After One Quarter: Has Chiarelli Blown This Season?

The Oilers have played a quarter of their games this season and the results have been disastrous. The team finds themselves in 29th place and ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes in the Western Conference. This team needs a fundamental change of results in order to challenge for a playoff spot.

While some are finding ways to blame Connor McDavid (?!) for the woes of the team, I think it’s plain as day who the real culprit has been. Edmonton finds themselves in a rather untenable position today because of the job General Disappointment Peter Chiarelli has done. I’m not blaming the best player the club has had since Gretzky. I’m not blaming the man that the club got in return for Jordan Eberle. I’m not even blaming Kris Russell. This is on Chiarelli.

The Oiler GM made this team worse on and off the ice between the end of Game 7 against the Ducks and opening night of this season. Instead of taking advantage of McDavid’s final season at less than $4 million in annual average after max bonuses, the team hoarded cap space and traded or bought out veterans without replacing their skill levels on the roster.

From day one in the offseason, it was known to both management and the public that the Oilers would be without their second best defenseman for at least the first two full months of the next season. Even as teams moved blueliners ahead of the expansion draft (for which the Oilers were well positioned) the team stood pat.

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Peter Chiarelli admitted that his blueline wasn’t up to the standard of the teams that advanced to the third round of the playoffs and yet he did nothing. Worse than doing nothing, he committed to doing nothing a very long time. With Sekera, Larsson, and Klefbom committed long term and Benning and Nurse under club control long term he signed Kris Russell to a four year, $16 million dollar deal complete with no trade and no movement clauses.

Even if you completely hate/disagree with my analysis of Russell’s play, committing to Russell with an anchored contract forces the top 6 to remain static in talent and unbalanced with left and right handers for four seasons. As it turned out, Russell was dropped to the third pairing before Andrej Sekera even returned to the lineup because of Nurse’s play. So that’s $4 million a year dedicated to the third pairing or worse for three more seasons after this.

Edmonton’s blueline has taken a hit in terms of total effectiveness without Sekera. Oscar Klefbom is having more problems managing the game than he did last year and there’s no veteran on the left side to ease any pressure off of him. It’s a problem that the Oilers seemingly didn’t plan for because they didn’t believe would exist. It was an avoidable problem if the team pushed to upgrade their blueline.

Oct 17, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Strome (18) controls the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period at Rogers Place. Carolina Hurricanes won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Up front, the Oiler General Manager took the playoffs as a glimpse into the future of Oiler hockey. Any reasonably competent research into the playoffs would have shown that both Draisaitl and Eberle went on thoroughly unsustainable runs in the playoffs. Eberle couldn’t add a thing and Draisaitl could do no wrong. Neither was bound to last.

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Still, Draisaitl was paid more than any of his comparables in the NHL by about $1.5 million dollars a season because he was going to be the 2C of the Oilers for the future in the mold of Evgeni Malkin. 20 games into this season and even when he’s finally been split from McDavid, Draisaitl is still a right winger, as he was for the majority of last season. The team is paying a premium to a very good player for doing a job that he isn’t actually doing. As was a concern when the contract was being negotiated, the Oilers are effectively paying for McDavid twice with Draisaitl’s massive contract.

Eberle was traded away for Ryan Strome because he posted a goose-egg in the playoffs. Strome was not brought in to be the 3C of the Oilers and that was clear from the opening of training camp. He was supposed to be Eberle’s replacement. That was the spot he was gifted in September by management and coaching staff. However, he lost it faster than my kid loses mittens and toques at school. He is scoring at exactly the same pace he had last season with the Islanders. He is exactly what should have been expected. If management is as disappointed with the deal as they were reported to have been earlier this season than that’s because management made a stupid deal.

The added “benefit” of trading Eberle for Strome was the extra money in cap space that the Oilers saved. Cap Space has scored zero goals for Edmonton this season so far, but at least they have it in spades. As of today, the Oilers have $10,971,460 in cap space without bonus cushions. I checked with NHLNumbers and found out the Oilers will have effectively $38 million in cap space at the trade deadline. This does not count any relief provided by having Sekera on LTIR. It is the result of trading Eberle for Strome, buying out Benoit Pouliot for no reason, and refusing to add help to the team. Edmonton is spending less on salary than the Florida Panthers and the Winnipeg Jets and only a hair more than the expansion Golden Knights.

The buyout of Benoit Pouliot in a season where they were not using the cap savings is especially confusing. Because buying out contracts forces the teams to pay out for twice the time remaining on the deals, Edmonton will have Pouliot on the books for another three seasons after this. If they bought him out after this season then they could have had him off the books a year earlier. Pouliot has six goals for the Sabres this season and the team is paying him $1.3 million plus his replacement on the roster another $1 million. Neat.

