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Oilers Watch: Solo owners breed success

As the holiday season approaches, it’s an ideal time for hockey fans to express thanks for any and all good fortune they’ve enjoyed this past year.

In Edmonton, it’s difficult to be cheery, what with the Oilers having won just three home games this season. But there’s one thing – make that one person – Oil fans should be especially thankful for: their owner, Daryl Katz.

Katz hasn’t turned the NHL upside down since he bought the franchise last July. However, the fact Edmonton has a single soul directing the team has to be considered a distinct competitive advantage.

Look at the last 10 Stanley Cup-winning teams: with the exception of the New Jersey Devils – who have a de facto all-powerful emperor in Lou Lamoriello – every championship franchise was owned by one individual.

In Detroit, it was Mike Ilitch; in Anaheim, it was the husband-and-wife team of Henry and Susan Samueli; in Carolina, it was Peter Karmanos; in Tampa Bay, it was Bill Davidson; in Colorado, it was Stan Kroenke; and in Dallas, it was Tom Hicks.

In each of those circumstances, the aforementioned owners allowed their hockey brass to manage as they saw fit. Owners were there primarily to provide the financial backbone and not to interfere – and that’s a major reason why they were successful.

Meanwhile, teams that function under corporate conglomerates rarely have the requisite flexibility, drive and passion found under single ownership structures. In Atlanta, Toronto and Nashville, among other locales, the multi-owner approach lends itself more to backroom power struggles and time-wasting board meetings than playoff victories.

Nobody’s saying the Thrashers, Maple Leafs or Predators won’t prove that theory wrong some day. But the truth is, in an industry where key decisions (i.e. free agency or trades) often must be made at the drop of a hat, securing the official green light from a board of directors makes the process more difficult than making a single phone call to your sole owner.

That’s a big benefit for Katz and the Oilers. He’ll undoubtedly make errors along the way, but his control of the team is reason enough for optimism.

This column also appears in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.

Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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