Bob Nicholson

Oilers restructure front-office, with Nicholson now chairman

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — The Edmonton Oilers promoted one executive Monday and hired another in a front-office restructuring of a team that has missed the playoffs 12 of the last 13 years.

CEO and vice chairman Bob Nicholson will become chairman. Former Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs executive Tom Anselmi joins the team as president, business operations and chief operating officer.

Nicholson came to the Oilers in 2014 after 16 years at Hockey Canada. He will be in charge of all of Oilers Entertainment Group’s sports franchises, including the NHL team and affiliates in the Western Hockey League and American Hockey League.

Ken Holland, the new president of hockey operations/general manager, will report to Nicholson. Holland hired Dave Tippett as coach last month.

Anselmi will run all OEG business operations. He was at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for 17 years before resigning in 2013. He was president/CEO of the Senators for just more than a year starting in 2017.

McDavid shoots down trade rumors, addresses injury

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If you want an idea about how dark things can get for the Edmonton Oilers, consider that in the span of a week:

1) People were wondering if Connor McDavid would soon be on the verge of demanding a trade.

And

2) Sportsnet’s Mark Spector excitedly tweeted that McDavid attended Sunday’s exit interview while not on crutches.

Yeah, these have been trying times.

But, hey: McDavid was reasonably reassuring (to use his words, “fairly positive”) about the two most disturbing ways his season ended for the Oilers, beyond the team missing the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

McDavid noted that he still needs to get an MRI, so that “fairly positive” update could still be somewhat problematic if there’s soft tissue damage/structural damage/other bad things. That said, McDavid admitted that he feared the worst, saying that “I thought my leg was in two pieces” after Saturday’s terrifying fall:

Number 97 didn’t try to claim that he was happy with the Oilers results, stating that he’d be “a loser” if he wasn’t frustrated with the way things are gone, and that he expects changes in Edmonton’s front office. But McDavid did his part to shoot down trade rumors, stating that he wants to be part of the solution, and that he wouldn’t have signed an eight-year contract with the Oilers if he didn’t want to stay.

Now, sure, “part of the solution” is a phrase that brings back some bad memories of the Taylor Hall trade … yet it’s better than McDavid giving a non-answer altogether, right?

Also: don’t expect the speedy star to change the way he plays, even after another frightful moment. As you may recall, his other major NHL injury happened because he was tripped up while going all-out.

As Ken Hitchcock said after the Oilers received Saturday’s fairly positive update about McDavid, they’re not out of the woods just yet. If McDavid suffered an injury that inhibits his speed over his career, it would be a loss for hockey fans everywhere, not just for the Oilers and their fans. So keep that in mind, and keep your eyes on PHT for updates.

All things considered, it could still be worse, though.

(Oh, and no, McDavid didn’t think Mark Giordano made a dirty play.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Oilers’ Rieder responds to CEO criticism: ‘It’s disappointing’

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Edmonton Oilers forward Tobias Rieder had the same reaction everyone should have had when he first read the comments from team CEO Bob Nicholson on Thursday, essentially blaming him for the Oilers’ struggles this season and missing the playoffs for what will be the second year in a row (and 12th time in the past 13 years).

“You look at it and kind of can’t believe it,” said Rieder on Friday, just less than 24 hours he was thrown under the bus by the team’s CEO.

Speaking at an event with season ticket holders, Nicholson did not hold back in his criticism of Rieder, saying that he went to Edmonton as a free agent hoping to play with one of the team’s two superstars (Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl), score 15 or 16 goals, and turn that performance into a larger contract.

Nicholson then criticized Rieder, who has not scored a goal in 60 games this season, for missing “so many breakaways” and then capping it all off with the remark that if Rieder had scored 10 or 12 goals this season the team might be in the playoffs.

“I feel like it’s disappointing, and I’m offended by it,” said Rieder, via AM 630 in Edmonton. “I’m the first one to admit I’m not having a good year. It has not been an easy season for me, it’s been hard. But I’m still going out there and giving 100 percent every time I am on the ice, every game, trying to help the team win. It was tough to read for somebody to get singled out like that and kind of thrown under the bus. It is what it is now. I’m not proud of the season I’m having. Like I said, I’m the first one to admit I’m not playing to my capabilities. I think it went a little too far, and I think Bob knows that too.”

[Related: Oilers’ CEO apologizes for comments about Tobias Rieder]

Even after their win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, the Oilers are still five points out of a playoff spot in what has been a historically weak playoff race in the Western Conference and still have five teams ahead of them for the second Wild Card spot. Their goal differential of minus-35 is 24th in the NHL and they are the 20th in the league in goals per game despite having two of the top-five scorers in the NHL (McDavid and Draisaitl), both of whom are likely to top 100 points this season.

An additional 10 or 12 goals from Rieder, or anyone else for that matter, would still give them a minus-23 goal differential (which would still only be 23rd in the league) and only improve them to 18th in the league in goals per game. Unless those “10 or 12 goals” all happened at the exact right time and only occurred in one-goal losses, it is an outrageous statement to make, and perhaps the most outrageous any team executive has made this season (not an easy accomplishment).

When asked what bothered him the most about the criticism, Rieder said it was a combination of the timing and the way it came across.

“Thought the timing was a bit weird,” Rieder said. “We are still in the race for the playoffs. Still going to go out there and play my heart out, and play for the guys and my friends in the locker room and do my best to help the team win.