I don’t want to get into the overall loss in talent factoring deals from before this season because that will happen on a day when we are reviewing Chiarelli’s Oiler career as a whole. I’m just trying to look into this season only. That said, it gets hard not to mention because things like the Lucic contract will affect what happens here on out too.

Before we ever get into the individual players and what they have or haven’t done, the General Manager committed significant amounts of present and future cap dollars to players based on roles they do not actually play (2C for Draisaitl, 2LHD for Russell, 1LW for Lucic). He downgraded the talent in the top 6 forwards by moving Eberle for Strome. He refused to improve his blueline from obvious positions now and for years to come. He downgraded talent in the bottom six in the name of cap space that he never used.

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Jun 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli makes the Oilers pick of Connor McDavid (not pictured) in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, Peter Chiarelli made the Oilers worse in 2017-2018 than they were in 2016-2017 and did it knowing health would be a problem early on. He can hide from the local media who want to ask him questions about the start of this season, but he can’t hide from the blame he rightly deserves.

Chiarelli has very likely wasted the final year of McDavid’s entry level contract. The contract landscape he has created has forced the club into the position of being unsure whether they can afford the next contracts for players like Nurse and Benning on the blueline and Maroon on the top line without first parting ways with quality players like Nugent-Hopkins.

Oiler fans and players alike deserved better than this from the man in control of the roster. These were avoidable problems that are now in full control of the season. Everything that Chiarelli does from here on out is about fixing the mistakes he made blowing assets and opportunities. This is about disaster control and containment. At the quarter mark of this season, my only concern is about how to get beyond this season without having to trade RNH, Maroon, and one of Nurse or Klefbom just to survive. It’s grim, true.

This season isn’t about McDavid’s backchecking or Klefbom’s decision-making in the defensive zone. It’s about sheer incompetence from the top of the organization.

  • Reinman

    Well said, but I wish you would have covered Lucic and Reinhart deals in more depth. Now watch Chiarelli trade away our future to try and right the ship, and really condemn us to another decade of darkness.

    • passenger

      “I’m just trying to look into this season only.”

      What makes this article so pointed is that Matt is deliberately leaving some of the worst out and is still able to make the case for Chiarelli’s failure.

  • Dolby

    Maroon is gone, we are stuck with Lucic. Nurse will get a 3.5-4mm deal. Yamo and JP here next year. This is a lost season. This is a bottom 5 team this year. Time to manage assets and not get desperate. Fallin for Dahlin.

    • MrBung

      Agreed. There is nothing left to salvage this season. There needs to be a serious rethink and something done to start winning deals. Chia is almost always at the losing end of deals. Sewered Boston in the end and now sewing the Oil. At least Boston got the Cup one season. The Oil will never get that with him.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    Y’know, it’s easy to blame Chia. But who the hell hires Chia to resurrect a franchise and navigate a Connor McDavid contract in a cap era?

    Katz, that’s who. So, Mr. Katz, here’s how to get out of this:

    Firstly, you assemble a private firm whose sole purpose is recruitment. They exist. You tell them you want a competent GM and you tell them what you want your franchise to do. At this point, you “promote” Chia to the vaunted position of “HockeyOps” and wait for the new GM. Two things to remember:

    1.) Katz, you don’t have any say in who the next GM is.

    2.) Your franchise can be easily turned around by a competent GM.

    Take heart.

    • the dope $teez

      Wat are you even talking about? I’m not a Katz fan because he insisted on only hiring his old buddies, putting us in the position we were in during the decade of darkness – But he had nothing to do with hiring chia. He didn’t want to continue the losing, or fire Lowe himself, so he did exactly what you stated three years ago by hiring respected hockey man Bob Nicholson to find a new GM, and oilers fans were ecstatic with that change from the status quo.
      Go back to flames nation you don’t really know anything about the oilers.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    I guess you can call me one of the ‘mouth-breathers’… But I console myself in the fact that I’ve still hung onto my balls and I’m not whining and moaning like a teenage girl.

    Those folks saying that they miss the days with MacT and KLowe sure do have piss-poor memories. As bad as this season has been so far, we lived through multiple seasons in the DOD that we much worse.

    Folks saying we should be fallin’ for Dahlin prove every negative stereotype about Oilers fans right. Be better.

    Yeah – Chia’s made some mistakes this past summer. Yeah – the prognosis looks grim right now. This is a test of character for both players and management and especially for fans. My bet is that the team will rally around Connor, the GM will bring in some supporting characters, and they’ll turn this corner.

    Fairweather fans – this is your cue to jump ship. You won’t be missed. Go take your drama and cheer for a team like Toronto where hysteria is encouraged.

    The rest of us are gonna slug back a few bevvies and tough it out knowing the boys will figure it out.

