The Edmonton Oilers have been making promises and preaching patience for so long, eye-rolling revulsion at the cheque-is-in-the-mail pitch coming out of hockey operations has almost become a gag reflex with fans. With good reason.
First and foremost, of course, the Oilers haven’t come close to delivering on the hope they’ve been selling during nine straight years out of the playoffs in what’s been a one-step-forward, two-steps-back span of ineptitude including a pair of back-to-back finishes in 30th place. Patience? Why?
Second, results aside, it’s been a tough sell because of the people delivering the message. Those calling the shots have either been friends of owner Daryl Katz, the FOK Gang, like recycled GM Kevin Lowe as POHO and retread coach Craig MacTavish as GM, or their hires — Steve Tambellini, the most reluctant guy in the room, and Dallas Eakins, the smartest guy in the room.
Any decisions, good or bad, Lowe and MacTavish made drew cynicism from fans because they seemed as interested in employing old pals and teammates as they did in making tough hockey ops decisions in terms or personnel and moving the never-ending rebuild along.
That changed, even though we didn’t believe it at the time, with the hiring of Bob Nicholson, who was going to do an audit from top to bottom and report his findings to Katz. Change would come. I rolled my eyes. Did you? Then, it actually happened. In came Peter Chiarelli as GM. In came Todd McLellan as head coach. Gone or demoted were several FOK.
That’s why, from where I sit, patience finally makes sense.
While Chiarelli sits near the top of hockey ops as GM and POHO, under only Nicholson, I want to start by talking about McLellan as his hire pertains to what comes next and why I’m comfortable, finally, believing that making sweeping changes in hockey ops should give way to patience, with the key words being continuity and consistency.
In what’s been a ridiculous coaching carousel behind the bench, McLellan becomes Edmonton’s seventh bench boss in eight seasons, following MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Eakins and Todd Nelson. We’ve sliced and diced the virtues and shortcomings of each of these men here ad nauseam, so no need to re-visit that.
Suffice to say, the revolving door approach produced nothing resembling sustained success. How can any group of players on a good team, let alone a bad one like the Oilers have been, excel and grow when the man delivering the message and drawing up the game plan changes every season?
Is McLellan, who missed the playoffs just once in seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks, the answer? We don’t know, but what we do know is that McLellan isn’t a hire of Lowe or MacTavish and he brought in his own coaching staff – neither of which applied to his predecessors. Given that, and his resume, I’m willing to sit back and see. How about you?
THE NEW BOSS
The Oilers thought enough of Chiarelli that when the Boston Bruins cut him loose Nicholson snapped him up. Lowe, at long last, was bounced right out of hockey ops to the business side and MacTavish was demoted. Again, his resume in Boston aside, Chiarelli’s not a hire of Lowe or MacTavish and that’s a big plus, at least in the eyes of jaded fans.
After years of “Lowe is pulling the strings from behind the scenes” lament from fans – with good reason – only the most strident cynic would suggest that’s the case moving forward. Does anybody believe that Chiarelli will have to answer to the guys who made the mess in the first place? I don’t.
Chiarelli brought in McLellan and let him pick his coaches. He gutted the amateur and pro scouting staffs, which had become a hockey version of the Senate and was littered with former Oilers and old friends. We watched him work at the Entry Draft. He addressed areas of need with the acquisition of Cam Talbot, Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart, and Eric Gryba.
There’s still work to do of course, and we’ve yet to see how the moves Chiarelli has made early in his tenure will pan out, but, as is the case with McLellan, I’m willing to sit back and watch with a reasonable level of confidence that the days of ridiculous big swings and misses are over.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While the Oilers remain far from a finished product, this is no longer a team that’s a laughable mess that’s being run by FOK and in need of sweeping changes in hockey ops and in player personnel. Tweaks? Yes. A smoldering dumpster fire? No, thankfully.
At long last, I believe that the hiring of Chiarelli and McLellan, not to mention the addition of that kid named Connor McDavid, signals that the days of empty promises are over, the cheque might actually be in the mail and the pay-off for fans of the Oilers is finally coming.
Patience makes sense.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.