One day after Peter Chiarelli’s year-end press conference, organizational ghost and burger expert Bob Nicholson held a press conference of his own. It was revelatory insofar as it said nothing and yet said so much at the same time.
The 2017-18 campaign was disappointing right from Game 2 through Game 82. There were flashes of brilliance (thanks Connor!), but for the most part the team was underwhelming. Fast forward to yesterday, when Bobby Nicks thought he was going to be able to equivocate and not answer and everyone would be happy. Instead, he equivocated and then no one asked any hard questions so it didn’t really matter anyway.
Nicholson acknowledged that season ticket holders are both angry and disappointed, and that the organization is aware that something needs to change. It’s not immediately apparent if Nicholson knows what it is that needs to change, his most common response in the press conference was “we have a plan to get back into the playoffs.” The plan is, of course, as yet unknown, but it’s there and fans will be made aware of the plan at come point in the future.
Coaching & Decision Making
Nicholson started his presser with the assertion that Peter Chiarelli would be back as GM and President of Hockey Operations next year, and that the organization has confidence in Chiarelli because of what he’s done with the scouting department (the same dept that signed
Ryan Brad Malone), and how Chiarelli has a plan to get the Oilers (who have Connor McDavid) into the playoffs. (Editor’s Note: The Oilers plan should be to contend for the Stanley Cup on a yearly basis, not just “make the playoffs” in a league where 53% of teams make the playoffs.)
The only thing Nicholson spoke even remotely specifically about was coaching, and even then he didn’t say much. When asked if Peter Chiarelli had autonomy in his decision-making, the answer was yes. Moments later, when asked if Todd MacLellan was going to be fired, he said that there was a ‘process’ with both Hockey Ops and OEG staff, and the coach evaluation was part of that process. But later, Nicholson said that he’s waiting to hear from Chiarelli about certain people/situations, and Chia is waiting for Nicholson’s input re: those same situations. He was also asked if the coaching staff was seen as a team or as a group of individuals, and he wouldn’t answer that question either. So to answer the questions about Chiarelli’s autonomy and McLellan’s future: no one knows, except there’s a plan.
Bob’s favourite word was evaluating. It was used to much that someone changed his Wikipedia entry to reflect his affinity for the word.
Bob said that he’s evaluating Chiarelli’s performance, and Chia is evaluating the coaching staff, and the fans are evaluating everything. Chiarelli’s as yet undefined plan is being evaluated before it’s released to the public, though in this case “evaluated” is probably code for “created”. The successes and failures of the team over the last number of years are being evaluated and whatever the results of the evaluation process. it’s probably fair to say that nothing will change.
Another thing that’s being evaluated is the gameday experience for fans. Nicholson said something baffling, in that he recognizes that there’s not a lot of fan engagement at the games as compared to, say, Vegas, but instead of acknowledging that disconnect has a lot to do with the lack of winning, he inexplicably suggested that Canadian fans and American fans are different and that’s why it’s different. Someone needs to evaluate that statement.
Something that isn’t being evaluated is the Oilers salary cap plan for next season and beyond. With Connor McDavid moving from his ELC to a big boy contract, the Oilers can’t keep throwing money at whichever 6th defenceman or washed up winger comes their way. They need to have a plan in place to sill the roster with solid complementary players who don’t cost a fortune because the Oilers have almost $45 million tied up in McDavid, Draisaitl, Lucic, Russell, Sekera, Klefbom and Talbot, with Darnell Nurse set to get a raise this summer.
This was a weird press conference from start to finish. It was oddly timed and more or less useless. The only ‘fact’ Nicholson was able to share is that Chiarelli isn’t going anywhere, and that could have been done in a press release.
Nicholson says there’s a plan to get into the playoffs, but his assertion came in the same style as a kid who’s telling a lie but can’t remember what lie he told before so he keeps backtracking and saying more untrue things. To say that the goal of the organization is to get the team into the playoffs is missing a serious mark. With Connor McDavid on the roster, the Oilers should be contending for a Cup on a regular basis (a la Chicago, LA and Pittsburgh) instead of being on the outside looking in. Brian Hall pointed out that the massive turnover in playoff teams from year to year means that even if a team plans to make the show, there’s no guarantee.
In any case, the Oilers need to make some changes, and the organizational rot is a lot deeper than people first thought. The owner can’t fire himself, but he could fire everyone below him, and he should. If he doesn’t, that playoff plan won’t come to fruition, for the 12th time in 13 years.