SUN Hockey Pool

Katz era begins for Oilers

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

As he sat through a parade of people preceding him to the microphone, Daryl Katz kept taking exceptionally deep breaths like an uncomfortable groom headed to the altar.

Finally when Pat LaForge, Gary Bettman via video, Stephen Mandel, Kevin Lowe and Cal Nichols had taken their turns to offer their testimonials, the new Edmonton Oilers owner took his deepest of all breaths and proceeded to the podium for his first face-to-face with the public after his hostile takeover of the team. And there was nothing hostile anywhere out there.

IT WAS A LOVE-IN

Under the banners in Rexall Place with the lowered scoreboard as a backdrop, it was largely a love-in and a perfectly predictable warm welcoming for the new owner and his vision of the future of Oilers hockey.

"So we finally meet face to face - and I'm sure a lot of you thought that would never happen," began the former boogieman who finally stood there for the community to take their measure of the man who now holds their team in trust.

If first impressions are everything, he definitely made a good one.

He took care of that before he took a question. Katz made a joke about being asked, when he officially became Oilers owner, if he was going to have a presser.

"I understand now how all of you refer to this as a presser. Not wanting to let on how naive I was about all of this, I said 'Of course I'm going to have a presser, thinking it was a beverage old-time frat boys had to celebrate some kind of a rite of passage."

He managed to make the average fan happy for him, which isn't easy when you are worth a reported $1.6 billion and ranked as the 486th richest man in the world.

"As I'm sure all of you can appreciate, this is an extraordinarily momentous and exciting day for me personally ... Standing here today at centre ice under all the Stanley Cup banners, all I can say is this is nothing short of a dream come true."

Katz offered the appropriate testimonial to the Edmonton Investors Group shareholders he spent $200 million to buy out and fulfilled his promise in announcing his king-maker - Cal Nichols as chairman of the hockey club and alternate governor for his turning-point move in sealing the deal.

"Without Cal and the EIG shareholders, none of us would be here today. They will always hold a special place in Edmonton's history and the hearts of Oilers fans everywhere," he said.

Before the question-and-answer session, Katz made a couple of other comments.

"I've said from the start that I believe there is a special opportunity through the Oilers to do great things for the city and great things for our Rexall brand, and we're all eager to get started."

He said at the end of the day this isn't about the owner.

"It's about the fans. I know because I am one. To all of our fans near and far, you have my personal commitment to do whatever I can to make the Edmonton Oilers a winning franchise at the heart of the community."

COMMITTED TO NEW ARENA

Katz, who has committed $100 million to a new state-of-the-art downtown arena said "the sooner we can move into a new arena, the better," and said now that the sale has closed he plans to talk to the U of A about creating a centre of excellence for hockey, as promised.

"I think the next few years will be enormously exciting ones for this franchise, both on and off the ice, and we're delighted to be part of it."

Later, Katz elaborated.

The billionaire is known for a hands-on approach for his businesses but he said he doesn't see himself "overly involved day-to-day." However, he added "decisions will be made very quickly" and that "the emphasis will be on winning."

It's a little premature for anybody to call Daryl Katz a winner just yet in terms of being a hockey owner, but he won a lot of people over yesterday and he definitely won over just about everybody on the hockey side in the first 48 hours with his actions instead of words. Lowe's aggressive deals to make his team better and the Oilers going after the best player available in free agency, even if they didn't end up getting him, proved Katz's mettle.

It'll be difficult to find an Oiler fan today who doesn't think the future is going to be great. And that's a long way from where we were when he began to try to get his hands on this hockey team.


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