EDMONTON — Bob Nicholson should have a mirror affixed to the podium whenever he takes questions on the Edmonton Oilers. Especially at a season ticket holder’s breakfast.
On those occasions, every answer should begin with, “That happened under my watch, so…” Every possessive should be “me” or “mine.” Never “him” or “theirs.”
It’s not the water’s fault, and you can’t blame Mikko Koskinen’s glove hand. You sure as hell shouldn’t blame third-liner Toby Rieder, even as he burrows through this goal-less, 60-game season.
It’s Bob Nicholson’s fault, because Bob Nicholson is the CEO here. He hired Peter Chiarelli, and the pro scouts have stumbled and bumbled for five years under Nicholson’s watch. He signed off on Milan Lucic’s contract, and by his own admission, Nicholson approved three years at $4.5 million for Koskinen.
And the craziest thing here? Nicholson knows all of that.
“I was answering a question on depth — what we’re trying to do with depth and character on the wing,” Nicholson began, when asked to explain what happened at that ticket holders event Thursday morning. “I say, ‘We need to find more wingers with skill and character.’ I say, ‘We thought we had that in Toby Rieder.’”
From there, it became a frame-by-frame of Nicholson inserting his brogue inside his own mouth, as chronicled by Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton Journal, who was at the event:
“Toby Rieder will not be signed by the Edmonton Oilers at the end of this year.
“Toby Rieder … came here for one year because he wanted to play with Leon Draisaitl, who he plays with on the German national team. He thought if he wasn’t playing with Leon, he’d be playing with Connor. He’d score 15-16 goals, and instead of making two million, he’d sign a four-year deal at $3.5 million.
“Toby Rieder hasn’t scored a goal.
“Toby Rieder has missed so many breakaways.
“If Toby Rieder would have scored 10 or 12 goals, we’d probably be in the playoffs.”
“I screwed up,” Nicholson told me before the game Thursday. “I promised I’d talk until all the questions were done. I don’t look back on that in a negative way. But where I got offside in my comment is that Toby wouldn’t be here next year. That, if he would have scored 12 or 15 goals, we’d be in the playoffs.
“That’s wrong for me to say that.”
Beat up Toby Rieder if you must. But do it in the context that you hired the guy who thought he could help — even when a call to anyone around the L.A. Kings last season would have steered you clear.
But when you are the CEO of this Oilers ship, the thing you can never, ever, ever do again, is pass the buck.
That’s what cost Nicholson several hours of sleep last night. He passed the buck.
“Now you’re saying the reason you’re making the playoffs is because of Toby Rieder, which is the furthest thing from what I meant to say,” rued Nicholson. “I take the blame. I said it. I phoned the player and apologized. He chuckled and said, ‘Don’t worry about it Bob.’”
Now, I know many of you are disappointed here. You clicked on this piece to see Spector carve Nicholson a new you-know-what, the way we carved most elements of this team a couple of days ago.
Well, let me tell you a little story:
When I was a young reporter, and old-timer in the sports writing business told me, “Kid, never carve with a dull knife.” I would learn that meant two things:
One, if you’re going to criticize, be fair, but don’t hedge. Don’t be the guy who writes kinda hard every day, or it will lose its effect. Write hard, own it, and move on.
And two, never let the subject have any doubt whether he/she is being carved.
We’re not carving Nicholson here, because he had a bad five minutes. If he was really a guy who wanted everyone to think this was all some UFA winger’s fault, he’d have shown us those colours a long time ago.
He knows what he did was dumb. But it was momentary dumb.
Like a goalie who lets one in from centre ice, it doesn’t define his season. Let in three or four however, and now we’re getting a big-picture view.
Nicholson hired Chiarelli four years ago. That was a big fail, but it doesn’t define him.
Soon enough he’ll get a do-over, and as an NHL executive, this one will define Bob Nicholson. And he knows it.
That’s why he’s taking his time.
“I have not held an official interview yet.”