Nichols had 'pay back' philosophy

JOHN SHORT

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

First things first.

Before Edmonton takes one small step toward a new Oilers owner and a supposed showplace arena, every sports fan should show some gratitude to the group that wrestled the franchise away from Peter Pocklington a decade ago.

It's one thing to recognize that Cal Nichols and his supporters conquered Pocklington-- we all remember that --but it's quite another to recall how massive their commitment was.

Forever, I'll remember Cal's philosophy:

- Edmonton is a better place with an NHL team in it.

- None of the investors was in it for profit; they had been successful in this community and wanted to pay back, just as he did.

- The group would be honest and transparent in its dealings.

There was more of course. Much, much more.

Somehow, the group stayed together despite the open belief of Bruce Saville, Jim Hole and perhaps a few others that only Glen Sather could keep the franchise alive and competitive.

They refused to accept that Sather, a proven hockey wizard, had become a strong ally in Pocklington's program to put the Oilers in Houston or Oklahoma City or Las Vegas or Portland or Hamilton or wherever.

Slats landed on his feet, as expected. So did we.

With Pocklington and Sather gone, those remarkable investors invested in president Pat Laforge and general manager Kevin Lowe, who feed the same healthy diet of loyalty to head coach Craig MacTavish and his staff.

It's fair to criticize the Oilers when they fail on the ice, but it's important to recognize that quality is not always reflected in a win-loss record.

It's time, also, to salute Northlands for the financial sacrifices the organization made, first in meeting Pocklington's insane demands and then in helping the new group find solid financial footing.

This wee, small voice says thank you.

TRANSPARENCY THE KEY

To me, transparency was the organization's biggest strength.

In my dealings with Nichols, he shows an honesty that is almost pathological.

More than once, he refused to respond to a question sensing that the timing was wrong. Eventually, the truth was always front and centre.

Nichols spoke for Edmonton and for his group in equal measure. Politicians demonstrate every day that it's difficult to remain honest and open while being diplomatic, but this guy managed it.

His dealings with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stand as a glowing example.

At first, Bettman feared a group of almost 40 investors might be unmanageable. Now, he lists Edmonton --city and franchise together --among the most stable situations in the entire league.

MYSTERY MAN

I've never spoken with Daryl Katz.

It isn't fair to be critical of a guy you don't know.

Obviously, the self-contained approach to buying the Oilers has been part of a lifelong pattern.

His friends speak well of him -- and that's good, because those supporters are established as valuable and reliable people.

Never should Katz be expected or required to become a loud-mouthed combination of owner and buffoon as Harold Ballard was with the Toronto Maple Leafs or Pocklington with the Oilers or George Steinbrenner with the New York Yankees.

But he can't continue to operate as a mystery man whose only conduit to the public is a fax machine operated by a public relations firm.

Probably, it is time for the Oilers to be sold.

Nichols, Ed Bean, Ron Hodgson and their generous colleagues are entitled to rest.

As they prepare to leave the stage, Edmonton should be planning a majestic farewell for them.


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