It finally happened. The day that Oilers fans have been waiting for has arrived. Peter Chiarelli has been fired.
When he was hired, the fan base was excited that an experienced outside voice was taking over. Add Connor McDavid to that, and the expectations were high that Chiarelli would guide this team towards being a contender.
In his 3.5 years here, the Oilers made the playoffs once.
I have spent a long time defending Chiarelli’s biggest trades. I am not going to change my stance on those now that he has been fired. I still believe that the market values of Hall and Larsson along with the Oilers having a surplus of scoring wingers at the time made that Hall trade more even than the talent level would of the two players would suggest. I believe that Chiarelli and McLellan were not fans of how Eberle played without the puck, otherwise they would’ve held on to him through last season. They are up against the cap without Eberle, so he still would’ve been moved prior to this season if not when it happened. Considering that it was a cap dump, I liked the return they got from NYI because Strome was a young player with some offensive potential (35-40 pts a year max) that contributed when he was here, and that could’ve contributed for a long time had he not been moved for a chance at an immediate increase in offence that clearly didn’t work out.
Chiarelli’s mandate upon arriving in Edmonton was to fix the defence and goaltending. He also needed to rebuild the team as quickly as possible because McDavid was set to start tearing the league apart, and he needed a team behind him if the Oilers were to become a contender. He signed Sekera right away, which was a major upgrade on what existed. He was a major factor in the success of the Oilers in 2016-17, and the loss of that particular version of Sekera has been an obstacle too large for the Oilers to overcome since. He signed Russell, who has been nothing short of a rock for the Oilers. He has his flaws, but he has brought defending to a team that sorely needed it. He paid dearly for Larsson, but Larsson has been another rock back there for the majority of his time as an Oiler (this past weekend aside). He acquired Talbot during that 2015 draft. Talbot has been inconsistent for Edmonton, but he was great during the 2016-17 season. He took a risk on Koskinen this off-season, but it had worked out well so far. Both are marked improvements over what was here when Chiarelli was hired.
Chiarelli did succeed at improving the defence and the goaltending, although you can certainly argue that both positions aren’t where they need to be just yet. There has been a reliance upon young, developing players like Klefbom and Nurse to take on big roles on the blueline. Klefbom is just now scratching the surface of how good he can be, and Nurse isn’t far behind him; but it has taken time for them to get to where they are.
The thing I’ll say about Chiarelli is that he is a riverboat gambler. As I outlined in my article about Chiarelli’s plan, he tried to accelerate the rebuild by bringing in young players that could contribute right away, and that had not reached their peak yet. Reinhart was a prime example of that on defence. The problem with that trade was that Reinhart was not NHL ready at the time like Chiarelli suggested that he was, and they gave up two high picks in a deep draft to acquire the player. It was a bet gone wrong. He made a bet on Strome being able to produce offence. Another bet gone wrong. He made bets on guys like Rattie, Spooner, Zykov, and Chiasson this season, but he won on only one of those bets. He bet on his young defencemen like Nurse and Benning to fill the void of Sekera’s injury last season, and it didn’t pan out. He tried to fill the void from trading Eberle at right wing with young players like Caggiula, Slepyshev, Puljujarvi, and Yamamoto at times when they weren’t quite ready for the challenge.
As Nicholson alluded to in his press conference today, there was too much “hoping” going on.
That “riverboat gambler” mentality was a stark contrast to previous management regime. MacTavish was supposedly going to make “bold” moves, but that never really happened. After the 2015-16 season, the majority of Oilers fans wanted to trade one of the $6 million men for a defenceman because the defence was so horrendous. That was something that fans had been wanting for a few years at that point. Chiarelli didn’t care about the optics of the trade from the outside world. I’ll give him credit for having the balls to make that trade.
It worked out in 2016-17 when the Oilers made the playoffs, but the team has regressed since then. Nicholson said that there’s “something in the water” here that is preventing the team from playing up to it’s potential.
That is entirely true. Adam Cook asked if that “something in the water” had anything to do with the 80s Oilers still being employed by the club because of the perception that fans have regarding their impact on hockey decisions. Nicholson quite clearly said that Kevin Lowe has no input on hockey decisions anymore. I really don’t think that is the problem anymore. In an article from earlier this season, the majority of Oilers forwards that have played any kind of significant role this season have seen their offensive production regress from last year. In most of those cases, it has dropped by more than half! I don’t understand how so many players can see their production drop by so much. In regard to Lucic, everyone knew that he would regress at some point. Some could even say that they figured it would happen sooner rather than later because of the increasing speed of the game; but anyone that says that they figured his production would fall as far as it has is speaking in hyperbolic terms. His 2018 was an unimaginable low. Spooner is only producing about a quarter of the rate that he did last year! Inconsistency is one thing, but that is ridiculous! I’m not exolving Chiarelli of any responsibility, but the players simply need to play somewhere close to how they are capable of playing. Nicholson said that this is a really good team, and they just haven’t been showing it consistently enough.
