Peter Chiarelli shouldn’t worry much about improving the Oilers for this season

Peter Chiarelli4

This is not the time for the Edmonton Oilers to be looking for a big, season-saving trade. Instead, it’s almost certainly time for Peter Chiarelli to grit the teeth and once more look to next year, as his predecessors in the big general manager’s chair have done before him.

Edmonton currently sits at 8-15-2 on the season. To match the pace of last year’s Calgary Flames—the final qualifier for a playoff spot in the West in 2014-15—the Oilers would need to go 37-15-5 the rest of the way. Even with McDavid, goaltending and a Justin Schultz-for-Travis Hamonic trade, that doesn’t seem a particular plausible.

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That’s not to say that Chiarelli should turn his nose up at a good deal if one comes his way, but the short-term ramifications should be secondary. The real goal here is to make Edmonton a better team for next season, and the window for big moves which accomplish that is more likely to come in the summer than at the trade deadline.

For now, it’s all about preparation, clearing away salary and securing whatever assets are available.



Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all on pricey multi-year contracts. We can debate the wisdom of dealing any of that trio, but if one or more is dealt it will be in the summer. There isn’t a trade out there that’s going to make sense for Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl is also close to a non-starter.

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Benoit Pouliot doesn’t quite make his way into that quintet because his $4.0 million cap hit might be digestible at the deadline, but given his five-on-five scoring ability (like Eberle he’s scored 1.94 points/hour at evens over the least three-plus seasons) and the way his size and aggressive play fit with the team it’s my view that the Oilers would be nuts to deal him.

Players on shorter deals fall into a few different categories. Nail Yakupov would likely have some value, but if dealt again probably makes more sense in the summer rather than as a sell-for-futures move. Matt Hendricks might have value, too, though the Oilers might rather keep him around given what he brings to the table. Mark Letestu isn’t exactly having a banner season and Lauri Korpikoski has been an unmitigated disaster.


Of the rest, the only player who really stands out is Teddy Purcell. He’s on an expiring deal and he’s playing well, but he’s also likely replaceable via free agency. I’ve argued that the team should cash-in on him and feel the same now. Unless fellow UFA Rob Klinkhammer comes back soon and makes some noise, that might be the only deal up front that makes sense for Edmonton at the deadline.

The Back End


I’d be very surprised if the Oilers had any interest in moving Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom at all, and certainly not at the trade deadline. Andrej Sekera is another pricey multi-year contract and certainly won’t be in play until the summer and probably should not and will not be then either. It makes little sense to trade Brandon Davidson given the likely return, and Griffin Reinhart isn’t the kind of guy buyers are looking for at the deadline (if it even makes sense to trade him).

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Of the veterans, most lack real value. Andrew Ference isn’t going anywhere, and if Nikita Nikitin does there won’t be much of a return. I’m skeptical that Mark Fayne’s moveable in-season; he has two years left on his deal after this one at a pretty decent price-point and I’d wager his value as part of the team is considerably higher than his value in trade.

That leaves two names on defence. Eric Gryba is a tough-as-nails veteran depth piece; that always has value at the deadline and given the number of entry-level defencemen currently in the system it makes no sense for Edmonton to keep him.


Justin Schultz is the most interesting name on the list to me. He’s going to cost almost $4.0 million to qualify. He’s an offensive defenceman and a potential No. 4 in the here-and-now, and he’s on an expiring deal, all of which means he’ll have value at the trade deadline. A trade is an opportunity for the Oilers to both rid themselves of a summer salary cap headache, add to their assets in the here-and-now and open up a roster spot for a much-needed legitimate top-four right-shooting defenceman.

In net, we’ll just have to see what happens. Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson are both on expiring deals, with the former unrestricted and the latter restricted; we’ll need to see more games from both to have a good idea of what an optimal Oilers summer strategy looks like.

Trades involving Purcell, Schultz, Gryba and possibly one or two others should stock up the Oilers’ cupboard of picks, allowing them the flexibility to move multiple selections at the summer draft. The loss of those salaries and others will open up cap space for Edmonton to be aggressive in pursuit of both trade targets and free agents, and potentially to take on salary in a bigger deal involving one of the team’s biggest names.

