Chiarelli Speaks

Before I start here, I want to say that I hope everyone is feeling good and being safe out there during this time! This situation with COVID-19 is absolutely brutal, and it’s imperative that we practice social distancing and stay home in order to flatten the curve as the authorities have been telling us to do.

Lives are at stake. It may not be my life or your life, but the lives of many people are on the line here. Please act accordingly.

Obviously, there isn’t going to be a lot to write about for the next while, but I will still be posting the odd article here and there as I see fit, so please keep your eyes open on Twitter.

For now, I want to take a minute to talk about Peter Chiarelli’s interview with Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun. This was Chiarelli’s first public interview since his dismissal from his post as GM of the Oilers. I hate to beat a dead horse, but we’ve basically got nothing else to talk about right now!

From a general point of view, Chiarelli feels that he made two mistakes. The first was getting right back on the horse after being fired in Boston without taking some time to step back and reflect. Chiarelli said that he had a few job offers right away, and he didn’t like the thought of being out of a job for very long.

There’s merit in that thought. Reflection after being fired allows you to figure out what went wrong, and it allows you to figure out how to not make those mistakes again. However, Chiarelli’s Bruins had made the playoffs in 7 straight years before they missed the playoffs in 2015, which ultimately resulted in his demise in Boston. They missed the playoffs again in 2016, but they’ve made the playoffs every year since then including a Stanley Cup Finals appearance last season, and they’ve done that largely with the same core that Chiarelli left behind. It’s not as if he was a colossal failure in Boston, so he likely would’ve thought that there wasn’t much about his approach that needed to change.

I also think that there would’ve been ample opportunity for reflection while he was developing the six-year plan that he said that he laid out to Bob Nicholson when he got hired.

The other mistake that Chiarelli believes that he made was not sticking to his plan. His plan to get the Oilers a Stanley Cup was supposed to take six years to carry out, but things changed after the Oilers’ 2017 playoff run.

“You go in with a longer look and in this day and age it’s easy to stray from that longer look especially when you make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and you win a round. I knew it was coming and I should’ve been more forceful in my position on where we were in the plan but it’s hard because you’ve got paying customers, an owner, and people around you that feel you should take the next step. You see it happen in the NHL all the time. We’ve seen it happen this year and that’s a really hard position to be in. You have success early and you lose sight of the sequential building process. You see now a lot of the kids we drafted are there and contributing.”

There’s a fair bit to unpack in that statement.

Chiarelli did appear to lose patience, and that was clearly evident in how he handled his roster during his final season at the helm. It was one panic move after another in 2018-19. Ryan Strome for Ryan Spooner, Drake Cagguila for Brandon Manning, and the Alex Petrovic deal are all examples of panic moves that didn’t work out for Chiarelli.

It goes back further than that though.

Chiarelli pointed specifically at the summer after the 2017 playoff run. That success clearly distorted his view of where the team really was at that time.

He also talked about having an owner and paying customers to think about. He talked about the idea that he should’ve been more forceful in his position on where the team was in his plan. Those statements are evidence that Daryl Katz was in his grill about his expectations for the team, and his expectations were clearly high.

Katz was Chiarelli’s boss’s boss. We have seen Katz talk about how much he cares about the success of the team, and we’ve seen his willingness to spend money so that the team can succeed. You can’t tell me that Katz sits idly by and says nothing to Nicholson and the management team ever. I’m not excusing Chiarelli for anything, but downward pressure from the powers that be is always a factor in the workplace.

2017 was the summer that Chiarelli traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome. Chiarelli defended that trade by suggesting that he made the move to create cap space to protect himself in case of an offer sheet on Leon Draisaitl, but Eberle was coming off of an unproductive playoff run and a slow second half that saw him in coach MacLellan’s dog house. I wonder what Katz thought of Eberle at that time.

Chiarelli also opened up on the infamous one-for-one trade involving Taylor Hall and Adam Larsson. Chiarelli claimed that he made that move to create space. That space was in the dressing room, and against the salary cap.

