So, it would appear Peter Chiarelli, Edmonton Oilers’ GM and president of hockey operations, is the man boss Bob Nicholson feels comfortable moving forward with despite what’s been a desperately disappointing 2017-18 season. At least that’s my takeaway from Chiarelli’s interview on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown a couple of days ago.
In the bit, Nicholson talked about how there was plenty of blame to go around from top to bottom in the organization, said that he was “shocked” and “disappointed” about how this season has unfolded and also made mention that it would be good to add another top defenceman – isn’t it always? No mention, though, of doing another forensic audit on the job Chiarelli has done with 26 games remaining in his third season in the big chair. It sounds to me like Chiarelli is Nicholson’s man heading into the trade deadline, the off-season and the 2018-19 campaign.
I can’t say I’m surprised. I suggested in an item on Feb. 11 that the first matter of business for Nicholson going into the trade deadline and beyond was to decide if Chiarelli was the man to get the job done. It appears he has – likely, he already had before that item even ran. I expected it would go this way, which should not be confused with me necessarily believing it should go this way. I, like you, don’t get a vote. Bob doesn’t call . . .
The part of the Nicholson segment with McCown (which begins at about 1:37.00) that caught my ear: “They’re upset and they should be upset,” Nicholson said of a fan base that expected better after 103 points last season. “We’ve had lots of focus groups, had lots of discussion with them. They believe this team can win the Cup in the next three to five years. It’s Peter Chiarelli’s job, along with my job, to show them a plan and we’re going to get this team better again. I really believe with some changes here that we can.”
LONG WAY DOWN
Nicholson also said: “We will look to do something to try to improve our team, short and long term. We’ve got some assets that we could trade here.” Given what I perceive as a vote of confidence, are any of you out there, given the team Chiarelli has assembled in his third season here, confident he’ll handle those assets properly moving forward? With the benefit of hindsight, I’m not nearly as sure as I once was.
I’ve got to admit, when Chiarelli and Todd McLellan came aboard with the Oilers for the 2015-16 season, I considered both of them a marked upgrade on what we’d seen during the era when Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish were running the show and there was a coaching carousel behind the bench. I still believe that to be the case, but results are what matter. Last season, to be sure, looked like the light the end of the tunnel.
Was it a one-off? In 2015-16, the Oilers finished with 70 points and had a point percentage of .427. It likely would have been better had Connor McDavid not busted his collarbone. Last year, 103 points and a .628 point percentage – the team’s best since 1986-87. Playoffs, baby! Happy days are here again. So far this season, with 26 games to go after that heartless 4-1 loss in Las Vegas, the Oilers are 23-29-4 for 50 points and point percentage of .446. Tambellini did better than that in three of his five seasons – without McDavid on the roster – before getting canned.
So, if Chiarelli is Nicholson’s man and McLellan is Chiarelli’s man – the GM said January 8 he had no intention of firing the coach – then it would appear the most significant people at the top of hockey operations will remain intact going to the off-season and beyond. Are you OK with that? As for me, I suppose I am, in large part because I do see value in continuity at this point. That said, I’m not nearly a certain as I once was. Not even close.
NO BEEF WITH LUCIC
Georges Laraque raised a few eyebrows Thursday when he told Gene Principe of Sportsnet during a second intermission interview he saw an Oilers team that needed a “heart transplant.” In part, Laraque said: “On paper, the Oilers have a better team, but (Vegas) plays with more heart. “There are a lot of guys on that team that need to make a hospital visit and get a heart transplant. There’s not enough heart out there. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Over at the Cult of Hockey at the Edmonton Journal, writer David Staples suggested, based on the initial interview, Laraque was directing some his comments at Milan Lucic. Laraque called me this morning emphatically saying that’s not the case. He called Staples as well. A note – call it a clarification — about that has been added to the item. We’ll have an item on the Laraque comments coming up here shortly.
DOUBLE THE MONEY
According to the Twitter account of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, an anonymous donor has stepped forward that is willing to match individual donations to the World’s Longest Hockey Game, being played out at Saiker’s Acres. The goal is to raise $2 million. I’m not sure who this is, but this gesture, it goes without saying, is going to make a huge difference in reaching that goal. Donate if you can here.