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The remainder of this season from a management perspective is all about preparation. The real work of improving the team will be done in the summer.


  • Big Cap

    Chiarelli has been a big disappointment.

    2 easy situations he could have dealt with, Ference and Nik

    The rest of us knew the team was soft, he should have known. He is acting like a rookie GM.

    • A-Mc

      Yes if only we had bailed Nikitin and Ference, we’d be able to afford those 2 top end defensemen that are itching to sign with us! IF ONLY! WHAT IS PC THINKING!?


      Money and contracts are not a problem for us right now. Are those guys wasted cap space? yes, but if there were other options I’m sure Chiarelli would find a way to offload them.

      The problem is finding the right player that’s on a team willing to dance with us.

    • The Soup Fascist

      Please fill me in on “the easy solution” for dealing with the Ference and Nikitin contracts.

      As well please attach your contact information along with your simple plan as I vow to personally lobby Katz, Nicholson and whoever else I need to, in order to get you brought in as GM.

      Because for the life of me, try as I might, i couldn’t think of an “easy” solution that Chiarelli had at his disposal to move those two sleds out of town, without having to deal with cap implications down the road.

      Thanks very much. I will be over here on the edge of my seat awaiting your response.

      • JDP

        Ference and Nik should of been bought out.

        Veteran GM’s acquire good pieces for their team like NYI did (Boychuck and Leddy and Washington (Oshi and Williams).

        These GMs make things happen but I guess you are so blinded but the Oiler hype that you cant see potential moves or opportunities.

        Bad GM’s like PC sit on their hands.

        • The Soup Fascist

          So you are aware that there are still cap implications that affect the team for years down the road, right? In Ference’s case the team would have been impacted about $1.1 million in lost cap space for 4 years.

          This would include the crucial 18-19 season when the team needs to re-up Connor McDavid to what is likely to be a very large number. Not to mention Darnell Nurse coming off his ELC. This is one year after we need to sign Drai.

          Everyone throws out “buyout” like it is this magic elixir. But buyouts handcuff teams down the road. To me it was much more prudent to let Nikki come off the books completely at year end and then buyout Ference next year when his cap hit is off the books 2 years earlier than if you bought him out this year.

          What good would those two being bought out done for you this year? What Free agent D man were you going to sign that was going to put this team over the top? Arguably, they got one of the “best” free agent defensemen that moved in Sekera.

          IMO, buying out Nikitin and Ference out this year would have been idiotic.

        • smith

          Get your head out of your azzhat! And the long and short term results of buying out Nikitinin and Ference handcuff the teams ability and cap space to sign deals for Mcdavid, nurse, drai and that unnamed #1 defence man we so badly need . Props to Chia for parking those unproductive but Expiring contracts in the ahl . At the end of this year it frees up 100% of those salaries in cap space to use.

          • Spiel

            Ference is not in the AHL and still has a year to go on his contract.

            His last game he played he was on for 2 of the 3 goals against. I wish he would be in the AHL.

            You must get your information from someone’s AZZ.

  • Big Cap

    Do something and do it now. Its possible that we lose the next ten games. The players need to know that this is unacceptable and if the management team doesnt want to hold them accountable the fans in the building must. Im not a fan of jersey throwing but removing namebars and throwing those?? Maybe…

  • Spaceman Spiff


    “Next” deadline. “Next” summer. “Next” season.

    Next, next, next…

    I’m 43 years old and I’ve been an Oilers fan since I was 11. I’ll always be an Oilers fan. But even I’m getting tired of “next.” How about …“now?”
    How about some sense of urgency … mid-season? How about an attempt to right the ship while we’re still Christmas-shopping? How about some good-old-fashioned panic?

    I’m getting tired of waiting for trade deadlines, draft lotteries, entry drafts and free-agent-frenzy days to make moves. I’m tired of my patience being taken for granted, year-after-year-after year … next-after-next-after-next.

    Yes, I know. We need to beware of rash decisions. Of bad trades. Of the possibility that a player we trade away turns into, say, Miro Satan or Kirk Maltby or Devan Dubnyk. I get that.