“We are talking all year going through adversity, and the guys in the room we have to stick together. I just don’t think it’s right to single somebody out in a team sport. I get where he’s coming from, like I said, I’m not having my best year, and I just don’t think it’s the right place to single somebody out and throw them under the bus.”

Rieder said he first got word of the comments when Nicholson phoned him to apologize. He was not fully aware of what was happening as he had been taking his pre-game nap in preparation for Thursday’s game, and then his phone began blowing up.

While Rieder was clearly not happy with the criticism and being singled out, he said he still accepted Nicholson’s apology.

“Yeah I did,” said Rieder. “I think that’s the grown up thing to do, you don’t want to get it dragging on forever. It is what it is. Whatever happened, happened, and that’s how it is in this business, you got to get over it.”

Rieder signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the team in free agency this past season. He has 11 assists in 60 games while playing just a little more than 12 minutes per night.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Oilers CEO apologizes for comments about Tobias Rieder

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If Bob Nicholson is to be believed, it’s Tobias Rieder’s fault the Edmonton Oilers aren’t in the playoffs at the moment.

Yes, a fourth-liner who is averaging 12:42 of ice time this season is the scapegoat for the disaster the Oilers have been this season.

The Oilers CEO said so.

Of course, Nicholson is wrong about that, and he’s since apologized and backtracked on the comments he made on at a season ticket holder event on Thursday, where he bashed Rieder and blamed him for the team’s failings.

The Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy reported that Nicholson said Rieder would not be re-signed by the team at the end of the season.

He went on to say that Rieder was wanted by other teams but chose Edmonton because he wanted to play with fellow German-born player in Leon Draisaitl, and if not with his compatriot, then he could play with Connor McDavid, where he’d score 15 or 16 goals and re-up with the club at higher price point than the $2 million he’s making on a one-year deal this season.

And then he said that if Rieder had 10 or 12 goals this season, “we’d probably be in the playoffs.”

*facepalm*

Rieder might be the last reason why the Oilers won’t sniff the postseason this year.

Peter Chiarelli is the name that Nicholson should have uttered (and he kind of, but not really, did). If you’re going to throw someone under the bus, at least throw the guilty party and not the innocent victim. And let’s not forget all of the draft duds and all the good players that were traded away.

What the Oilers really need is to throw a stick of dynamite into the country club that still runs the organization, clean up the mess and start fresh. Get rid of everybody from the long-gone glory years and stop trying to rekindle something that couldn’t catch a spark if it was rolling around in Death Valley.

Nicholson, himself, said that the insane contract handed out to Mikko Koskinen was a decision made by the organization, and all of those go through him before they’re made final.

As mentioned, Nicholson told TSN’s Darren Dreger that he apologized to Rieder, saying that he “stepped out of bounds.”

Apparently, Nicholson and Rieder laughed about it and will move on.

Who hasn’t moved on yet is Rieder’s agent Darren Ferris, who expressed his unhappiness to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug.

“I am totally astonished and disappointed that the president of an NHL team can make such a callous and reckless statement about a player,” Ferris said. “This is unacceptable.”

Ken Hitchcock, who was probably just as blindsided as Rieder was with the comments, defended his player follow Edmonton’s big win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“From our standpoint, you want to see a guy score and have success offensively because it makes him feel good,” Hitchcock said. “But if he’s not doing that, he helps us in a number of other areas, Hitch said of Rieder.

An already awkward situation is even more so given that Rieder has to play for an executive who doesn’t want him.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Oilers’ CEO not a fan of Connor McDavid suspension

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The Edmonton Oilers are none too pleased with the National Hockey League’s decision to suspend Connor McDavid two games for his headshot on New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy on Thursday night.

Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson defended McDavid during a meeting with the media on Saturday before the team took to the ice for their pre-game skate.

“We’re really disappointed with the NHL’s decision,” Nicholson said. “This is a first-time offense for Connor. Everyone knows Connor is a skilled player and I thought he did a very good job explaining what he was doing before there was contact with Leddy.”

The hit in question took place at the 17:32 mark of the first period. McDavid was handed a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head on the play. Leddy stayed down for a bit and was summoned for concussion testing but returned for the second period and played out the rest of the game.

McDavid went on to score the overtime winner in a 4-3 win.

Nicholson said McDavid’s intent heading into the hit was to strip the puck from Leddy and when he realized he couldn’t do that, became small and didn’t try to level Leddy.

Nicholson then argued the hit’s principle point of contact (although it clearly was) wasn’t the head.

“I thought the contact started at the chest and there was a deflection into the head but it was a slight deflection into the head,” Nicholson said.

McDavid figured he wouldn’t be suspended prior to the hearing and figured he raised some good points about the hit, but said that once he heard the tone of the voice once in the meeting, he knew that wouldn’t be the case.

“I think a lot of times, you go in and they already have their mind made up,” McDavid said. “They don’t really care what you have to say.”

McDavid said it’s frustrating given that it’s a crucial time for the Oilers. Edmonton sits eight points back of the Minnesota Wild for the second wildcard in the Western Conference heading into Saturday’s action. The Oilers battle the Ducks later on in the day, who are one point ahead of them in the standings. Edmonton needs to leapfrog six teams over their next 22 games to head to the playoffs.

Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said he feels McDavid deserved better but said the team can’t worry about it right now.

“We just have to keep going,” Hitchcock said. “Fighting the fight isn’t going to do us any good right now.

What goes on, suspension-wise, I’m even sure I know all the rules, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said.

McDavid was non-committal on appealing the decision. Nicholson said he didn’t think McDavid would.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck