Increasingly 2015-16 Looks Like a Reset Year for Edmonton

Peter Chiarelli4

It’s been interesting this summer watching Peter Chiarelli set the pace for his revision of the Edmonton Oilers’ stalled rebuild. He has opted neither for wholesale change nor for a total wait-and-see approach; instead he’s taken the middle ground between the two approaches. Call it a reset year.

Chiarelli’s options


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Chiarelli could have come in and really pushed change. He might have walked away from Justin Schultz, or might have bought out on or both of Nikita Nikitin or Andrew Ference during his team’s first buyout window. It would have been a fiercely aggressive tack, and it’s one he evidently decided (with at least some justification, it must be admitted) would have been imprudent. He commented on such a course in a June 22 availability:

It’s not that we have time. I understand we’ve made some changes here, coach, G.M., we’re going to get some new players. There’s competitive urges in all of us and the margins are so small that you can get into the playoffs and you can do some damage. There’s that temptation, we’ll call it. You want to do it properly. We’ve got some young players and you want to make sure you surround them with good players, that’s very important for their development. We’ve got some young players who maybe won’t star with us, maybe will finish with us. There’s a lot of steps along the way, there’s a lot of good players here, we’ve got some holes that we want to fill. You do get tempted with some of the players that come across your desk, you do get tempted with moving a little more quickly but there’s a balance there and we have to make sure we maintain it.

Chiarelli could also have sat back and given himself an assessment year, much like Steve Tambellini did, keeping Boyd Gordon and Martin Marincin, living without Andrej Sekera and Lauri Korpikoski and Eric Gryba, leaving Anders Nilsson in Chicago’s system. Such a course would have been indefensible, but it would have had its defenders.

He was asked about the necessity of familiarizing himself with the roster before making moves in that same availability:

You really want to see how [your own team plays]. As an opposing G.M. you see all the other teams play and you make an assessment and you talk about all the other teams but until you see them day-to-day, until you see how they practice, until you see how they interact with each other, with the coach that’s the full information you need to make a decision. That would be ideal but we don’t always work under ideal circumstances.

Reinhart, Griffin2

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Instead he’s added some quality players, made some aggressive moves (the addition of Griffin Reinhart at the top of that pile) but so far has avoided forcing the issue in places where he might get burned long-term. The team didn’t walk away from Schultz, instead choosing to hang on to the player who might yet play a key role effectively. It didn’t extend the suffering caused by the Nikitin or Ference contracts by buying out the players. It’s not a course everyone will agree with but it’s certainly a defensible stance.

A Year From Now


It’s entirely possible that Chiarelli’s looking ahead to the summer of 2016 as his window to radically alter the Oilers. Not only will it give him a year to get a firm feel for the team – both its players and its managers – but a massive amount of money is going to be coming off the books. Here’s a hypothetical depth chart using only signed players for 2016-17:

Left Wing Centre Right Wing Left Defence Right Defence
Taylor Hall R. Nugent-Hopkins Jordan Eberle Darnell Nurse Andrej Sekera
Benoit Pouliot Connor McDavid Nail Yakupov Griffin Reinhart Mark Fayne
Leon Draisaitl Anton Lander Lauri Korpikoski    
Matt Hendricks Mark Letestu      

The total cap hit for that roster (including the seemingly inevitable Andrew Ference buyout) is just $53.95 million. Even assuming a flat salary cap that will leave the Oilers with just under $17.5 million to re-sign restricted free agent Oscar Klefbom, re-sign or replace restricted free agent Justin Schultz, sign goalies and round out the depth positions on the roster.

Naturally we’ll see moves in-season (Chiarelli was highly aggressive in his first season with the Bruins, executing a number of changes during the year and even moving out players he’d added that very summer) but the key element here is that next summer is going to represent a time of real opportunity for Edmonton to make changes without incurring long-term pain.

The downside is that this coming year is likely to be another season in which the team struggles to compete.