    But right now, it feels like this franchise is living its own version of Groundhog Day. Hopeful summer, followed by promising training camp, followed by slow start, followed by disastrous CFR road trip, followed by December doldrums, followed by the January blues, followed by discussions on whom is untouchable, followed by who the top prospects are for the June draft. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    The Oilers are too small in too many of the wrong places in their forward lines. They don’t have enough vocal leadership in the dressing room. Their best defencemen are three guys under the age of 23. They haven’t developed a decent goalie since Grant Fuhr (Dubnyk was rescued from the Oilers; not developed by it) and haven’t traded for a decent one since Dwayne Roloson. They’ve swapped out GMs, coaches, assistants, scouts … hell, even the training staff got taken behind the barn a few years ago.

    Twenty-six years ago last month, Glen Sather traded Jimmy Carson (who scored 49 goals the year before in Edmonton) for three Detroit Red Wings of questionable value. The Oilers were four or five games under .500 at the time. Seven months later, they won the Stanley Cup, thanks, in no small part, to that trade and those three Detroit castoffs.

    Time to get serious, in-season. Chiarelli once traded away Joe Thornton in December. A few years later, he won the Cup. Time to get creative. To get brave. Time to kill the groundhog.

  • Zarny

    Good article for what it’s worth; but really it’s common sense. You can’t force a trade. Most teams are not looking to make major moves 20 something games into the season. And most won’t be interested in sacrificing a top D at the deadline.

    Last week Brad Treliving commented you need to be patient, which in no way means being content. Like it or lump it, there are no quick fixes.

    In general, many need to get a grip. The criticism for listless performances is spot on but overall the Oilers performance is better this year. They’ve shown themselves capable of competing against most teams. The chicken little attitude is as pathetic as the Oiler’s effort in Toronto.

  • XL Lebowski

    One thing I like about Chiarelli is he’s giving us some info but not too much. Unfortunately McTavish would show his hand through the media and he never had any leverage with other GMs. Chiarelli may make a deal this month. He may make one at the trade deadline. Or yes, at the draft next year. He’s waiting for someone else to blink.

    I can understand why people are impatient. I am too. But I also lived through the WHA days when the team sucked and there was never any hope until Gretzky came from Indy. Don’t be too hasty to get rid of Yak. When paired with McDavid, he’s strong. Just like Kurri with Gretzky.
    If Kurri played his first year with Brett Callighen as his centreman, he may not have made the hall of fame. Great players like Gretzky and McDavid bring greatness out in others.

  • Axiv

    This piece is so utterly defeatist that it is almost unbearable to read.
    No doing nothing in the short term is an insult to the Oiler fan base, one that has been abused by incompetence for a decade.
    Your position, Eillis, is an endless rebuild.
    All this while Eberle and RNH willfully under-perform.
    At this point, if the Oilers can’t get OEL, at least try for Stempniak, more consistent and honest than those two have ever been.
    Do something Chiarelli.
    Deconstruct is the bedt.
    Watch the debacle tonight.

  • Danglishish

    Agree 100% with this post.

    As depressing as it is to acknowledge that the rest of the year is basically a waste, at least this year we’ll be able to watch #97 come back in January and produce jaw-dropping performances on the regular. That’s more than we’ve had here in a long, long time.

    Looking forward to summer…. again.

  • BobbyCanuck

    I am sure there are GM’s out there that given the current success of our latest players deemed not good enough for the Oilers (Dubby, Petry), feel that they will be able to get said player turned around into NHL quality.

    You may think that Ebs, Yak, RNH have zero trade value, but if they played on a team with the correct mix of player whom could augment them…they could become very good, dependable players…

    Maybe, whatever, hardly matters now, another season 10 games away from being a total flush

    • A-Mc

      The only comment i’ll make regarding this is that i dont think anyone seriously believes that we’d be trading any of those 3 because they suck. The trolls will claim that they have 0 value, but that’s just ignorance speaking.

      I think the sentiment is that you need to give up value to get value and what we need is a valuable top end defender. In order to get that, we need to give up top end talent, which Ebs/RNH are. Yak is still TBD.

      The reason Ebs/RNH are being named is not because of a state of declined play, but its because the team has some depth to replace them (to some degree) if we were to move them.

      If Ebs gets moved, he will be replaced by draisaitl when McDavid comes back.

      If RNH gets moved, Draisaitl/McDavid become the top 2 Centermen.

      A lot of the speculation hinges on the notion that Draisaitl can make one of either Ebs or RNH expendable. If you agree with that or not, is another story. Personally i am leery about trading an experienced centerman, so i’d lean towards dangling Ebs (pun intended).

  • SmythsMullet

    Funny how Buffalo improved. Funny how Arizona improved. Sad how in a decade of losing that without McDavid we are still bottom feeders. We have the Aces and Kings but they are young. The fact we have no veteran D or effective 3rd and 4th lines speak of the incompetence of prior managers. I agree with Willis. Lets eat more humble pie, actually choke it down, it would be foolish to make a bad trade at this point.

    • ubermiguel

      arizona also has a wealth of talented prospects on the way.
      They stuck with a slumping goaltender who voodooed his way back to top form.
      Wile we panicked and traded ours away for pennies on the dollar.

      Hope management has learned their lesson about trading away slumping talented players.

  • smith

    We win against Toronto and the headlines had already been written, .500 on a tough road trip. We would all be happy as pigs right now. But instead we got a stinker game and now we are trading two of our best forwards and have written off this season. Boy do they even need a win tonight…

    Come-on Chia, use a third team to get Hamonic. Our 1st rounder next year is at an all time high value. USE IT! There must be a bottom dwelling team like Phoenix who would love that pick. To Pho. our 1st, to Edm. Hamonic, to NYI: Gormley, + more from Phoenix plus Schultz and Ethan Bear or something like that. Don’t trade an asset when its at a low point, I trust Chia knows this…

  • smith

    This is the season where Chiarelli gets to know the team better and discovers just how soft and one dimensional some of the players are. I have nothing against keeping Hall, Eberle, Nuge or Yak as individual players and could even tolerate having Schultz as a 6-7 D man, but collectively there is still not enough grit and character on this team.

    Added to that, these guys are already making about $6/6/6/4/4 million in respective cap hits. You can’t keep all that and expect to also extend McDavid, Drasaitl plus sign a first pairing defenceman (or a high level goalie who can bail this team out every other night). There won’t be enough cap space for all these guys.

    I actually think this team would be better off if they unloaded one of Eberle or Nuge for two quality middle six forwards, with one being a solid checking center that can win faceoffs and take all the def zone starts against top opposition and the other being a big, gritty winger. (I wonder if the Flyers are still interested in Eberle?) The other one of the two could be packaged with Yak and draft picks for more help on defence.

    By the way, most GM’s won’t qualify Schultz at $4M and I’m guessing Schultz won’t extend at a lower salary unless it’s with a Canadian team and he gets an NMC, so to a large extent you can consider him a pending UFA. His trade value to most teams is very low at the moment.

  • Big red ginger snap

    before trading anyone yet which i think is very hard to do anyways why not try a night our two in the press box for some of these so called wonder kids. it could bring them down a notch or two and we could see play improve.

  • AJ88

    Season not over , and lots can be done to help alleviate the team beyond just getting McDavid back . Players are already looking like they have given up by the looks of it again , and see even their so called best efforts not getting positive results . So they go thru the usual motions until near the end of year and then try to pick it up again . Same thing every season . Hard for players to alleviate their games when rest of team not doing much either other than going thru the motions . Make a big trade now , and that scenario will be broken and rest of team will alleviate their play pronto . Might even make us competitive now and down the line . Kick ass move on the so called core should spark them back to a higher level .

  • Axiv

    Oilers were 5-7 with McDavid. You can make the argument that they went 4-4 after he got comfortable.

    Either way, that’s what people who actually know stuff about hockey were projecting for the season. The Oilers are doing worse now because… Connor McDavid is not playing hockey.

    Not because Chiarelli is an idiot. Not because MacTavish and Lowe are using the force to control hockey ops. Not because McLellan is actually a bad coach.

