CHIARELLI: GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS

Chiarelli

Just five weeks into his tenure as GM of the Edmonton Oilers, Pete Chiarelli has been doing most of his talking behind closed doors since unveiling Todd McLellan as his head coach rather than publicly as the Oilers prepare for the NHL Entry Draft.

With the NHL combine in Toronto looming, Chiarelli has been meeting with his amateur scouting staff and making sure everybody is on the same page about what the organization wants and needs here and now and where it’s going after he takes the podium in Florida and selects Connor McDavid first overall. That’s the easy part.

Chiarelli surfaced for 15 minutes or so today on Oilers Now with host Bob Stauffer, touching on a number of subjects without delving too deeply into any of them as he begins to re-shape hockey-ops into his vision. Here’s some snippets from that interview and my takes on them.  

PLAYER EVALUATION

DigDeeper

Stu MacGregor and Edmonton’s scouting staff has had the luxury of picking first overall three times in the last five years and it’ll be four times in the last six when Chiarelli calls McDavid’s name. With the Oilers having six picks in the first three rounds and preparing to interview as many as 15 players a day during the combine, Chiarelli was asked about his discussions with MacGregor and staff.

“I wanted to make sure that they dug a little deeper or maybe dug in a different place. When they’re talking about specific players, just make sure that when they were digging they were highlighting the harder areas of the game, where they exist in this player.

“It’s more of just re-adjusting a focus and letting them know what our philosophy is. It’s about maybe directing traffic a little bit in the course of a meeting.”

Every GM has his own philosophy, even if there’s plenty of overlap, and Chiarelli is no different. His record in Boston shows he likes edge in his players, be they big or small, and I doubt he’ll change. The Oilers have drafted size and they’ve drafted skill in the past. Seldom have they found both in the same player. Chiarelli wants to change that.

THE RIGHT MIX

Monkey

What team doesn’t want a towering defenseman who is good in his own end, is physical and can move the puck or a winger who can work the corners, cycle forever, is big as a house and has soft hands? Players like that are home runs. Finding them, especially in later rounds, is another matter. The best teams tick off as many of those boxes as they can. 

“The size thing is something that’s important and that may be another kind of vetting process that we go through with later on, before the draft. Right now, we’re interviewing a lot of these kids at the combine and they know that I place a certain level of emphasis on size, a certain level of emphasis on grit, and we don’t dismiss skill.

“They know these are areas that they have to check off when they’re interviewing these kids. It’s more about the beginning steps of imparting my philosophy. It’s really just a higher level of due diligence and just all of us, collectively, rolling up our sleeves and pecking away at it. A lot of it right now is evaluation. It’s interviewing, it’s assessing, but it’s also all the personalities involved getting to know each other too.”

I’m not sure exactly how Chiarelli weights the areas he mentioned – size, grit and skill – but he loves nasty, skilled guys like David Backes and Milan Lucic and skilled little guys who compete like Johnny Gaudreau. They are rare as hen’s teeth, but they’re out there. 

PLAY HARDER

TreeKick

The Oilers have been way too easy to play against for far too long. That has to change and part of that, Chiarelli says, is convincing skilled players to reach outside their comfort zone and lead the way.

There’s no real template. You have to look at what is there and what the core is. At my press conference, we talked about getting guys to play harder, not necessarily getting harder players . . . if you look at Tampa and you look at Chicago, (Jon) Cooper has done a terrific job of getting their skill guys to play hard and (Joel) Quenneville’s always done that.

“He’s done a great job with these skill guys that play hard. They’ve got some terrific leaders and that’s something we have to improve on also. There’s a number of cards you’re dealt and you’ve got to build around it. The common denominator is playing hard and finding different ways to play hard.”

Despite a well-documented nine-year string of misery, Chiarelli has a pretty decent core of skilled, young forwards to work with in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Putting together a roster that is willing to compete harder more often than past editions hinges on getting more from those players when the going gets tough. It’s a big ask, but a necessary one.

ROOM FOR LEON?

With Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid destined to occupy the top two spots at centre, there’s been plenty of discussion about where, or if, Memorial Cup MVP Leon Draisaitl fits in the mix next season. In the AHL? On the wing? Chiarelli’s take:

“What can I tell you? Leon had a terrific year and playoff. I’d rather be in a position to see a number of competitions at camp and make some determinations at that point. I don’t want to guarantee any spots to anybody. Having said that, I did really see a level of improvement in Leon in the course of the year. I saw him sporadically at the beginning, but I saw him more at the end. 