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  • bwar

    It’s kind of funny how much of a log jam the defense is for the upcoming season yet we still don’t have enough quality to field a competitive group of 6 men. Even if Nurse jumps right in as a top pairing defender we are still at least one man short of a solid top 4 dmen.

    Whats that age old Oiler’s saying? Meh, maybe next year.

  • bwar

    The difference with Peter C and Mac T is he is taking a measured approach and waiting to see how these players react under the new coaching staff . Not like MAc T’s knee jerk Eakins move which cost us 18 months. he still has lots of time to make assessments and further changes between now and the trade deadline.

  • bwar

    Sorry JW the Oilers will do better than you predict.

    We have an exciting young roster with Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl all just rocking and raring for a shot at the line up.

    One hot streak from Talbot and we could have a good Christmas. The (85 below) article from earlier this week shows just how much we can make up with a tweek of the SV%.

    Add in Sekera, Reinhart & Gryba and we could actually hit the ground running. With traction.

  • JackB


    I sure thought Chiarelli got the second buyout window opened so he could buyout Ference or Nikitin.

    to: #Smokey . . . (if your around tonight on this string) . . . Guess I don’t have to bring the ketchup and hot sauce ! . . . (and you don’t have to eat crow !) . . . Sorry guy !!! You were right !!! . . . he didn’t dump a contract on Saturday and sign an experienced dman.

    DAMMIT CHIARELLI ! (Now it appears I’m eating crow) YOU LET ME DOWN !

    (And worse than that, you’ve left such a log jam – eight D’s on contract – that Nurse can’t crack the opening line-up no matter how great he plays in camp)

    . . . Or can he ?? I know he’ll be better than three (or four) of the eight guys under contract !

  • JackB

    Guess it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for Nurse to spend the year in the AHL (coming up whenever there is an injury). Probably better for his development.

  • JackB

    I never understood this “timing the team to win as the new arena is completed” stuff. The NHL isn’t WWE or WWF, whatever it’s called now. There is no script here. Teams want to win, not rebuild.

    This year I say stand pat on our current D and see if a legit 6 guys come out as real NHL pros. Consider it training camp for 82 games for these guys. I think we will all be surprised who succeeds and how strong the D corps could be.

  • JackB

    Some might say the only thing that can keep us out of the cellar of league again is McDavid . Are you missing old Oiler management yet ? Maybe it’s a good thing Katz kept them in organization just in case ? Coaching going to be an issue this year once again ? Inquiring minds want to know . If you have to ask ???

  • radicator

    When you look at the cap hit and reserve list implications, if the Oilers plan really is, as Stauffer said, to wait and buy out Ference next year, it’s a fairly foolish call.

    While the possibility of Fayne and Sekera playing together likely means the defenders fit together better this year, the overall talent has not improved. Not buying out Ference and gaining the cap space to get Ehrhoff or Franson is basically worrying of the playoffs this year. This defence isn’t good enough as is.

    Didn’t need to be that way.

  • radicator

    I think a good argument for still going after another top 4 D this summer is to try to convince Talbot to sign an extension. He’s got potential to be a top goalie, so PC should demonstrate greater urgency in upgrading the D for this year.

  • radicator

    Perhaps best decision is to send McDavid back to junior for 1 year until we have a team to compliment him with opening of new arena . That way most of the assessment period should have been done . If we make playoffs ( little chance anyways) he can be bought up for that , like Bennett was for the Flames . Works well contract wise as well .

    • Oilfaninvan

      you know, that actually makes a bit of sense. If the plan is to wait until next year, then why waste a year of McD’s ELC?

      Of course, it will never happen, but it makes sense.

      I think the real reason for this ‘let’s just ride out the Nikitin/Purcell contracts’ plan is because Katz has tired of paying people millions to go away. And I wouldn’t hold that against him.

      • JackB

        WHAT ????

        When Chiarelli was hired, everyone was ecstatic !!!