    • Reinman

      Chia has really screwed things up. I am not a fair weather fan, I am a die hard Oilers fan who is sick of our management making stupid decisions that lead to substandard product on the ice. Lucic and Russel are 10 million a year between them, and both have NMC. That is soul destroying. When you look at Connor/Draisaitl/Lucic/Russel, that is half of our money spent. Where are we going to get the money to fill out our roster with competent players? I mean for the next 5 years ( Lucic) it is not even a matter of getting the talent, it is straight up being able to pay them. Teams that win the stanley cup do not overpay their players. Today’s NHL is about getting your money’s worth out of your players. And Lucic and Russell will be underperforming their contracts, likely from now to the end of their terms.

      Tell me I am a fair weather fan when the trade Nuge for next to nothing in the off season ( or possibly at the trade deadline). We can’t get a player of his value back in return, because we won’t be able to pay someone of RNH’s calibre. If Chia would have played this right and not spent all our money on these guys, we would have been in a positon to pick up someone who is really talented from a team that is trying to dump salary. Getting on the other side of the lopsided trades is what a good GM does. I would have loved to see the Oilers be in the hunt for Duchene. The leafs will soon be in cap hell ( they have soo much talent up front, it’s scary). Maybe we could have poached one of their forwards for pennies on the dollar.

  • Cauliflower McPugg

    “Edmonton is spending less on salary than the Florida Panthers and the Winnipeg Jets and only a hair more than the expansion Golden Knights”.

    Sports economists are fond of looking at these matters and have come up with a duality, you are a win maximizing organization (the domain of sportsman owners like Mr. I in the no cap era) or you are a profit maximizing organization.
    Nice rink Mr. Katz. Real nice rink.
    Making any cash?

    • gr8haluschak

      Ok mr scholar, so let me get this straight a guy who has spent to the cap the entire time he was an owner all of a sudden has decided to be a “profit maximizing organization” because this year they have not spent to the max, more sound logic at Oilers Nation.

  • flamesburn89

    I know that the general feeling in EDM is to panic right now, but Willis had a look at the Oilers cap situation and it might be worth a read for those who are close to the ledge. The link is the one Henderson hyperlinked about Draisatl and his comparable, but I’ll just post it again here –> https://oilersnation.com/2017/08/22/have-the-mcdaviddraisaitl-contracts-torpedoed-edmontons-cap-situation/

    One important excerpt from Willis’ article is “None of this is going to be easy, but it’s doable. Despite a few questionable contracts on the team roster, it would be a mistake to be overly pessimistic about Edmonton’s salary cap situation at this point.”

    The expectations for this season for you Oiler fans may have changed, but the cap situation hasn’t. Take a breather.

  • OldOilerFan

    The Reinhart deal was bad, do we blame Chia for that or on the old regime? I’m choked Calgary was able to make their blueline moves as they did – we lost out on both Hamilton and Hamonic. Was that because Chia didn’t have any assets to work with? I don’t know, I’m just asking.
    Hall for Larsson? I’ll take it. We needed a D – who else was available? Guys talk about 1-2 defenseman but it’s not like they are a dime a dozen.
    Eberle – should have got more for him, he didn’t need to trade him as soon as he did. That one is on Chia absolutely.
    Lucic? We are tougher, we needed to get tougher, remember how badly we used to get pushed around? Contract term and $$ are way too much tho, agreed that’s on Chia.
    Russell? I think he did that one just because we needed a guy and no one else available – except Hamonic. Where Chia should have focused.

    I’m more mad at what Jim Matheson apparently reported, that the Oilers weren’t even thinking of drafting Barzal. What the hell? Our scouts missed out on Debincat too.

  • Simba99

    Regardless of what anything is said or done we will see who’s going to go soon enough gm coach I’m thinking the only way out trade Draisaitl is chia’s next move cause he’s the only value he has left

  • bwar

    This team did not improve over the off-season and shockingly we are worse than last year. Best part is we can cap obliterated next season. This was the one year window to take a run at a deep playoff run, next opportunity is probably 5 years down the road after a few cap increases.

  • WillyWonka

    not to mention that the Drai contract will likely be the root of the next lockout. Drai is awesome, but not 8.5 awesome. this bonehead move drives the prices up around the league. So, Edmonton’s gross mismanagement led to changes in the draft, and will likely lead to another lock out.
    Id say though that the Oilers aren’t actually as bad as their record has been so far this year.

    • gr8haluschak

      Yeah the 500 k or so that he could be considered overpayment is a boneheaded move, I love the stupidity of Oilers fans and comments like this proves why the oilers cannot have nice things.