“Then there’s also the option of maybe one of those players going on the wing, one of the younger players, if it merits – if they merit a job. So we look at a lot of different things. I know Derek Roy had some success last year with (Nail) Yakupov and I haven’t ruled that out yet. But there’s a lot of different things we’re looking at for one of those centers, whether it be someone we draft or someone we acquire or someone who is already in our system.”

The way I see it, there is no such thing as having too much depth at centre, so whether Draisaitl starts in the middle, on the wing or in the AHL, it’s all good. This is a team that started last season with just two bona fide NHL pivots and yet some people are talking about dangling Draisaitl as trade bait because there isn’t room for everybody. Chiarelli is smarter than that.

TODDS ARE TALKING

According to Darren Dreger of TSN, Todd Nelson is talking to McLellan about a possible return to Edmonton as part of the coaching staff. No word, yet, as to which way it’s going to go, but it’s obviously worth keeping an eye on. Speculation is at least one NHL team — my guess is Detroit — has asked to talk to Nelson. Stay tuned.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    “It was exciting and obviously that’s the kind of team you want to be with if you are drafted No. 1,” McDavid said. “[Chiarelli] was saying all the right things. He was intense and he’s definitely looking to win. He’s not going to settle for mediocrity.”

    Looking forward to seeing what Chia does with the picks – Two firsts, two seconds, two thirds.

  • Smuckers

    For all those clowns written off Petry, the Habs signed him 6 years for $33 millions. Edmonton fans are never happy with what they have because they have nothing better to do than hockey all year round.

    MacT dropped the ball on Petry, the team dratfed and developed him since 2007 then traded him for 2nd and 4th round picks. MacT signed Nikitin for $4.5 millions a year instead of signing Petry long term?

    MacT hired Deakins to coach instead of Nelson, so now both are not having their main jobs back.

    Deakins is not being hired by any teams, he did a con job and MacT took the bite. No teams stupid enough to hire that clown, including the Leafs. No teams will give up a draft pick to hire him and get Oilers off the hook for $1 million a year paying him to goof around for 2 more years.

      • O.C.

        Mtl reached on that one. More risk than reward.

        Petry… nice guy, a little flaky, will never be the 1A that controls a game.

        6 x 5.5? $33M? Too rich… not ridiculous but almost ridiculous, certainly too risky.

        6 x 4.0? $24M? No… that would have been seriously questioned this time last year if MacT offered it up (we all love hindsight).

        However MacT could probably have sold (to Petry and Fans) a bridge at 4 x 3.75 for $13M. Even 3 x 4.0 for $12M

        Now, if Petry had come back…? I wouldn’t pay more than 6 x 4.5. $27M Even that is rich, and it’s $6M less than the Mtl contract.

        6 x $4.25 / $25.5M is the right number.

        Good luck Habs.

          • O.C.

            Many were…and many of us weren’t.

            Who knows… Maybe the bridges were already burnt and there was no chance of signing beyond one year. But if there was still opportunity, then it should have been 3 or 4 yrs. And not at or North of $5m per

    • Jaxon

      I wanted the Oilers to keep Petry and I bet MacT did too. I think you and many others are making an assumption about MacT’s chances and efforts in signing Petry. I’m pretty sure this was all manufactured by Petry and his agent (and this was all before winning the McDavid lottery). There is no way MacT should have/would have signed Petry for 5.5 per season. I could just as easily believe that Petry and his agent were already decided that their plan of attack was a one year bridge deal on the cheap and then wait to get traded at the deadline. Then see what the new team offers. He also was almost 100% certain to be traded to a cup contender which is a big deal for a 27 year old who has never been in the playoffs. Very few 25 yr old Ds would do it differently and especially a right handed one, which is a sought after commodity.

      We also use MacT quotes as ‘evidence’ too often. MacT saying things to the media can be taken as nothing other than what he wants the media to print and what he wants to communicate to his: boss, the fans, the coach, the players. Sometimes it may have nothing to do with reality but rather a tool to motivate players & coaches or placate fans. His criticism of Marincin, Dubnyk or Petry may not be what he really thought of those players but rather an attempt to inspire a player to reach down and get to that next level (not saying it was successful, but that I understand that there may be other reasons than communicating facts to the fans and media). Or praising the talents of Nikitin and Schultz may be nothing more than trying to pump the tires of players who were down on themselves. MacT may have been doing a bit of coaching from the managers position through the media. We simply don’t know.