        “Now if he can just get us a good goaltender” (HE DID !!) . . . “and a maybe one good top pairing defence” (HE GOT US THE BEST UFA DEFENSEMAN AVAILABLE . . . and 4-5 other teams were trying like hell to get him as well)

        AND . . . HE GOT TWO OTHER DEFENSEMEN . . . one who is liked by at least half this city and is a shutdown defenseman who “is a horse”, the other who is big and hits “to hurt” and will stick up for his teammates who get run . . . ya, just what we need on this team!)

        A TEAM ONLY HAS 6 DEFENSEMEN . . . (and a 7th who sits in the pressbox) AND HE HAS BROUGHT IN 3 NEW DEFENSEMAN . . . THAT’S 1/2 OF THE DEFENCE !!

        AND WE HAVE NURSE WAITING TO MAKE THE TEAM (but there’s no room)

        (And, besides all of the above, he also got us two new forwards !!)

        I don’t know how much more you think a new GM can do in one month . . . . . . . AND YOU THINK #Madjam’s idea to send McDavid back to Junior makes sense ????


        • CofC

          Woe, Nellie. take a deep a breath, brother.

          I don’t expect him to do more. While I don’t like the idea of waiting another year to really go for it, the simple fact of the matter is this:

          The ONLY thing that matters is maximizing the career of McDavid. NOTHING else matters. We nolonger have to worry about wasting Hall’s or Eberle’s current contracts. In a way, McD bought everyone time, because he is THAT special.

          If our experienced, Stanley Cup winning GM thinks its best to play it by riding out some bad contracts, then that’s what we do.

          Yes, it’s tough to swallow after 9 years, and especially after the Eakins/Mact years, but McD is worth it.

  • CMG30

    Chirelli is doing the right thing. He’s made a mammoth improvement to the team so far but he’s out of cap room now. As much as everyone would like him to go full steam ahead in a desperate attempt to win at all costs right now, it’s just not time yet.

    McDavid needs time to get his feet under him and the cap room will be much more valuable when he does. Not blowing his brains out this year will afford Chirelli flexibility when he really needs it: next year.

    Still, with the job Chirelli’s done so far, we should see a massive improvement this season. Unfortunatly for long suffering Oil fans, the stars seem to be aligning for the real breakthrough to come in 2016/17.

  • CMG30

    FOOD FOR THOUGHT : Oilers had worst road record in Western Conference by quite a bit 9W-21L-11T . Next one to that futility was Arizona at 13W-25l-3T . We start the year with 3 on the road . Our schedule this year is not favorable for us Oct. and especially November where we have a 4 and 5 game road trips , and only 4 home games . Not much for us and weaker teams those two months either . We could be well out of the picture by end of November , and no easy teams in October other than maybe Canucks and Flames . How long will remain relevant ?

    • JackB

      Who gives a sh*t about last year’s road record !!!

      Haven’t you got it yet ?? This is not last year’s team !!

      Half of last year we had Eakins as coach . . . who already had a full year to screw up the kid’s with his “swarm defence”, was more concerned with taking the donuts away from the press room, taking away the ping pong table (because it was a “distraction” – not realizing it was fun for the players, good for a little fun competition and bonding) was more concerned with his own “example” of fitness (and winning his next bike race or marathon), was more concerned with breaking Yakupov down and making him do it “his way”, more concerned with how his hair looked while behind the bench, more concerned with . . . oh god, I could go on and on . . .


      And if you hadn’t heard . . . WE GOT A NEW COACH (one of the best in the NHL) . . . AND A NEW GM . . . AND A NEW GOALTENDER . . . AND THREE NEW DEFENSEMEN . . . AND TWO NEW FORWARDS . . .

      And to tell you the truth, I’m BLOODY GLAD they are starting out on the road . . . instead of at home in front of all the negative fans I see posting lately on this site !!

      WE HAVE A NEW TEAM . . . A NEW GM . . . A NEW COACH . . . A RECENTLY REINVIGORATED HALL AND EBERLE (from playing for McLellan this summer) . . . 3 NEW DEFENSEMEN (one of them 6’4″/225lbs who “likes to hit” and reportedly “hits to hurt”)(one of them the best available UFA this year) . . . A NEW GOALIE (who was reportedly the one of the best options available and who 3-4 other teams were trying to get) . . . AND WE GOT THREE NEW FORWARDS (one of them the best prospect out of junior in 30 years – but one that some people on this site want to “send back to junior”)

      WE’VE GOT A NEW TEAM !!!

