seen that before; some small tweaks can make a real difference.
Q: You said you're going to search for the next general manager, will that also be a similar position, president of hockey operations and general manager? Are you just searching for one guy or as you go through the process, would you be looking to more significant changes in hockey operations?
A: That's a really good question. It's too early to define that right now. We're going to really look for a person that can assess talent. I think that's a real key with a general manager today. And look for someone that can really help run all parts of the hockey operations as a GM's role. I want to stress, we really feel that our draft picks the last couple of years have been good. I think how we've set this up under Keith Gretzky's direction on the draft and the pro side. We've done a good job. We'll look at it again and do we have to make some changes? Could be. But it's too early to define that right now.
Q: I just want to ask about Keith Gretzky's role. Does he have now autonomy to go out and make trades or is this a group thing? Does he have to talk to you or other people? How are you guys going to approach the Trade Deadline?
A: Keith is going to be the key point person but we're going to use all of our assets before we make any type of deal. Keith will lead that in conjunction with myself but we'll be talking to all our pro scouts and amateur people before we make any type of deal.
Q: In the last 10 years, this team has had eight different head coaches. This will be their fourth general manager. It seems as though the problems run much deeper than just head coach and general manager. Why can't this organization get it right?
A: Your point there about this changing is dead on. That's why we're not going to be in a real rush to get a general manager; we have to get the right one even if that takes us some time because we have to look at all parts of this organization. I want to emphasize again: we've got some really good players and really good staff but there's something in the water here in Edmonton that we don't have right. We've got to get that figured out. The way that you figure that out is by talking to people. I'm going to try to open up more doors in all aspects of this organization to find out those little things that just haven't been fixed over the last number of years for us not being in the playoffs. We saw it two years ago. It was a blip. But there were some key parts in that that we got to make sure we save here. I really believe when I watch this team through games this year, we can be a really good team but we just haven't shown it consistently. We need to make sure we have the right chemistry in the room, the right character in the room to bring the best out of all of our players.
Q: Just pointing to that 'what's in the water' and what the solution is here. There's a perception among the fan base, accurate or not, that this is a team that hangs on to the glory days. There are still some prominent figures from those glory days that are behind this team helping to make key decisions. The fans think, 'Well, here we go again,' but it seems to be a perception problem for this team. How do you tackle that and are you aware of that?
A: I'm three and a half years into my role here and I hear that all the time. It's the old guard, the Oilers of the '80s that are making the decisions. That's not true at all. Peter Chiarelli was the President and GM of this hockey team. We gave him the authority to make those decisions. He brought in the majority of his own staff. We have people from those days in the organization. Kevin Lowe is so important to this organization but Kevin Lowe hasn't been in on hockey operations decisions. Kevin Lowe is a leader and he's leading us now in different parts of the organization. But it's a perception that's out there, I can tell you and tell all the fans that's not true.
Q: What would you say to the fans, obviously you guys are in the business of trying to win games but it's also entertainment as well. A lot of tickets, luxury boxes and things like that are up for renewal and some people are saying the product isn't worth renewing. What do you say to them from a business perspective?
A: We're doing surveys every day with our season ticket holders. We're getting feedback. Give us an effort. If you give us an effort, give us 100 percent, we can lose 3-2 and that's what we have to do in this city. You know we have the best fans. Our best fans in the League are frustrated right now. We have to get inside the room, no matter what the talent in, we have to have a better effort day in and day out. And that's what our goal is going to be going forward. That's what we have to get fixed here in the next 10 days as we get into a playoff run.
Q: Maybe on the developing of young prospects. You've got a couple young players in the lineup every night - they're high draft picks. You've got another one coming in Evan Bouchard. Are you comfortable with the way this organization is developing its high-end young talent or do you think a fundamental shift is needed in that thinking?
A: We're going to push back that we want our younger players to develop more in the American Hockey League. We have some really good players. I think that we bring them up a little bit too early in hopes that they're going to be ready when they're really, really close. I think we got to leave them down there until they're over-ripe. That is a chance that we have to make here. You see that we've sent (Kailer Yamamoto) down. He's on the verge but he has to play a lot of minutes. We really believe in this player and we have to do that with more of our assets going forward.
Q: Speaking with the fans in the last little while, this may be the beginning of yet another rebuild. That there's a big hole to dig out of. How accurate is that and how far do you think we are away from having a very competitive hockey team here?
A: We're not into a rebuild. I truly believe we're not into a rebuild. We have the best player in the world. We have other really good players in that dressing room. It's going to be great to have Oscar back. We need his depth on defence. We've got really good pieces; do we have to supplement that? Yes. I really believe a lot of the solution is right inside the dressing room. Our fans have seen it, they just want us to be much more consistent.
Q: Peter built a heavy, big team. The League moved in the other direction. Will there be more of a philosophical approach to emphasize speed and skill moving forward? Is that something you'll look for in the general manager you ultimately hire?
A: Peter came in here and really wanted to get a heavier team. He wanted it to be a place when you came into this building, we owned this building. He did a good job of that. The game is changing. Speed and skill is a big part of the game today but as I first go inside and look at this, the character is going to be the one thing we're going to look at. We're going to look at the character of the players inside. They have to play for each other. If they don't want to play for each other, we don't want them in the room.
Q: What point did Daryl Katz have on all this? When you hired Peter and Todd came on board, the feeling here was, 'at last,' with Connor having just been drafted. Stability of high-profile, successful people. Where did you go wrong?
A: You roll that back and you're right. When we made the announcement, and they were back-to-back Peter and Todd, we thought we really changed the page. I thought the team did progress. We made it into the playoffs then we fell back. We're not back to where we were because we have a lot of better assets today than we had back then. We're going to do the same type of search here. First of all, for a general manager on who can be the best general manager for the players of today? The League has changed again, it's different than it was three and a half years ago, and we have to make sure that we get the person we feel fits right for this team and right for this city.
Q: How will Ken Hitchcock's role change if at all going forward?
A: Ken's will not change. We made the statement that when Hitchcock was hired, he was the head coach until the end of the year. We're not talking to Ken on any other positions until the end of the year. Ken is the head coach and any time you have a head coach, any time you have the head coach, he has to be the key guy responsible for what goes on in the room day-to-day. That will continue through the rest of the year.