  • ponokanocker

    The one move that completely boggles my mind is the Pouliot buyout. We had cap space already and by buying him out this offseason, you hurt your future years cap situation. If they weren’t going to use the cap this year, why buy him out this year? I was expecting a signing or trade to after he was bought out and instead, Chia just made the team worse for no reason and hurt the team for future years with less cap room.

  • Gravis82

    It all started off wrong right in the beginning by giving up the compensatory draft picks to boston (which did not need to happen that year), and trading picks for Reinhart….in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. Think of the talent we passd on here. Unbelieveable. Thing is, im not sure anyone thought this was a good idea at the time either. Is Lowe still running this team? Maybe Katz is?

    • gr8haluschak

      I love these stupid comments – is Lowe or Katz running the team, give your f’n head a shake because yes one of the top hockey minds in the world who could have had any job he wanted would come here to have to answer to someone else. If clowns like you cannot accept the fact that Lowe and Katz are not running the team then you need to do something else with your life instead of living in your stupid conspiracy laden world

  • Cap is going up – the cap space will prove useful in future years – this is a long journey not a sprint. There was always a danger predicting a championship off players who were having career years (Maroon, Talbot) and D man under 200 NHL games played are always unpredictable, you just don’t know yet how they will pan out (Nurse, Benning)

    Trade Maroon while his value is high – offer him and a 1st rounder for James Neal now.

    regardless going all in this year would have been stupid – the team is not ready – i’ll take my chances that one poor start with a 20 and 21 year old leading the way will have some bumps and bruises and continued learning. All the better for when they figure it out and step on the throats of the NHL for the next 10 years.

    then entire team gets a MEH (players, coaches, management) just snap out of it already.

    • CMG30

      No. It’s been more than a decade now. Long journey talk is bunk. Last year was a fluke. The team has managed to acquire McDavid yet instead of building a team around him, they keep parting out the pieces of value while ignoring the holes.

  • KenBone18

    I have a question:

    What would happen if this team (and the fanbase) didn’t always look for someone to blame their problems on?

    It’s a never ending revolving door of problem people – Mac T, Eakins, Schultz, Hall, Yak, Eberle, and now Chia and even McDavid (LOL WTF?).

    What would happen if the team (and fan base) pointed more on constructive discussion and improvement rather than finger pointing?

    Perhaps this line of thinking is too rational when your nutsack is frozen to your car seat?

  • Oil Can

    Yeah, it is real easy to sit back and criticize. The arm chair quarterback. As I watched the summer unfold, there were not all these players, that you seem to think there were, lining up to come to the Oilers for one year until Connors and Leon’s contracts kicked in. Yes this season has been a disaster, but maybe there should be more focus on the players, and not just dump everything on the coach and GM. Talbot, Klefbom, and a lot of others are the ones that aren’t doing their jobs well enough. But I guess if the GM would have traded them away last summer, then you would blame that on him also. At the time that Ebs and Poo were traded and bought out, almost every Oilers fan was all for it. But now there are a few bloggers who just want to whine and pout, and scream “fire the GM and fire the coach” how about let them do their jobs and move the players after the season ends, that have let the team and fans down

  • Pouzar99

    I remember when Oilers Nation wasn’t the joke it has now become. Chiarelli hasn’t gotten it all right but the problem is the players. Oscar Klefbom and Matt Benning have been an absoule disaster so far this season. Whose fault is that? ERic Gryba and to a lesset extent, Kris Russell have been poorer as well. Letestu is struggling, and there has been almost no secondary scoring. As for the Eberle deal, did Chairelli sign him to a long term $6 million per deal? No. The Oilers are in a pedictable cap crunch and Eberle, who had become very stale, had to go. Look, thinking people are aware that Oiler fans and those that fantasize they are experts love to pick out one individual and blame him for everything. Eberle, Schultz, etc. This is a team failure, mostly involving the players. I am not giving Chiarelli a pass, but the Oiler players have to start working harder and playing tougher and smarter.

      • Pouzar99

        Try taking into account the acquistions of Talbot, Maroon, Kassian, Caggiula and Benning while giving up next to nothing. Or the free agent signing of Sekera. The drafting of Yamamoto. Lucic has performed up to sensible expectations so far.Have you already forgotten how the Oilers used to get pushed around before he brought the big guys in? If you think the defence is bad, imagine how it would look withour Larsson. There have been some mistakes, but there are lots of reasons why he was finalist for top GM last year.

  • Oilers4Life4ever

    Exactly and well written! Chia needs to give answers and now. Also for all those who are willing for Chia to trade RNH? You want to trade speed and remarkable talent for another slow poke dud? Please do not ask for that. On another note, IMHO I think RNH should be moved up on McDavids line for more than just one game. For a lot of games, then fans can fairly judge him and his gameplay. I say keep RNH, he belongs on the Oilers roster!