“That was a difficult one because we felt we wanted to give breathing room to Connor McDavid and with where the salaries would go that’s a long look. Those are hard looks to execute. I liked the player we got. Adam Larsson is a good player, he’s not a sexy player, but he unfairly gets judged because it was a lopsided trade perception-wise. I had one offer. In hindsight I should’ve waited but the development of Connor was very important and we felt that we had to clear some room for him – both salary room and in the (dressing) room.”

If we’re talking about this trade from a patience perspective, then there’s two things I have to point out here. The first is that Chiarelli had one offer. He absolutely could’ve waited. He didn’t need to make that trade at that exact moment, so why did he do it?

He liked Larsson, but let’s examine the context in which that trade was made. That was the summer of 2016. Chiarelli’s first season as Oilers GM had just passed, and it was an abysmal season. Connor McDavid had just finished a spectacular rookie season. Katz and the Oilers were months away from opening up a brand new arena in the city’s downtown core. The team hadn’t made the playoffs in a decade.

Is anybody out there really naïve enough to think that there was no pressure coming from Katz for Chiarelli to do something BIG that summer?

The 2015-16 team clearly wasn’t good enough, and Katz wasn’t in a position where missing the playoffs again was not an option given McDavid and the new arena. The Oilers roster needed a change. They had a surplus of wingers, and a clear deficit on defence. If Chiarelli suggested that there was pressure from ownership in 2017, I would have to believe that there was pressure from ownership in 2016 as well.

Pressure from ownership had to be a factor in the Hall trade.

I spent a lot of time defending the Hall trade. I’ll continue to do so. Taylor Hall was a big presence in the Oilers’ room. Connor McDavid was named captain of the Oilers ahead of the 2016-17 season, which was after the Hall trade. McDavid lived with Hall during his rookie season. Hall was the leader of the team at that time. The organization thought that McDavid was ready to be the captain after his first season, and Hall was in the way of that.

The move to clear the way for McDavid to take the lead in the dressing room makes sense. Hall could potentially have been a distraction if he was playing with McDavid as captain. It would’ve been symbolic of McDavid supplanting Hall as the savior of the team. That’s exactly what happened, but there was no drama in the dressing room as a result of the trade. I’m not saying Hall would’ve been an issue in the room, I’m saying that he COULD’VE been, and the trade prevented that from becoming an issue.

We are all aware of how little room the Oilers have against the salary cap. We could probably sit here and create a hypothetical cap compliant roster that has Hall on it; but if the Oilers had Taylor Hall on the roster now, then the team wouldn’t be as deep as it is right now, especially on defence. The depth of the defence is a big reason why the Oilers were doing as well as they were in the 2019-20 season.

The issue wouldn’t have been the last few years of Hall’s current contract, it would’ve been his next contract. I don’t know what Hall will get on his next deal. The COVID-19 situation could limit any sort of cap growth this summer, which will limit what Hall can get on the open market. If not for the Coronavirus, Hall might’ve got a contract with a $10 million AAV. He still might for all I know. There’s no way that the Oilers will be able to get that kind of money or anything close to it on their cap and still ice a contending roster.

I’ve read some comments from Oilers fans dreaming about Hall taking a one-year deal at a lower cap hit to come back here and take a run at a Cup next season. COVID-19 is the only reason that there might even be a small chance of that happening. Getting Hall on a one-year deal for something close to what he’s making now is the only way that the Oilers could get him on their roster for next year, and they would still have to make some major moves to remove enough salary to make that happen.

Chiarelli had the foresight to trade Hall before the cap situation forced his hand. We saw that the Devils didn’t get a huge return for Hall because there was no guarantee that he would re-sign in Arizona. The assets that the Devils got in return for Hall won’t help them for a few years at least. That’s the type of return that rentals usually yield. The Oilers with a young Connor McDavid and a young Leon Draisaitl are in no position to wait another few years at the very least for assets as a part of a trade involving an important roster player to contribute. I like that Chiarelli didn’t wait and that he was able to get a young asset that has contributed ever since the trade, and that has a higher likelihood of contributing as an Oiler for a long time.

