This is part one of a two-part series examining if the Oilers should keep Peter Chiarelli as general manager. We’ll look at why the Oilers should retain Chiarelli here.
Peter Chiarelli is on the hot seat. That happens when your team is at the bottom of the standings, most of your offseason moves haven’t worked out, and the ones from the season before look even worse.
This isn’t Chiarelli’s first year. He’s had three years as Edmonton Oilers General Manager and that’s with a generational centre at the top of his roster. There’s a definite case he’s traded down in skill and signed veterans to overpaid contracts with trade protection attached.
But Chiarelli’s only had three years. General Managers usually get at least one coaching change before they start really feeling the heat, and Chiarelli hasn’t shown any indication he’s willing to play that card with Todd McLellan.
Recent general manager changes back this up. Jason Botterli replaced Tim Murray in Buffalo, and Murray even got a coaching change when Dan Bylsma replaced Ted Nolan for the 2015-16 season. Although, Dean Lombardi’s reluctance to fire Darryl Sutter may have ended his time as Los Angeles’ general manager. Lombardi’s Kings still missed the playoffs in his first three seasons and didn’t win a round in the playoffs for five years.
Murray only had three and a half seasons under his belt before Buffalo fired him. He didn’t have any playoff appearances. Chiarelli has a 103-point season to his name with a second-round appearance that was a goal or two away from the Western Conference Finals. A team that featured a lot of pieces brought in by Peter Chiarelli. Sure, their cost was high but that was the first playoff berth in a decade for the Edmonton Oilers.
Chiarelli’s turned over this roster. The only players not brought in directly by Chiarelli: Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Anton Slepyshev, Jujhar Khaira, Iiro Pakarinen, Darnell Nurse, and Oscar Klefbom. This is Chiarelli’s team.
The Oilers are a top-ten possession team by most metrics. There’s a good argument that this is a pretty good team brought down by shoddy special teams and poor goaltending. Where would the Oilers be if Cam Talbot had a .918 save percentage (his career average) instead of his ~.900 one? It’s likely Talbot has a bounce back season next year.
Oilers Entertainment Group CEO and Vice-Chair Bob Nicholson echoed this in an interview on Sportsnet 590 with Bob McCown in February. He spoke about the season being a disappointment, and a large part of it due to poor goaltending and special teams. Nicholson says they’ve had a lot of focus groups that think they can win the cup in the next three to five years. Most importantly, he has full confidence in Chiarelli and will give him get another crack at improving the roster in the summer.
Three seasons isn’t a lot for a GM. Craig MacTavish barely got two seasons with Edmonton before Chiarelli came in, but MacTavish didn’t have the experience Chiarelli did to give him a cushion. Chiarelli’s in year three of a five-year deal and has a long resume from his time in Boston.
The Oilers’ 103-point season and playoffs suggest the team was on the right track. Two years into Chiarelli’s Oilers career they were in uncharted territories, making the playoffs and even winning a round. Chiarelli’s additions, Sekera, Talbot, Maroon, Letestu, Lucic, Russell, all had varying degrees of importance to the Oilers’ success.
There’s been three Oilers General Managers since 2010. Should there really be a fourth? Firing a GM usually means a new coach coming in as well, and that would be the seventh coach in the same time.
A new General Manager means more evaluation and more of ‘his guys’ coming in. There’s an argument that it’s a little early to pull the plug on another management group. Chiarelli’s made numerous questionable moves, but history shows he’s probably getting another off-season to improve the team. General Managers don’t get fired this early too often.
Chiarelli spoke about adding speed and skill in his post-trade deadline press conference. It’s clear he thinks the Oilers need to get faster and add more skill on the wings and on defence, even if he went a bit heavy on adding size in the past. He acknowledged the Oilers’ lack of NHL-ready prospects and attempted to add some with the Letestu and Maroon trades.
Chiarelli’s handed out some poor contracts and lost a few trades as Oilers General Manager. That’ll have to change going forward, but there’s value in a GM that can recognize his mistakes. The Oilers have been a mess for the better part of a decade and hiring Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan was supposed to change that. They had track records with Boston and San Jose respectively, and it’d be a little early to pull the plug on that now.
This roster isn’t that different from the one that was a couple goals from the Western Conference Finals. Injuries to Sekera and Klefbom have hurt them, even with Nurse stepping up. They could contend next year with a few tweaks to the roster. Their drafting has improved, too. The Oilers organization has been in turmoil for a large part of last decade. Keeping the Chiarelli around might not be the worst idea.