Oilers Bob Nicholson Making Critical Mistakes

As the Edmonton Oilers work their way out of the playoff picture and try to usher in a new season, new era and potentially right the ship under the current regime, the folks at the top of the food chain are proving over and over again that they might not be the best men to lead the charge.

Nicholson Misstepped Out of the Gate

Fans are frustrated. Understandably so.

Another season without playoffs is not where the team wanted to be; but, is perhaps where the team should have expected themselves to be after some questionable moves. Those moves were made by former GM Peter Chiarelli — and he’s taken a ton of heat for them — but those moves were also overseen by CEO and vice-chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group, Bob Nicholson. Nicholson was brought in by owner Darryl Katz to change the fortunes of a team run by the “Old Boys Club”. Nicholson’s first order of business? Hire Chiarelli, no questions asked.

CEO and Vice-Chair, Oilers Entertainment Group, Bob Nicholson
CEO and Vice-Chair, Oilers Entertainment Group, Bob Nicholson (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Clearly, as a CEO, you need to give the man you hire power to do his job unencumbered. That said, under Nicholson’s watch, Chiarelli made outdated and questionable moves that shouldn’t have surprised anyone. He made similar moves as the GM of the Boston Bruins just a year and change prior. When it didn’t work, Nicholson then let Chiarelli make coach Todd McLellan the fall guy.

It was later admitted by Nicholson that he made a mistake when he hired Chiarelli because he hired him quickly and merely because he was available. It cost the Oilers a second-round draft pick and Chiarelli had a history of bad trades (something that was going to be important for the Oilers to get right moving forward) but none of that seemed to matter. Chiarelli was “the guy” and not a single other candidate was interviewed.

By the time Nicholson finally fired Chiarelli, it was too late and the team had made two or three other terrible misfires.

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Correcting the Nicholson Mistake

In an effort to show he’d learned from his past mistakes, Nicholson said the Oilers were going to take their time searching for a new GM. That makes sense. The organization should certainly conduct their interviews, find the right fit and then make a decision.

Names like Kelly McCrimmon, Mark Hunter, Steve Yzerman, Ken Holland and Keith Gretzky have all been named as potential candidates.

General manager Ken Holland
CHICAGO, IL – JUNE 24: General manager Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings talks with his staff during the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center on June 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

It would be great to give credit to Nicholson for admitting he goofed up the first time around, but one has to wonder if part of slow-playing this decision now is Nicholson doing it right or merely doing it because he has no other choice.

Nicholson has admitted he’s not talked to any of the potential candidates about the job. He hasn’t, because he can’t. Outside of Gretzky, these candidates all have jobs. Their current employers are not prepared to allow the Oilers access to a conversation about the new GM position until said teams are no longer competing for the playoffs or the NHL Entry Draft is in the rear view mirror. One can’t blame Nicholson for this, but he’s not exactly framing the picture that way.

Nicholson has admitted it’s a tricky spot to be in but he continues to beat the drum that the Oilers are choosing to take their time with this decision. In reality, this isn’t about the Oilers choosing to move slowly. It’s about the Oilers lack of choice but to do so.

My question is this: is Nicholson really fooling anyone here? If someone like McCrimmon were available to be hired now, do we really believe he wouldn’t have already been named the new GM?

Related: NHL Rumors: Yakupov, Howard, Brazeau, More

Nicholson’s Comments on Toby Rieder

While fans wait, most of what we’re learning about the Oilers process for finding a new GM is coming from comments Nicholson is making at season-seat events. Ticket-holders are asking the CEO want the plan is and he’s touting transparency to the fan base. He might want to reconsider.

Buffalo Sabres Matt Hunwick Edmonton Oilers Tobias Rieder
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Matt Hunwick and Edmonton Oilers forward Tobias Rieder (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

In the comments Nicholson has made thus far at these meetings, he’s not done himself any favors. The latest came on Thursday when he made headlines for bashing depth forward Tobias Rieder.

“Toby Rieder will not be signed by the Edmonton Oilers at the end of the year,” Nicholson said.

He then went on to suggest the Oilers missing the playoffs had much to do with the fact Rieder hadn’t scored a goal all season and missed a ton of opportunities on breakaways. Say what?

Sure, Rieder hasn’t had a good season. No goals for a 10-15 goal guy is bad. Rieder will probably be the first to admit it. But what exactly was Nicholson thinking here?

Essentially blasting Rieder for having a plan to hit it out of the park as a member of the Oilers and capitalizing for his next contract, but failing to do so is the kind of conversation you have behind closed doors or with the player (assuming this conversation needs to be had at all). Nicholson said, “… he’d score 15-16 goals and instead of making two million he’d sign a four-year deal at three and a half million. Toby Rieder hasn’t scored a goal.”

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It’s a candid and not entirely inaccurate comment; but still, Nicholson said this to fans.

Related: NHL Rumors: Oilers, Sabres, Rangers, More

Now What?

Nicholson has since apologized, said he’s spoken to Rieder and the two have talked it out and had a good chuckle. Yet, if you watch Rieder’s comments on the Nicholson drama, he doesn’t seem terribly pleased.

Was Nicholson downplaying things? If so, what does this say about the Oilers moving forward and who is behind what could be one of the biggest decisions for the franchise over the next decade?

A guy who didn’t interview the last GM, let him destroy the team, then fired him after his GM fired an innocent guy is cleary someone who needs to be monitored. This same man is framing the Oilers slow-play on finding a new GM as a team directive, and, at the same time, blasting a depth forward who has next-to-nothing to do with where the team is at today. This is also the same guy who needs to find a GM who can make trades, restructure this team and ensure the best player in hockey is happy over the next seven seasons.

Why do I have a bad feeling about this?…