      He had to go, but I also still believe that Eakins is a smart coach and he will fight his way back into the NHL. Maybe a bit cocky, but you can say that about many successful NHL coaches (Hitchcock, Keenan, Cherry, Babcock, Roy, Tortorella, Quinn). Not a fan of the style myself, but it has its merits.

    • mcjesus take the wheel

      I love how people make things up in their minds to justify making stupid statements.
      This is some dumb stuff. Petry was outscored by Ference going I to that contract negotiation. He played OK but not great. It seems there is no winning with some people. Mact challenges a guy? Everyone say he ruined their confidence and drove them away. Mact says positive things about a guy? Then the lemmings say he gave them too easy of a ride and didn’t make them work for it.

      Comical stuff.

      • Petry was outscored by Ference going I to that contract negotiation. He played OK but not great. It seems there is no winning with some people. Mact challenges a guy? Everyone say he ruined their confidence and drove them away.

        Challenging Petry was’t stupid because it hurt his confidence, it was stupid because he challenged him with a 1 year deal that walked him directly into UFA status giving up every ounce of leverage MacTavish had.

      • paul wodehouse

        …yes yours is comical stuff to be sure … Ference did WHAT? outscore Petry on a contract negotiation? what does that even mean? who’s everyone says? McSpelled it Wrong…your Ference take is shallow…Ference was never considered in any negotiation when it came to MacT’s bonebrained trade of Petry…Oilers lost a serviceable Dman who they had years and years invested in and now is making 2.5 million more than Ference…if there is dumb stuff being made up and spewed round here it’s your stuff…read and say less please…your screen name still sucks… Respect the franchise player we are getting and learn to spell his name correctly (.)

        • mcjesus take the wheel

          Lol. If you can’t even read and figure out the fact that Ference outscored Petry in the season coming into his negotiation then there is no help for you.
          So take your own advice. Read more say less.

  • Couldn’t agree with you more. I think its whether you are looking offence or defence–while we have sufficient offence to not have to have Leon play we need to gain experience on defence and that is where Anton Lander and Boyd Gordon come in. Hell —keep them all and everyone will learn both offence and defence together—reality seems to be somewhere in the middle on most contending teams.

  • Anton CP

    Not sure I like this whole “size and grit” stuff. We’ve been there before with Tambellini. Even if Chiarelli has a good track record, there’s only one Lucic.

    How about we pick the best players, and if they have that, great.

    I’m much more positive about the focus on playing hard, that is much needed and a welcome change.

    • Jaxon

      when discussing interviewing kids at the draft, Chia said basically that soft players will be soft, and can’t change their stripes…..

      I bet Eberle and Shcultz don’t make it to camp….

      Eberle will be a tough loss, but i’d trade him str8 across for Lucic if they sign him for another 4/5 years under $6MM.

      There’s an irony after chasing a “Lucic type player” for the last 8 years if we actually end up getting a 26 yr old Lucic as he enters his prime, and let him be this generation’s Dave Semenko

      • Smuckers

        Oh brother…

        There’s a higher level of professionalism that Chiarelli exhibits that MacT never had. Craig’s only claim to fame was his verbal diarrhea and many in this city cringed at every quote-worthy statement made.

        It was embarrassing. Now maybe it was all just verbiage or maybe it was just a misguided attempt to appear intelligent but it was often defensive in nature and certainly didn’t lend any credence to the notion that the Oilers were a professionally run organization.

        • Enough with all this “professionalism” nonsense.

          Results matter. I don’t care if Chiarelli shows up to press conferences with a hooker on each arm if he is getting results.

          MacTavish is an intelligent and well spoken man, but he didn’t get results so he should be replaced, however this idea that his replacement is more “professional” and is therefore an automatic upgrade is absurd.

          Will Chiarelli do a better job? I hope so, but frankly he can’t possibly do worse because he is getting to add a McDavid for free. If he does perform better at his job it will be because he made better bets than MacTavish, not because fans think he’s more professional.

          • Smuckers

            I beg to differ – professionalism goes a lot further to attracting free agents then you suggest.