      (and I’m kinda glad they are starting out on the road, where they can play a simpler game, where they can bond with each other and their new coach . . . AND THEY DON’T HAVE TO START OUT AT HOME IN FRONT OF SOME OF THE NEGATIVE NANCY PISS-BABY FANS WHO POST ON THIS SITE!!)

      THERE . . . now start your “trashes” . . . I don’t care . . . WE’VE GOT A NEW TEAM !!

      (and it makes my ten years of buying season tickets worth it !!)

  • CMG30

    SOMETHINGS BURNING ? Go to Coppernblue for a great article on ” Do the Oilers understand the Salary cap and Reserve List at all “. It’s an eye opener , and may have you questioning more than just a few things . Takes the halo of new management and asks just what are they trying to do .

  • Ndustry

    I heard Detroit wants to start some young D on their team this year and may trade a veteran to open up a slot. I think Kyle Quincey who is a UFA next year might be a good target to look at. Even though Quincey is a typical top 4 D and everyone wants a #1, you could put up a pretty decent argument he’d be the #1 on this team and at least the #2. He’s a D zone starter and PKer now but used to play the PP and did well at it a few years ago, plus hes 29, 10 years in the NHL has modest size and physicality and he’s rather dynamic – like I said he’d arguably be the #1 on this team. Maybe they’ll take a pick or even someone like Lander – Detroit might like Lander. As much as it makes sense to make these commitments in the 2016 off-season as the article states, I still like to go for it a bit if we can now, hopefully without over committing. But Quincey may be an option to a UFA like Erhoff or Franson, or a pipe dream like Seabrook.

  • CofC

    Although I think jack is coming off a bit coarse on his observations. .I get it. Fans this has been a massive amount of change in a very short period of time. And it looks like change for the better.I like to think that many moves to further upgrade have been assesed…and for one reason or another aren’t doable or practical AT THIS TIME. Have a little faith in the new regime.

  • Train#97

    For those that have read the coppernblue article , should the Oilers look at hiring him or someone like him , so they have a better understanding of salary cap and reserve list . Cheers for yes , trash for no.

    • Train#97

      I just read that post and I don’t agree with the buyout analysis at all.

      The taking Schultz to arbitration part I agree with, if they weren’t going to use their second buyout window then there was no point in using team-elected arbitration. They should’ve grinded him for a lower deal, let him hold out. To be fair, though, it looks to me like they were planning something with that and it didn’t pan out.

      But the analysis of a Nikitin or Ference buyout doesn’t resonate with me at all. By my count, reserve list spots aren’t really an issue at all; they go into next season with, at most, 47/50, which is not a bad number. If you’re going to go the buyout route, and I’m not convinced that’s the best way to go, then keeping both this year and buying out Ference next summer is easily the best option.

      • Train#97

        I respectfully disagree with your analysis on buyout portion . So lets crunch a few of those numbers .

        Buying out Ference this year creates 650K less cap space than Nikitin , generates 3.8M more cap space next year and 2.08M the next year at a cost of 1.16M in 2018-19 . It also insures B.Davidson would not be taken by waivers if we use a buyout . Buying both out was shown as the worst case scenario . Buying out Ference was shown to be better number wise than both or doing nothing . 2.65M immediately and the same cap space as buying him out next year . But we have that space now and during season if it takes that long to add another significant piece . By not using the buyout of course we will not have that at our disposal .

        Schultz arbitration route was 275K for nothing basically to go the route we did .

        • bradleypi

          I know what the argument is. I did read it.

          The Schultz arbitration part is good analysis, I already said that. If they weren’t going to use the buyout window there was no reason to take him to arbitration. Let him hold out.