    If Leon plays a great season, absolutely move some combination of RNH, Ebs, ’16/’17 first, spare dman to land a quality top pairing guy.

    Hall, Drai, McD, Nurse are a great core. Pou is a great complimentary player, Yak is cheap and great with McD.

    We need a top line Pou type right winger, and a top pairing defenseman. We have the pieces to make that happen. Relax.

    • Spiel

      So without the generational talent that the Oilers were gifted in a lottery, the team is as bad as ever.
      The moves that the GM actually had to make decisions on have been neutral to negative for the health of the franchise.

  • bradleypi

    Hey JW. Im with you that it’s time to look to next year as well. What are your thoughts on if the oilers trade nuge that the plan would be to replace him with Austin Mathews? I mean I know it’s voodoo to talk about another 1st overall pick around here but doesn’t it make sense that IF you can fill one hole by trading nuge, you could fill the hold left by nuge with a guy on an entry level contract for 3 years? And I hear that Mathews kid is supposed to be pretty good with size. Kind of Chiarellis type? Or no? I mean I know thd last thing the oilers organization and fans don’t want to pick 1st overall again but really this would be Chiarellis 1st true 1st overall that he earned….

    • AJ88

      I am actually to the point of dealing next years #1 pick even though it could easily be #1 overall. It should land you a top Dman from somebody like Nashville and it may save some face when the league institutes an “Oiler” rule on number of #1 overall picks a team can have. I truly believe the Oilers are going to trade it when teams realize they have a good shot at Mathews.

      • bradleypi

        Is it honestly possible for the league to make such a rule tho? I agree that trading the pick would be ideal but can’t nuge also be packaged for that dman? Would definitely save the oilers some cash in the here and now (meaning next year) to add to the bottom 6…

        • AJ88

          Yep, I think the league would have to implement some sort of rule if the Oilers were again lottery winners. They need the marquee players in the big markets to ensure growth. You have jumped on the trade RNH bandwagon, based only on this last road trip? Do you honestly think Drai is a better keeper than RNH based on less than 20 games in 2015? Huge, huge gamble….Maybe Drai fetches you more on the trade market.

          • AJ88

            Never ever want to trade Nuge. I believe RNH would be one of the most respected players within his peers, those are not the guys you get rid of. Nuge would be the guy I would be asking what the hell is going on if I were GM. There is obviously something much deeper in that dressing room that needs rectifying. And that includes Tmc as well. Can you imagine having the number of coaches they have had, different styles, different systems, different linemates,etc. I can see why players may have trouble buying in, it is going to take some more time to get the ship in order after years of mass confusion.

  • Big red ginger snap

    Eberle or RNH salaries make them untradeable unless the Oilers take part of the salary back or accept a bad contract in return.

    They each make 6M per season.

    Other players make: Tavares- 5.5, Sequin – 5.75, Benn – 5.275, Kesler – 5.0, Neal – 5.0, Wheeler – 5.6, Duchene – 6.0, Bergeron – 6.5 and the list goes on and on as to good players making 6.0m or less.

  • Chet.

    I have a slightly different take on this. My expectation was that they would miss the playoffs, so in that regard everything is going as expected. This road trip did look a lot like Oiler teams from years past, but through the first 20 games I was reasonably happy with how the team was progressing. The effort level was much higher, they cut way down on defensive blunders, and the special teams was looking respectable.

    If we end up with another lottery pick I would be pissed off, but I personally don’t see that happening. Obviously, the Oilers desperately need a top pairing dman, but as JW pointed out, it’s not likely to happen during the season. Fortunately, I’m not sure there is a team more equipt to make a deal like that than the Oilers are. I don’t like the idea of trading RNH, but if that’s what it takes to make this a winning team then it’ll get done.

    For the first time in a decade we have a quality NHL GM and a quality NHL coach. I trust that TM can keep the team motivated, and I trust that PC will do what it takes to make the team better. For those reasons I don’t see the next 57 games looking like the past 5.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    The unfortunate part of all this trade talk is that most of the players on the Oiler’s roster right now are playing so damn lousy that their trade value is virtually nil.

