With the Edmonton Oilers on a 1-6 freefall in their last seven games after Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, fans in Oilersnation are screaming for pink slips. Some of you want to see general manager Peter Chiarelli fired. Some of you want to see head coach Todd McLellan fired. Some of you want to see both of them shown the door. Outta here. Now.
I’m not convinced that firing either one of them is going to address all of the shortcomings this team has shown in skidding to a 9-10-1 record after 20 games. That said, I certainly understand the sentiment and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if one of them gets the sack if the Oilers manage to blow off another six points during a road swing that’ll take them to San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles.
Even with the Oilers still in the playoff mix because the Pacific Division is a lackluster collection of teams behind the Sharks, I, like many of you, think we’re beyond the “relax, it’s early” stage. Yes, it is early, but you can’t just sit back and hope issues resolve themselves. Is everything that’s gone wrong – like Cam Talbot’s inability to stop pucks – the fault of Chiarelli and McLellan? No, but it is their problem. Accountability starts at the top.
So, if you want Chiarelli gone a quarter of the way into the season, what does that look like? Who takes over that chair? If you want McLellan out the door 20 games into the season, who takes over the bench? If you want both of them gone, then what? If you take the emotion out of the equation, and you have to if you’re making this call, what are the realistic options and how do those options impact what happens next?
This is Chiarelli’s team. He built it. In his time in the GM’s chair, he’s decided who goes and who stays. The moves he’s made, be they trades or free agent signings, are there for all to see. We’ve been over them 1,000 times right up to and including his most recent move, Ryan Strome for Ryan Spooner. Twenty games into his fourth season as the boss, what has Chiarelli built?
What I see is a team that can’t compete, can’t hold its own, when Connor McDavid isn’t on the ice. Too often, if McDavid, who is the product of the Golden Ticket rather than any deft front office decisions, isn’t dragging this team to the finish line, it can’t get there. People have asked, how does a team with Connor McDavid on the roster miss the playoffs?
Well, fans have watched that scenario unfold in two of the previous three seasons in which McDavid has worn Edmonton silks and we might be looking at the third time if the Oilers don’t right things in a big hurry. Imagine the Oilers without McDavid. It is to shudder. What does that say about the depth and support players Chiarelli has assembled? Not close to good enough is what it says.
If owner Daryl Katz or Bob Nicholson make the decision to sack Chiarelli, who takes over? From where I sit, assistant GM Keith Gretzky would be at the top of the list of replacements. He knows everybody who is in place further down the food chain and could run the show with a head start in terms of assessing everybody in hockey-ops, including the coaching staff. I don’t see an external candidate coming in. Would this work?
McLellan was supposed to be the proven coach the Oilers didn’t have in Dallas Eakins and Ralph Krueger after Tom Renney and Pat Quinn gave it a go during the heart of the Decade of Darkness after Craig MacTavish got the heave-ho. I was one of the people, having followed McLellan on the NHL beat, who believed that to be so. He’d make a difference, especially with the transition from San Jose to Edmonton being smoothed over because he was bringing his assistant coaches with him.
With only the 2017 playoff appearance to show for the first three years under McLellan, we got a re-set with the assistant coaching staff with the addition of Glen Gulutzan, Trent Yawney and Manny Viveiros for this season. The changes looked like a difference-maker through the early part of the season during a tough schedule, but here we are today in the midst of this 1-6 swoon.
While I lean toward the camp that believes Chiarelli hasn’t given his coaching staff a good enough roster to work with, that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate criticisms about how the available talent is being deployed. That’s fair ball. After things settled down in Calgary the other night, why was Milan Lucic still playing on the first line? I question many of the in-game adjustments I see, or don’t see. I question the use of personnel and the line-ups we see.
So, if you can McLellan, who comes in to take over? I’d be all over the idea of bringing Joel Quenneville in, but that isn’t going to happen. No chance. No way. At least not right now. Is Gulutzan, who ran his own bench in Dallas and Calgary, the likeliest internal candidate? I think so. Gulutzan has worked alongside Yawney and Viveiros over the summer and through 20 games. He knows the player personnel. He could hit the ground running. Does that mean he’d be successful? Not necessarily.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I’d expect a more significant trade than the Strome-for-Spooner swap – I still don’t get that one — to shake things up if things stay sideways through the California swing. One problem with that is I’m not sure I trust Chiarelli to make a big deal. Another problem is this is a team that’s more than one trade away from addressing all the issues we’ve discussed for months.
As for McLellan, while I don’t agree with some of his personnel decisions, and shouldering some of the blame comes with the gig, I don’t see him, or this edition of the coaching staff, as the primary problem. Like I said earlier, though, while what we’re seeing now might not be McLellan’s fault, it is his problem. You win or you lose your job. Coaches know that’s how it goes.
If I was calling the shots in Edmonton’s front office and had to choose between firing the coach or my GM, I know what I’d do in this case. I’d call Chiarelli in, thank him for his service and replace him with Keith Gretzky. Gretzky would then be tasked with making a decision on McLellan and his staff – that’s an assessment that could take the new boss weeks, months or the rest of the season.