          I take issue with the buyout analysis for four reasons. First is that for some reason you and the person who wrote that post think that Davidson being claimed on waivers is a real risk. It’s not. He’s got no draft pedigree, no particularly eye-catching numbers in the minors, and has a handful of games in the NHL in which he’s looked ok. I’m not trying to run the guy down, I think he can play in the NHL, but there’s no reason to think another team will claim him on waivers.

          Second is that the blog argues that the Oilers need reserve list spots so they should buy out a player. They don’t. They would need a roster spot to add another defenseman. That’s different.

          Third is that you use the buyout now, you carry Ference’s buyout hit through the next four seasons. In year four, McDavid (among others) needs a new contract and you’re going to need all the cap space you can get. To make the leap that buying out Ference is the best move also assumes that he’s untradeable, which I don’t think is true. If he plays competently next season and the Oilers offer to pick up half his cap hit, well, as they say on the trade deadline shows, all the contenders are looking for defensive depth at the deadline. That leaves $1.625 million on your cap for 2016-17 and nothing after that.

          Fourth is that just clearing as much cap space as you can isn’t a goal in and of itself. What are you clearing space for? They have cap space to make a move in-season if they want to. The only argument to buyout either player right now is if you have a real burning desire to sign Ehrhoff or Franson. That’s it. And there are good arguments for and against both. What do you need cap space or a roster spot for this season if you’re not in love with Franson?

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Being a team aiming for a 20th to 30th place finish up against the cap, is a rather odd situation, no?

            If an opportunity presented itself they’d have to play the role of an observer/bystander because of their self inflicted limitations.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Not really. It’s not ideal, but it’s not uncommon. Look at Philadelphia. Look at San Jose. Vancouver’s as close to the cap as Edmonton, they’re no sure thing. Boston, LA and Dallas missed the playoffs last year with almost full caps.

            What kind of opportunity are they going to miss? If something were to come up now, they could definitely still take advantage. You can exceed the cap 10% in the summer. But most of the opportunities that were going to come up in the summer have already passed. They already missed on Hamilton. Not like there’s another stud RFA defenseman to sign for $6 million out there. Anyone who trades such a beast is going to take at least some money back.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Good point.

            Hate to see them having to do business on other peoples terms though. Was really hoping to see one of those 4’ish contracts gone so they don’t have to. Guess there’s still the real possibility of the trade and retain moves that could happen in the coming weeks.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Here is another scenario that might benefit or hurt us with talk of Ference buyout now or next year , or maybe not even necessary after next season . A little possible foresight .

            Expansion seemingly will be in 2016-17 season , and we have to put up certain players for the expansion teams to take . If Ference can be used despite his NCL clause , or he agrees to waive it, then we might not even have to buy him out . However , if we cannot , we may have to put up a player we would desire not to put up in his place . If we can , then the decision they have made makes a lot of sense .

          • Harry2

            Um, ok, so we’re changing the subject entirely then…

            The NHL has said expansion won’t be until 2017-18. Ference will be off the books by then, one way or the other. You can worry about losing Brandon Davidson then if he’s still in the organization. Or maybe Mark Letestu.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m a little surprised to see Peter waving the proverbial white next year flag so soon. The 15-16 season hasn’t even started yet and they already appear to be looking at the 16-17 season to finally start turning north.

    The last thing this team needs is yet another top 3 lottery selection. With them already aiming squarely at a sub 20th place finish in the coming seasons standings, we, as well as the rest of the league know they’re destined to win one of those first 3 selections next June.

    Todd McLellan did tell us all about 6 weeks ago, there will still be plenty of difficult nights ahead during the upcoming season. Can’t help but think it’s more than a little self inflicted though. Now, before the coming lost season is the time to be shedding some of these bodies that aren’t in the mid/long term plans. The piece they covet could come available before Christmas and their financial hands will still be tied behind their back. Watch as the Blackhawks move Brent Seabrook before the start of the coming season.

  • Harry2

    I think you are severely undervauling the total organizational overhaul that has transpired.

    I dont expect a playoff spot but to say they’ll struggle to compete is a bit off I think.

    The additions of a new GM and an actual coach are going to help this team very very much