I want people to note that Chiarelli said that the trade was lopsided in perception. He’s clearly aware that Hall is a better player than Larsson, and I don’t dispute that. My argument has always been that Larsson is elite at what he does best, which is defending. It’s not as noticeable as scoring, but it’s still an important skill. I have also always argued that Larsson’s value was driven upwards because of the fact that he is a right-handed defenceman that was young and on a good contract at the time of the trade. Given the context of what was going on in Oil Country at the time, I would still make that trade again.

For those people that believe that Chiarelli was a fool to trade an elite winger like Hall for a defenceman like Larsson, we should look at the Maple Leafs as a good comparison. Their talent distribution is heavily skewed towards the forwards, just like any hypothetical Oilers team with Hall on it for the past 4 seasons would have been.

The Leafs have not won a playoff series in that time, whereas the Oilers have won one. The Leafs had 81 points in 70 games in the 2019-20 season before the pause. The Oilers had 83 points in 71 games. The two teams were essentially doing equally as well. Two different roster configurations have yielded similar results.

We should also consider the fact that Hall’s Devils only made the playoffs once, although that was admittedly largely because of Hall’s play. Hall’s Coyotes also fell out of the playoff race after acquiring Hall while they were in the Pacific Division lead. It’s not Hall’s fault that the Coyotes started losing, but I hope we can all admit that having Hall does not guarantee wins. I also hope that we can all admit that loading up at forward doesn’t guarantee wins either.

I know the popular consensus in Edmonton is that Pistol Pete was an idiot, but I’m not willing to go that far. The Lucic deal blew up in his face, the Reinhart trade was dumb, I don’t think he needed to pull the trigger on the Eberle trade when he did, and every move he made in 2018-19 was just wrong. The team is tight against the salary cap, but I honestly think that any GM running any team with Connor McDavid getting $12.5 million a year would also be tight up against the cap. I think that he could’ve taken more time on the Hall deal, but I have always defended that trade and I’m not backing down from that stance.

If we’re going to attack the man for all that he did wrong, we also have to acknowledge the good things that he did. He drafted quite well, and we saw the fruits of that with Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones this season. He made moves for Cam Talbot, Patrick Maroon, and Kris Russell, who were all important parts of the 2017 playoff team. He did also end the Decade of Darkness by getting the Oilers to the playoffs.

I think that Chiarelli’s self analysis is fair. He definitely let patience and external pressure be too much of a factor in some of his moves, which ultimately lead to his downfall.

In current Oilers news, the team signed Raphael Lavoie to his entry level contract this week. It appears that Lavoie will play in Bakersfield next year.

I’m excited about Lavoie! He’s proven to be a pure scorer at the junior level. He’s a right-handed shooter for whom his shot is his best weapon. He’s got NHL size as well. I’m excited about him, but I do think that he is going to take some time to develop because he’s got a lot of work to do on his skating, and I think that it will take him some time to bring consistency at the pro level. That last part is merely speculation on my part due to his demeanor and the fact that he fell so far down in the draft.

Lavoie is a nice addition to a group of forward prospects that is slowly shrinking. Tyler Benson is close to being NHL ready. Aside from Benson, there’s Ryan McLeod and Kirill Maksimov in Bakersfield. McLeod looks like he could be an effective bottom 6 centre in the next couple of years if he can figure out how to produce some offence. Maksimov is a really intriguing prospect in my eyes. The kid can rip the puck, he’s big, he plays with an edge, and he showed some responsibility on the defensive side of the puck under coach Woodcroft in Bakersfield in 2019-20. I would expect him to play a bigger role in Bakersfield next season.

There’s not much else in the pipeline for forwards right now though. I’m sure it will be a priority in the next draft, whenever that is going to be.

That’s all for now folks! Remember, please be safe and be mindful of the precautions that we are being asked to take due to COVID-19. We’ll all get through this together!

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