The chief executive officer and vice-chair of the Oilers Entertainment Group hired is bringing in Peter Chiarelli, fired a week ago by the Boston Bruins, as the team's president of hockey operations and general manager.
Kevin Lowe is stepping down as president of hockey operations but will remain as vice-chair and move to the business side of the operation. General manager Craig MacTavish is expected to remain with the organization but Nicholson said his role has yet to be defined.
The moves are sure to please many Oilers fans who have blamed Lowe and MacTavish for the team’s failure to reach the playoffs for the last nine seasons despite having the No. 1 draft pick three of the last five years. The team won the draft lottery last weekend and will have the No. 1 pick again this year when they are expected to select phenom Connor McDavid.
Patrick LaForge has stepped down as president and chief operating officer and there were other changes in senior management on the business side. Nicholson, who was given authority over all aspects of business and hockey on Monday, said there will be more changes coming.
Despite one report out of Edmonton that Scott Smith would replace LaForge, the chief operating officer of Hockey Canada immediately denied that.
"In response to today’s rumours, I have no plans to leave Hockey Canada to accept a position with the Edmonton Oilers," Smith said in a news release. "I remain loyal and committed to Hockey Canada, and I look forward to working with Tom Renney in leading our National Sport Organization to a successful future."
The hiring of Chiarelli came in a hurry after his firing by the Bruins, who missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years, largely because of the relationship he has with Nicholson. The two have worked with him on Canada’s 2013 world championship and 2014 Olympic gold medal teams.
"His record speaks for itself," Nicholson said of Chiarelli, who built the Bruins into serious Stanley Cup contenders and led them to a title in 2011. "To change the focus of the hockey group… he’s going to lead this group … and he’s going to make sure he has strong people around him and I know he will get this organization headed in the right direction."
Chiarelli said he has ideas on how to change the fortunes of the Oilers and while he said he will not trade this year's No. 1 draft pick, he won't hesitate to make other trades to help the team.
Chiarelli was criticized in Boston for trading talented young forward Tyler Seguin to Dallas and valuable defenceman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders. In Edmonton, he inherits a core group of young players that includes former No. 1 draft picks Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
While MacTavish has consistently maintained he would not trade any of those players, Chiarelli wasn’t so adamant.
"I made a few trades of good young players so it’s something that I won’t shy away from," he said. "In this business you can’t be afraid to make trades. Those are ways to improve your team. Those are deals you can’t be afraid to make … but it has to be the right moment."
He said while the Oilers have "a lot of good pieces" one of his jobs will be getting to know the players and instilling in the team "an attitude and a philosophy about winning and sacrifices it takes to win, the mentality we all have to embrace.
"It’s about hard work, it’s about connecting and communicating. The next step has to be a measured approach."
Chiarelli also has to decide on a head coach. Todd Nelson was the team's interim head coach the last 46 games of the season but hasn’t been offered the full-time job. Chiarelli said he still has to speak to Nelson and while the coaching position is vital to his plans, "my to-do list is pretty big right now."