What Gives?

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?

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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.

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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?


Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan on his bench against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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.


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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.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    If I am making the call I am calling ChiaM TM and Dustin Schwartz in and saying adios to all three. No need to wait till the end of the season and it is past too late. The Oilers took that route last year and look how it worked out

    • OilerForLife

      I agree, I’ve even watched the Oilers from the very start in the WHA, and now I’ve started switching the TV to another channel. The day we won the McDavid lottery, me and my brother were high-fiving each other. To get to we are today is a tragedy.

      Decisions like Rinehart( Lucic, Hall switcharoo) and 8.5M for Draisaitl. Even with new coaching and GM, you can’t shine a rock into a diamond. So goes money, so goes the competitive team. Contracts can’t be traded without taking a beating on RS. Can’t sign any big players, because we are just a tad too close to the salary cap. Can’t win a trade because the whole teams trade value is down. I’m going to find something else to do, so much for my favorite pastime. If I put something through the TV I can’t watch any movies.

      They have to get away from trying to get even. Rough up McDavid and watch everyone go squirrely. Peters couldn’t stop himself from from laughing at the bench at the end of the period, and he was trying to muffle it.

  • Drinking my Oilers problems away...

    These guys had Carte Blanche and they didn’t have to do anything but scratch their asses, let the team take shape and do some minor tweaks but they still screwed that up. Anybody who trades a future MVP who, lets face it, was a great player and gave a damn about a brutal team for years for a #3/4 defenseman (who I might add has not played very well, looks slow and takes some horrendous penalties at the worst time possible) doesn’t deserve to win.

    3 out of 4 years missing the playoffs with McDavid is a knife in the back of fans. They missed the opportunity to cut them lose in the off season so I’d be shocked if they actually pulled the trigger during the season.

    I feel terrible for Connor and the fans.

    • Towers-of-dub

      how was anyone supposed to know that Hall would be a Hart Trophy winner 2 years later? I know Taylor Hall is the be all and end all and everything else like that, but his team is 8-9-2, and further adrift of the playoffs than Edmonton. At this moment today, this specific moment, as I’m typing this, it is an indisputable fact that Edmonton has a better record than New Jersey.

      • crabman

        with the benifit of hindsight that was an absolutely awful trade. That move is what opened up the $6M and spot on the left side for Lucic to be signed. And at this moment today, this specific moment, as I’m typing this, it is an indisputable fact that Hall is a much more productive player than Lucic.

        The fact of the matter is whether you agreed with the trade at the time or not, or whether you agreed with the Lucic signing at the time or not, the GM needs to own his moves. If it worked out he is a genius. If it doesn’t work out you look like an idiot. And if you lose enough of these moves, like Chairelli has, you get a team with the best player on the world but not enough on the rest of the roster to compete and deserve to be fired.

        • Towers-of-dub

          Hall for larsson at the time wasn’t that bad of a deal. I know most of us on here could have dealt Hall straight up for Subban or Webber, but it didn’t seem like Chiarelli could accomplish that. I’m surprised that none of the other 29 GM’s at the time were phoning him up to say “We know Hall will win the Hart in 2 years, so we’ll give you a true #1 Right Shot Norris trophy calibre defenseman today” It’s probably why he’s been so reluctant to trade anyone else. He doesn’t know how the trade will pan out 2 years down the road. He’s also stopped making big ticket off season free agent acquisitions, so in a sense, he’s learned from his mistakes. He’s learned that he didn’t get enough back for Hall because he was the only person who did’t know Hall was going to become the MVP, and he’s learned that overpaying for a free agent rarely works out. I’m sure he could easily trade Draisaitl or RNH, but he’s probably gun shy now just in case one of those guys becomes a Hart Trophy winner in 2 years. He needs the other GM’s to know that they’re getting a potential MVP, so they need to pay up.

      • Drinking my Oilers problems away...

        Hindsight for some, yes but let’s be honest with ourselves here no one was jumping for joy when we got Larson. Pretty sure people were saying “Who!?” or multiple expletives. I know I was swearing quite a bit at work along with a couple dozen co workers.

        I don’t have problems trading guys especially for something we desperately need that would make us truly competitive. I have a problem when they get rid of a kid who fought like hell to win on bad teams/ bad situations and we decided to trade him for a nobody who is not a very good defenseman period. And to boot he wins MVP. I could careless about NJ record right now with Hall on it, we still gave up on a kid he would have done been part of something great for a #3/4 defenseman…

        • Towers-of-dub

          he would have just been on the top line, or 2nd line, scoring his points in a losing effort like the rest of the oilers, and like he’s doing in NJ. Taylor Hall isn’t the missing piece preventing the oilers from being a dominant NHL team. Benning would still be clueless in his own end, having pucks bounce off him, into his own net because he’s got no idea where the puck is, where the net is, where his man is, or where he is. Taylor Hall isn’t going to make 3 defensemen better. He’ll just put up a goal, and turn a 6-3 loss into a 6-4 loss.

  • Spydyr

    From a previous thread:

    Now What?

    That is not the question. The question should be what should have happened at Christmas last year.

    Katz should have hired a management consulting company to find the best hockey executive available a real hockey man not an old boy , a pencil pusher or a hobnobber . Then Katz should have hired the executive before last seasons end and gave him full reign to him on all hockey decisions and stepped back as a owner leaving the team in his hands.

    The day after the season ended. Lowe, Nicholson, Mac-T, Howson, Chia and Todd should have all been fired.

    The new hire is now free to pick his own group without encumbrance.

    Fresh start new beginning.

