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Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The case for keeping Peter Chiarelli

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.

May 7, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian (44) celebrates a first period goal against the Anaheim Ducks in game six of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

  • Johnnymaced

    Is that a joke? I expect more from part 2. You forgot trading an MVP candidate for a 2nd line deefenceman straight up. The Lucic signing. The Reinhart trade. The Eberle trade. The Russel signing. The return on maroon. It goes on and on. Chia had everything. He had a Ferrari and he turned it into an f150 right when the NHL finally paved all the roads. He should resign actually. Save us all the trouble. Everything aside from the WWE refs determining games and goal judges who don’t know what the hell they are doing) i blame on chia. He’s gotta go.

  • Jnizzle

    This is the positive side of a obviously very grim two part series about our much maligned GM. He deserves a chance at working this out.

    One season removed from a great showing and most want to see Pete canned. Sure he made a few questionable decisions but this disastrous season can not be fully or close to fully pinned on him.

    There is no one taking control this summer who is more qualified ( no one available) to right this ship. Another GM means another couple years to put his stamp on the team and work out the learning curves that come with each individual team.

    Next year will be much better. No doubt.

  • 2centz

    Never mind firing Chiarelli and or MacLellan,how does Mac.T and Howson and company still have jobs? They are the only factor that hasn’t changed during the worst years for the team. But yet,Mac.T is still evaluating talent for them. This is a head scratcher for me. Has anyone else ever been fired as coach,fired as GM and then end up as VP? Katz is usually a smart businessman,but the way he allows this team to be managed,will be one of his biggest blemishes.

  • Arfguy

    I honestly can’t decide if I want Chiarelli gone for next season. IMO, the worst move he made was the Lucic contract. When you hand out a contract with that much term, you cannot include that much money as well. Not to a player of Lucic’s calibre.

    At the same time, I really do think we need a guy like Larsson. I do think we need a guy like Russell. For what it’s worth, I think a move like the one to bring in Aberg is a good one. He is no superstar, but hopefully he adds speed to a team that looks very, very slow.

    I don’t know if Chiarelli being gone will fix this team. Chiarelli needs to realize that he made some big mistakes and needs to work on fixing them.

    As an aside, he also needs to understanding that trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is not an option. Not unless you’re getting a legit, number 1 puck moving young defenceman, a prospect and at least one first rounder. The demand for that kind of return needs to be there if moving RNH is being considered. Nothing less will be accepted.