    If Chia starts talking trade with other GMs, there are only four names on the Oilers roster that will make their eyes light up. They are McDavid, Hall, Draisaitl and Nurse.

    So, if you really want to make a trade where you have a smidgeon of a chance of getting fair value back, it’s going to have to be one of those guys.

    The only one there that Chiarelli can even think of trading is Hall. He’d have to be very careful making that deal.

    It could work if we could get back a player or players who would make this team harder to play against.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Hall hater. Far from it, I love the guy and think he’s one of the few bright spots on the team. But he’s the only one with any current trade value that I think Chia could trade without weakening the team and losing on the deal.

  • smith

    As a flame fan the best part about articles like this is year after year my comment (see above) will receive far more trashes than props and the losing will continue.

    The worst part, is that I live close to Edmonton and would love to go see some competitive NHL hockey or even better playoffs. I am even willing to cheer (a little ) for the Oilers if it means I will have a chance to see some good hockey.

    • For Pete's Sake!

      Worry about your own team Flamer. Them being second last in the league, they’re not exactly trending in the right direction.

      You can’t get any lower than the Oilers but your Flames are only “2” big points ahead of us.

      Worry about that.

      • smith

        The flames look worse than the oilers right now, but their is a big difference in organizational attitude. One says it is okay to lose the other that losing is never acceptable. This makes me feel quite confidant that the flames even if they have an awe full year (or two) that they will bounce back.

        I really would love to see a better Oiler team one day sooner rather than later.

        • AJ88

          Did you watch the Flames game against Dallas last night? Ouch. What I feared…the return of the Flames from last season. The Oil have yet to show us a game like that where they dig in and fight.

          • smith

            Yeah I watched. Not sure what it means in the long term. Do the flames play like that and miss out on the playoffs by 3 points? Do they make the playoffs? (seems unlikely) Does the goalie crap the bed (again) and they sink below the Oilers? Did you see the goals Dallas scored? Wow Ramo and Hiller are bad this year.

        • For Pete's Sake!

          And you guys said Oilers fans were sipping the Koolaid last summer.

          Burky must be serving up some mighty strong stuff down in Calgary.

          Or they’re handing out rose colored glasses at the Saddledome.

    • Spiel

      Right. A few more first overalls and this will all be fixed for the Oilers. Oilers are building through the first round, but not the rest of the draft. That’s the problem.

      FYI, The last team to have 3 first overall picks in consecutive drafts was the Quebec Nordiques:
      1989 – Mats Sundin
      1990 – Owen Nolan
      1991 – Eric Lindros

      The team won a cup in 1996 as the Colorado Avalanche. NONE of those first overall picks were on the cup winning team. All of them were traded for key pieces (or for pieces that were moved for key pieces) of the cup winning roster.

  • The Soup Fascist

    This piece is so utterly defeatist that it is almost unbearable to read.
    No doing nothing in the short term is an insult to the Oiler fan base, one that has been abused by incompetence for a decade.
    Your position, Eillis, is an endless rebuild.
    All this while Eberle and RNH willfully under-perform.
    At this point, if the Oilers can’t get OEL, at least try for Stempniak, more consistent and honest than those two have ever been.
    Do something Chiarelli.
    Deconstruct is the bedt.
    Watch the debacle tonight.

  • Spiel

    Good article Mr. Wilis. I can agree with everything you say.

    For you bridge jumpers, this doesn’t mean they don’t keep trying to improve the team. They just don’t make trades just for sake of making trades.

    As JW pointed out, you don’t turn your nose up at a good trade but consideration must be given to the future, not the right-now-today.

    There is a lot more to fixing this team than just moving players in and out.

    And to everyone that still thinks KLowe, MacT, Nikitin and Ferrence are a huge part of the problem, please check with Bagged Milk. He has a solution.

  • bradleypi

    I love it when all you “hockey Geniuses” have that moment when you realize your not as smart as you think you are. The beauty of it is even stronger when your rediculous comments (as above) are forever engraved on the internet.

    Willis, if I were a GM or Head Coach I would listen to your advice, do the exact opposite, and I would have a consistantly competitive team, possibly a dynasty!!!!