            To your point on intelligence; MacT was highly touted as intelligent – a notion I never agreed with. Why is he intelligent? Because he uses big words he read in text books at press conferences? Because he finished an MBA degree? Who was his intelligence compared to? We’re not talking MENSA levels are we?

            Intelligence didn’t help him appear professional that’s for sure. One could argue his intelligence and professionalism didn’t attract any good free agents either. If anything, this franchise was considered the joke of the NHL.

            The fact that he was replaced after two years suggests he wasn’t as smart as some people (and he himself) thought he was.

            I will agree with you on one point – results. So yes, let’s give Chiarelli the same two years MacT got and we can revisit this topic. But if you don’t feel that this franchise is better positioned with current management then you’re either the biggest MacT fan or you’re just extremely jaded. The latter I can forgive given the past 9 years. If the former, there’s no hope for you.

          • My exact comment was that MacTavish

            didn’t get results so he should be replaced

            so if you could clarify for me what part of my comment suggested I wanted MacTavish to remain as GM I would appreciate it.

            My comments had nothing to do with who is the better GM. I have every reason to believe that things will improve. I hope Chiarelli makes better decisions and turns the ship around. I do not believe the team will improve because Chiarelli “appears more professional”.

            If the team gets more free agents it will be because the team appears more ready to win some games and may have the next Crosby in their lineup (ie. the type of player who makes other players millions of of dollars), not because of some vague impression that Chiarelli is extra professional.

            If Chiarelli improves the team it will be because he made better decisions and risks, not because people felt he said more things they liked in interviews.

            I can just imagine how this is going to go:

            2014-15 – “This team is terrible”

            offseason -team adds Chiarelli and McDavid

            2015-16 – “look how the team is better because Chiarelli looks more professional at press conferences.”

            I still can’t help but find the idea of hockey players choosing teams to sign with based on which GM appears more professional to the fans.

          • Smuckers

            Okay I think I understand what you’re saying.

            You believe that just because some of us fans think Chiarelli looks and sounds more professional, this has no bearing whatsoever on free agents coming over or that this team will be better because of it. Because UFA’s or players waiving NMC would only use a fans gauge of how management appears before deciding to come or not. Is that your take on my comment?

            You know it’s possible that ever since they banished Souray to Siberia, or tried shaking down Comrie for bonus money he was paid, or trading one of our most loyal players over $100,000 our previous management team has seemed a little unprofessional? Maybe having a GM question your abilities as a player or bestowing Norris potential – both of which made these players scapegoats in this city, is a little unprofessional?

            I’ll concede that this team would have improved under MacT. But I would suggest that Chiarelli will do more to improve the roster than MacT could because he might actually have a clue on how to put together a balanced roster and might actually be able to help attract players.

            If that did happen and I think we can agree we hope it does – would that simply make him an all around good guy? Or could it mean we have someone who knows what he’s doing? Hmm, there’s gotta be a way to say all that with just one word.

          • Nope.

            You keep talking about who acts like a professional and who does not.

            I don’t care.

            Like I said in my first comment – If Chiarelli makes good decisions and gets results I don’t care if he shows up for press conferences naked. Chiarelli will not attract players, the roster he assembles will attract players.

            Professionalism does not equal competence.

          • mcjesus take the wheel

            Give Chiarelli two years? He is taking over a team that has Connor McDavid coming in as well as Nurse and LD. There are now 2-3 holes on this team instead of 12 when Mact took over. Chiarelli just took over for the easy part.

  • SSB1963

    Good to see PC trying to get a combination of skill and toughness. If they want to see players like this in the system, just ask players they are interviewing, who the heart and soul guys are?

    I would be inclined to ask Connor McDavid who he thinks are the hardest guys are to play against in the OHL? These guys are obvious to the players but not so obvious to the scouts……….me thinks there are plenty of these “tough and skilled” players in this year’s draft.

    I am confident we will now find one of these under PC. BTW toughness to me is not necessairly the ability to hit, rather the ability to take a hit to make a play.

    Guys like Ryan Smyth and Craig Simpson.

  • paul wodehouse

    @Oilcruzer

    …I fully agree with you and when Seabrook is making 5 million in his last year (this year) y’gotta wonder why Seabrook couldn’t be an Oiler for 2mil more for 3 more years…

    what was the habs organization thinking!!!