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 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.
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:
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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