Bettman Defends Oilers Organization

SAN JOSE, Calif. — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has a simple message for Edmonton Oilers fans: don’t panic.

Bettman was asked about the struggling Oilers at his state of the league address on Friday as part of the NHL’s all-star game weekend. The question came four days after frustrated superstar Connor McDavid said his teammates should leave Edmonton if they didn’t believe in the Oilers and three days after general manager Peter Chiarelli was fired.

Gary Bettman
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a news conference in San Jose, Calif., Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. The NHL All Star Game is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

“In the final analysis I believe they’ll figure this out because Connor and his teammates are incredibly talented,” said Bettman, who had a media engagement with McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews on Thursday. “I have no doubt that he’s frustrated about the team not being as successful as they’d all like. Connor’s a great player and he understands that the team’s going to have to work its way out of it.”

Edmonton (23-24-3) enters the NHL all-star break on a three-game losing skid.

Despite having several first overall draft picks — including McDavid — over the past decade, the Oilers have missed the playoffs 11 of the past 12 seasons. Edmonton has won just one playoff series since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2006. In the past 10 years, the Oilers have had eight head coaches and three GMs.

“To suggest that the Edmonton Oilers are in disarray or in trouble, I think is a gross overstatement,” said Bettman. “That franchise is well owned, well run, but they have some issues to deal with.”

The Oilers fired head coach Todd McLellan in November and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock, whose team has lost 12 of its past 17 games after some initial success.

Chiarelli was originally hired to rebuild the Oilers around superstar McDavid in April of 2015, but struggled to find the right pieces to play alongside the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner.

Bettman said that despite the on-ice struggles and front-office turmoil, Oilers owner Daryl Katz and team CEO Bob Nicholson will be able to right the ship.

Gary Bettman and Daryl Katz
Gary Bettman and Daryl Katz (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“This is an incredibly competitive league and everybody wants to win,” Bettman said. “I know Daryl Katz and Bob Nicholson are committed to winning. The team is being provided with all the resources, but it’s tough to win.”

The Canadian Press