Is Peter Chiarelli, President of Hockey Operations and General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers, the right man to lead the team moving forward in the wake of what has been an undeniably frustrating season of under-achievement and abject failure?
That’s certainly not the only question that comes to mind in the wake of a 0-3 road swing through California, capped by a 6-4 loss to San Jose that has the Oilers hopelessly out of playoff contention by even the most optimistic measure, but it’s the first question that needs to be asked before we move on to anything else. Is Chiarelli the man to get the job done?
If Oiler fans got to make the call in the hours after that loss to the Sharks, Chiarelli, along with head coach Todd McLellan and his staff, would most certainly be on the first rail out of town. My guess is a sizeable chunk of the roster would be taking that ride of shame right along with them. That’s understandable, now that the proverbial spit has hit the fan, but, thankfully, that’s not how it works.
Unless you want owner Daryl Katz calling that shot, that first question, the one that potentially tips the first domino, starts at the top — or should — with CEO and vice-chair Bob Nicholson. Does Nicholson have faith that Chiarelli is the right man for the job? If the answer is yes, then the same question needs to be asked right through the pecking order in hockey operations. If the answer is no, then we’re in for some drastic changes to largely the same front office that was in place for a 103-point season in 2016-17. So be it.
MAKE THE CALL
Simply put, when Nicholson looks at Chiarelli’s body of work as POHO and GM — the good, the bad and the ugly — does he share his vision and trust his ability to carry it out? Has Chiarelli put together the right mix of players, or at least a reasonable facsimile, to give McLellan and his coaching staff a fighting chance of being successful? Yes or no? Somewhere in between? I think the answer is the latter, but I don’t get a vote. A lot of people would say no. Is Nicholson one of them?
Again, this isn’t the only question that has to be answered, but it’s the first and most important one. When it’s this bad, everybody wears it. If Nicholson deems Chiarelli is his man, then you move down through hockey ops and to McLellan and his coaches, through the pro and amateur scouting staffs and, of course, to the players. There’s lots of blame to go around. It’s the scope of changes to come, not whether any will take place, that will be decided by that first question.
My best guess, and that’s all it is, is Chiarelli and McLellan get a vote of confidence from Nicholson — Chiarelli gets the coming trade deadline and this off-season to make the moves to get this team back on the road to contention it seemed to be moving nicely along last season. I won’t be a bit surprised, given how abysmal the special teams have been, if it’s strongly suggested to McLellan that it’s a good idea if his assistant coaching staff looks different next season.
If that vote of confidence isn’t forthcoming, then Nicholson had best make that call sooner than later. Maybe he has already behind closed doors. Every GM makes mistakes and Chiarelli has made his along the way — letting offensive talent get away in trades for lesser players, not using available cap space and on and on. When things are upside down and on fire, it’s no surprise that fans want heads to roll. How many actually do starts with that first question by Nicholson.
The old line is that if Wayne Gretzky can be traded (he was sold), anybody can. There’s a grain of truth to that, but trading Leon Draisaitl, as discussed by Elliotte Friedman, Kelly Hrudey and Nick Kypreos on the Hockey Night in Canada panel, doesn’t make any sense to me. From Kypreos: “There’s one untouchable we know and that is in Connor (McDavid), but after that I’d be open to start conversations about Leon Draisaitl.”
You can never say never, but any conversation about trading Draisaitl better start with a can’t-miss slam dunk coming back the other way, at a minimum, given that Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have been dealt away. While the slip in his power-play production has been considerable this season, Draisaitl is producing points at slightly better clip than he did last season (.96 to .94). Trade him? Better be some real sweet talk coming from the person making that call.
SHOW US SOMETHING
I like a lot of the attributes Milan Lucic brings to the table when he’s on his game, but I don’t recall seeing a good player struggle for as long as he has during an 18-game streak in which he hasn’t scored a goal and has just four assists. Lucic is still banging when he gets the chance, but he has been a non-factor way too often for the price point he’s at. Is this is the start of his decline or is it just a protracted bad stretch?