I see that too. I believe that the team is better than what they have shown on the ice. It is definitely better than it was when Chiarelli took over, and factors aside from McDavid have contributed to that. People look to the fact that Chiarelli gave up Hall, Eberle, and the 1st and 2nd round picks in 2015 for Larsson and Spooner (who is STILL with the team despite going on waivers on Monday) and laugh at how horrible of a GM he was. While that certainly doesn’t look good from an asset management perspective, the overall product on the ice has been better than it was before Chiarelli arrived. The bar was not set very high though. I would also argue that whatever is “in the water” here that makes players become far less effective in Edmonton than in other cities is something that did Chiarelli and his roster in. As much as injuries are not an excuse, losing Klefbom and Russell in addition to the Sekera injury were huge blows to the team. That certainly factored into Chiarelli’s eventual demise.
Chiarelli did improve the defence, the goaltending, and the organizational prospect pool. The team’s trajectory is pointing higher than a lot of people want to believe that it is. However, the bottom line is that the team is not playing up to the expectations of the organization or of the fan base. The reality is that professional sports is a results-oriented business, and the Oilers are not delivering results right now. A lot of fans have already decided that they are not going to renew their season tickets for next season. Many fans had grown to be apathetic because they have begun to expect the worst from the team on a nightly basis.
Chiarelli’s in-season moves this year have been failures. Spooner has done nothing, while Strome was at least contributing defensively. I didn’t mind the trade at the time because Spooner was supposed to be an upgrade offensively, but THAT hasn’t been the case at all. Wideman didn’t work out. Garrison was basically only signed to maximize the amount of LTIR space that Chiarelli had to work with as a result of the Sekera injury. He’s playing in Sweden now. The Petrovic deal was fine by me. I’m not as upset about the Manning deal as everyone else was, but the guy will be the 4th or 5th best LD once the roster returns to full health. Those last two deals were supposed to help bring stability to the back-end while Russell and Klefbom were hurt, but the team’s record in that time suggests that the moves didn’t serve their intended purpose.
I understand why the organization made the move to fire Chiarelli, and I’m not upset about it; but I’ll say that the incoming GM is walking into a great situation with a solid young core featuring the best player in the game, and with a deep pool of talented prospects like Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, Bouchard, Jones, Benson, and McCleod.
Nicholson said that the Oilers will not be heading into a rebuild when a reporter suggested that some fans think the team has a big hole to dig itself out of. That idea is really not the case. They aren’t as far away from being a contender as a lot of people think they are. Nicholson said that there are a lot of good pieces here and that they need to supplement those pieces better. That is 100% bang on.
Nicholson said that they will not trade away the future for a quick fix this season. He also said that they will be looking for ways to improve the forward group without trading the 2019 1st round pick leading up to the trade deadline. In my All-Star Break Trade Preview from yesterday, I outlined a few different ways that the Oilers can achieve that goal without trading the 1st round pick or Puljuajrvi. They would be smart to move a couple of guys out during the break in order to create the necessary cap space to acquire a scoring forward. If they want to make a bigger splash like adding Zuccarello, then the Oilers will need to trade Talbot. That would not qualify as mortgaging the future because of the Koskinen extension. Stay tuned to the Oilers during the break, even though they made this move at the GM position last night.
As for the future, Nicholson didn’t divulge much in terms of what direction they might be leaning. Bob Stauffer asked if there would be a shift from being a heavy team to becoming a team that emphasizes speed and skill. While Nicholson didn’t dismiss that suggestion entirely, he said that they will be looking for character more than anything else. He did say that he will be looking for someone that can be the “best GM for the players of today”. The players of today have more speed and skill. Read into that what you will.
He also suggested that they need to be more patient with their prospects. He wants them to be “over ripe” when they enter the league. That comes with organizational depth, starting from the top of the line-up. They have that on defence already, and they are one top 6 winger away from having that be the reality for the forward group in my opinion. Puljujarvi is the poster child for rushed development on the current roster. He should not have been in the NHL in his first season, and he was not ready to produce last season or this season. That will not be strategy with new prospects going forward.
As for who the new GM will be, it is far too early to say. Nicholson wants to take his time with this hire, as he should. I would expect a decision to come in the offseason, probably in late April or May. People look to Toronto as the model front office situation in the current NHL. Mark Hunter was a part of that management team up until this season. He lost out on the vacated Leafs GM position to Kyle Dubas. I honestly think that Hunter would be a fantastic choice for the next GM of the Oilers. We can’t discount the Hockey Canada connections because of Nicholson in this search. Yzerman was the GM of Canada’s Olympic teams in 2010 and 2014 while Nicholson was with Hockey Canada. Yzerman did a fantastic job in Tampa Bay, although you could argue that he was helped by the climate down there and by the fact that they don’t have state tax, which allows them to have elite players making big money with smaller cap hits. He would be another great choice. A friend of mine, who is a Red Wings fan (for some reason), predicted that Ken Holland will come to Edmonton and that Yzerman would fill his then vacated role as the GM of Detroit. Holland does have a history with Nicholson and Hockey Canada as well, and Yzerman left Tampa Bay to be closer to home, so my friend’s theory is not far fetched. Those are a few names to keep in mind, but I’m sure others will be considered as well.
For now, Oilers fans can finally breathe a sigh a relief because Chiarelli is finally gone.