This is part two of a two-part series examining if the Oilers should keep Peter Chiarelli as general manager. We’ll look at why the Oilers should fire Chiarelli here.
In part one, I made the argument why the Oilers should keep Chiarelli. It’s a difficult choice to make but boils down to general managers usually getting more than three seasons, especially if they haven’t made a coaching change yet. The Oilers have changed general managers and coaches a lot in the last decade, which should ultimately work in Chiarelli’s favour.
Still, Peter Chiarelli’s seat has to be warm after an unexpectedly tough season. That’ll happen when you have Connor McDavid and miss the playoffs.
He hasn’t made a coaching change and general managers usually get at least one before really feeling the heat. But the Edmonton Oilers aren’t normal. Having McDavid in his prime means there should be more urgency than your typical team.
The Oilers will have made the playoffs once in three years with a generational talent on the roster, although McDavid was injured for 37 games in his rookie season.
Most of Chiarelli’s big additions have come at a significant price.
Andrej Sekera might be his best signing, his cap hit and term are fair for a top-four defenceman signed in free agency, even with his tough season returning from injury.
Adam Larsson, however, was acquired for current Hart Trophy-candidate Taylor Hall. The Oilers need for defenceman, especially right-handed ones, was great, but Chiarelli traded down and gave up the best player in the deal while still needing a puck-moving d-man. A common theme of his trades.
Milan Lucic is still a useful player but signed to a buyout-proof contract that already looks incredibly poor. Lucic is on pace for 39 points, which isn’t good enough for his $6-milllion cap hit. Lucic’s contract is a real problem for an Oilers team needing value deals around McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Ryan Strome is a competent NHL player who can play wing or centre on a third line, but he’s not worth Jordan Eberle. The Oilers could use a scoring winger pretty badly. This trade was described as a salary dump, but the Oilers never put that cap space to use. They’ve been one of the teams with the most space available all season.
Kris Russell is a useful NHL player, but he’s a third-pairing defenceman signed to an expensive contract with no-trade and no-move protection. The Oilers defence still needs to improve, but money is locked into veterans Russell and Sekera. $4 million is too much for a bottom-pair defenceman.
Chiarelli has sent away a lot of talent as Oilers general manager. Mathew Barzal is on track to win the Calder Trophy with Charlie McAvoy and Brock Boeser fighting for second place. Sure, the Oilers never picked Barzal, but Islanders general manager Garth Snow said they don’t make the trade if Barzal isn’t available at 16. Barzal aside, the Oilers still gave up two high draft picks in a very good draft for Griffin Reinhart, a declining prospect that didn’t fill a need. Their prospect pool would much better today had they kept those picks.
The Reinhart trade might be the most lopsided deal in terms of pure value going one way. You can find a similar trade each summer during Chiarelli’s time in Edmonton. Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson in 2016. Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome in 2017. The Oilers can’t keep trading down and expect to improve, but that’s the way Chiarelli operates going back to his time in Boston. He traded Tyler Seguin and Blake Wheeler and gave up the best player in both deals.
The Oilers’ cap situation is even more difficult next season when McDavid’s cap hit jumps to $12.5 million per year. They’ll need to improve the roster with few tradable assets. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom are often brought up as trade candidates to acquire a right-handed defenceman and a skilled winger. Given Chiarelli’s track record, getting full value for those players seems unlikely if he’s making those trades.
Chiarelli’s lack of activity last summer contributed to this season’s failures. Wasting the last year of McDavid’s entry-level contract should be a fireable offence. Chiarelli didn’t improve the roster in the offseason but arguably made it worse by trading Eberle for Strome and not doing much else.
The Oilers need for a puck-moving, right-handed defenceman is still present, as it was when Chiarelli was hired. Chiarelli’s traded away two high picks in 2015 (one of which became Mat Barzal), Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle, and the Oilers’ defence still isn’t good enough. Now, they have less assets and more money tied up while still needing to add significant pieces. Nurse is a restricted free agent and needs a new contract, so a bridge deal might be necessary with four $4-million defenceman already signed.
There’s also the significant lack of prospects in Bakersfield. There’s not one NHL-ready forward prospect and Bakersfield still sits at the bottom of their division, even with all these AHL veterans playing big minutes.
Oilers Entertainment Group CEO and Vice-Chair Bob Nicholson talked about this season in an interview on Sportsnet 590 with Bob McCown in February. He correctly spoke about goaltending and special teams sinking their season and said they’ve had lots of focus groups say they can win the Stanley Cup in the next three to five years. It’s hard to see the same general manager who couldn’t build a supporting cast around McDavid when he made $3.75 million do it when his cap hit jumps to $12.5 million.
The Oilers still have elite talent, but all precede Chiarelli’s arrival. His task was to surround McDavid with the right support to win but built a slow, expensive team around the fastest player in the game.
Of the current roster, Chiarelli’s additions include Lucic, Mike Cammalleri, Jesse Puljujarvi, Strome, Pontus Aberg, Drake Caggiula, Larsson, Sekera, Russell, Matt Benning, Cam Talbot, and Al Montoya. Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu were also Chiarelli additions but sent out by the trade deadline. Chiarelli’s group isn’t good enough.
Nicholson’s interview with McCown preached continuity and confidence in Chiarelli. The Oilers have had six coaches and three general managers since 2010. But that’s no reason to continue with a poor one.
These are crucial years, and McDavid’s entry-level contract is already gone.
The Oilers were right to look outside the organization for a new general manager, they just hired the wrong one. Chiarelli came into one of the best jobs in hockey and has continuously bled talent and added tough contracts in free agency, making their cap situation difficult going forward.
The Oilers have changed general managers four times in the past decade. That shouldn’t stop them from firing Chiarelli.