The Edmonton Oilers have been selling hope for so long without coming remotely close to delivering results to fans, it’s completely understandable a sizeable segment of their long-suffering faithful is taking a show-me-don’t-tell-me stance. I’ve resided in that camp awhile.
While that bottom line – actual results — remains to be seen months ahead of a season in which the Oilers will attempt to avoid missing the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year, I’m feeling a lot less cynical than usual as I write this today after watching the NHL Entry Draft unfold in Florida. I sense I’ve got some company in that.
Obviously, there’s still plenty of work to do. There’s unquestionably some rough road to be navigated. With those default caveats out of the way, for the first time in a very long time my gut tells me the NHL will soon have to find a new laughing stock. The Oilers are no longer the dysfunctional outfit that couldn’t find a clue with a road map and a flashlight just months ago.
A lot of that vibe has to do with the new man at the controls, GM Peter Chiarelli. Unlike that New Boys on the Bus photo the Edmonton Journal ran years ago with Teddy Green, Craig MacTavish and a smiling Kevin Lowe behind the wheel, I no longer expect the whole works to end up in the ditch upside down and on fire. The reason for that doesn’t begin and end with Chiarelli, but much of it does.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER
The easiest bit of business Chiarelli took care of in Florida was stepping to the podium and selecting Connor McDavid with the first overall pick. He’s the big story. He’s the game-changer. McDavid pulling on that orange jersey is the moment on which this franchise will pivot and turn north. But Steve Tambellini could have picked him. McTavish could have made that pick.
It’s the rest of what we saw from Chiarelli that impressed me. He checked off boxes he said he wanted to check off going into the weekend – finding a goaltender and adding a defenseman. He acquired former Oil King blueliner Griffin Reinhart with the 16th and 33rd picks, doing so after making a very good offer to Boston in an attempt to land Dougie Hamilton.
Chiarelli eventually got the goaltender he wanted, Cam Talbot, from New York with the 57th, 79th and 154th picks Saturday. That unfolded when he circled back to GM Glen Sather, whose original ask Friday was reportedly considerably more, after making a pitch for John Gibson of Anaheim.
Chiarelli dealt spare part Martin Marincin to the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Brad Ross and the 107th pick, then flipped the Toronto pick along with Travis Ewanyk to Ottawa for blueliner Eric Gryba, who will be able to step right into the line-up next October as a depth veteran.
I’m not going to suggest that Chiarelli knocked everything out of the yard with each and every move he made on the weekend because we don’t know that now and we won’t for some time.
- Will Talbot, 27, stuck behind Henrik Lundqvist in New York, become the starter the Oilers need? Talbot’s numbers are very good, but those numbers have come over the span of just 57 games. Might Talbot be the guy the Oilers hoped they were getting when they acquired Ben Scrivens? Sure. Or not.
- Reinhart, 21, just three years removed from being taken fourth overall by the New York Islanders, is a big, strong kid who was a real leader with the Oil Kings, but he’s got to improve his skating. Reinhart has played just eight NHL games. Hamilton he is not. A top-pairing defenseman Reinhart is not – at least not yet.
Talbot and Reinhart are maybes, nothing more and nothing less, but they seem like reasonable bets and calculated moves as opposed to just-do-something longshots. Chiarelli paid a price that reflects that rather than a desperation premium for “might-be” guys.
Chiarelli was patient in landing Talbot and he didn’t get rattled after missing out on Hamilton. Former Oil King boss Bob Green knows Reinhart as well as anybody and Chiarelli was obviously willing to listen to what his director of player development had to say about his former captain.
At the bottom line, Chiarelli got the goaltender he wanted. Whether it’s the goaltender he needs remains to be seen. He added a young blueliner in Reinhart who will play in the NHL. The question is how high up he can climb on the back end. He added a serviceable veteran in Gryba. Help now.
My take after watching Chiarelli is that the guy pulling the levers for the Oilers now actually understands what needs to be done to return this team to respectability and contention. More important, I came away from watching Chiarelli work at this draft confident he knows how to make it happen.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- Boston’s Don Sweeney and Cam Neely looked like tools trying to sucker Chiarelli in his bid to land Hamilton. Chiarelli offered picks 16, 33 and 57. Sweeney and Neely said that wasn’t enough and asked him to add Darnell Nurse to the package. Chiarelli said “no thanks” and the Bruins sent Hamilton to Cowtown for Calgary picks 15-45-52.
- Wasn’t keen on renderings of Edmonton’s mostly orange third jersey before the draft, but it looked sharp to me when McDavid pulled it on. That No. 97 of McDavid’s is available for sale now and suspect it won’t take long until it’s out-selling No. 4, 93 and 14 combined.
- Pint-sized Vladimir Tkachev didn’t get a sniff for the second straight summer, going undrafted. I don’t think there’s any harm in the Oilers bringing the kid back with a tryout offer, but he’s fallen off in a big way after creating a buzz at camp here last summer.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.