    • The thing that caught my eye? When MacTavish was given the heave-ho? When did that happen? Oh yeah, it didn’t, just like Howson and Buchberger who were supposedly fired, but not really.They never learn , even the failed PP coach from last year , gets the head gig in Bakersfield due to nepotism, not qualifications. It wouldn’t hurt anything to skid them all today. They cant do much worse. And make sure MR 6 rings, two tiered fans is out the door permanently as well.

  • Heschultzhescores

    People keep saying, we had a tough schedule and it will get better when we play some of the weaker teams. Ummm, we are the Weaker team…maybe the weakest soon.

    • MrBung

      Exactly! The Oilers are the weaker team that the other teams were looking to play to turnaround their seasons. The Oilers are the poor team in the mediocre division which equals to another bottom 5 finish and a ticket in the Hughes sweepstakes. Book it.

    • GK1980

      I mentioned this in earlier post. Everyone assumed the oilers were free and clear after the “tough” part of the schedule. I was still on the fence and now look where this team is. NOT SURPRISED.

  • BasementDweller

    Last year we had a GM that we didn’t trust to make the next big trade and we didn’t trust to make the next big free agent signing. Here’s the thing, if even one of those situations is occurring the individual in question should not be your G.M.. What did we do about this? Nothing. What will we do about this? Probably nothing.

    Should we really be surprised? Nope. Tambellini excluded, only the coach ever takes the fall in this organization. The rest of them simply get promoted up, sideways and tucked aside in the organization.

    Look at our last 12 pathetic years as a franchise, look at who built these teams, made the trades, made the signings, made the picks etc.. Where are they now? They’re still here, still getting those sweet Katz paycheques, still not producing results.

    There’s no incentive for management to improve, there’s no consequence when they don’t. See the problem?

  • camdog

    As Stauffer would say not having Strome to centre that third line was a big loss for the Oilers this past weekend. Both the GM and the coach were involved in those discussions. The organisation spent a decade trying to build depth at centre and its gone, we are going backwards. Around and around we go. They are a tandem, both need to go.

    • Randomfan

      It works for Strome though. This organization would have sucked 10 years out of his lifespan. I am happy he got away from this sinking ship and will hopefully will have a better future elsewhere down the road.

  • DrillExpat

    RB, I like your idea of removing Chia, replacing him with Keith Gretzky and having KG evaluate his coaches. KG has proven he is a good evaluator of talent, now let’s see if he can run a club.

  • Heschultzhescores

    A GM that made no moves would have been miles ahead with this team. Think about that for a minute. Chia was paid huge money to destruct a team that would have been loaded with talent. Let’s also not forget, we are at the salary cap…that is hilarious, but SICK!

  • 0W-20

    4 years into the McDavid era and this team is still a tire fire when 97 isn’t on the ice. Full blame goes to Chiarelli for the major bad bets in Lucic and Russell and compounding the trouble by overpaying “depth” contracts in Kassian, Benning, Caggiula and Strome/Spooner (?!?). McLellan has done zilch to develop young talent, which is the way the rest of the league is trending. And the general inability for nearly every defender to make a tape-to-tape out of the defensive zone is indicative of a deficient coach. Plus, McLellan’s refusal to hold players accountable after terrible plays by reducing playing time or healthy scratching woeful performance, shows his lack of an egalitarian system.

    The path forward here is to pink slip the entire management structure to include Nicholson, Lowe, MacTavish, Howton, Chiarelli and McLellan, because the current roster is dysfunctional and these stooges built it. 20 games is a sufficient sample size to make the call this year is effectively a continuation of last year. Every player on the active 23-man roster, except 97, 93 and 29 (to lesser degrees 77, 25 & 6), should be considered tradable.

    Vegas showed that an astute talent evaluator (George McPhee) can construct a winning roster from scratch, so there’s no excuse to retain any of the executives under the premise that somebody should stay. Scorched earth to the management is the correct approach as keeping any of these fools will only serve as a continuum of the same crap, different day.

  • Consultant

    Chia needs to go today. Enough is enough.
    I would do the double and fire Chia and TM.
    Do all the due diligence but likely the replacements you have mentioned make sense.
    But no more waiting on this, we’ve seriously been talking about this for too long. It’s time, I can’t handle another Bobby Nick’s interview where he asks for patience. It’s a results orientated business. Time for the big change.

  • CMG30

    I agree Robin. I’ve been calling for Chirelli to be fired basically since the Hall trade. As soon as he made the comment that we get better by losing trades I knew he was a terrible guy to have making the calls. Basically nothing he has done since then has inspired much confidence in me either. Especially since he’s got us right up against the cap with overly generous contracts and NTC’s. I wouldn’t mind seeing Keith in the GM’s chair for the rest of the year, though I realize that he won’t be able to do much due to the cap situation.

    That being said, the problems in this orgaization go much deeper than just the GM. Somehow Katz needs to grow the stones to remove his buddies from the glory years from this team. It’s been widely recognized and discussed for years around these parts; how the soft power and influence these folks have over the decision-making processes has crippled the team. It hasn’t gotten better, we’re still picking up more and more of these folks every year. This team cannot move forward till it cuts ties with it’s past…

  • Ted

    Remenda for coach! He seems to have the greatest knowledge of the game. Just listen to him. And with one stone kill two birds, as we wouldn’t have to listen to his vast knowledge on SN anymore! 🙂

  • The future never comes

    People who have played a sport at any skill level know that a coach has a shelf life before what they says drowns into white noise. Todd has entered white noise territory, it’s over man do the right thing.

  • Odanada

    I don’t know who to hire – I’m just a fed up fan.
    Maybe the guy at the top – Bob Nicholson- should be the guy who knows that. He’s supposed to be well connected and to have his finger on the pulse of everything that would improve his team. GM? Shouldn’t he have a short list? Coach? Same.
    It’s his job and he should either do it or fold and step away from the table.
    I don’t have the inside scoop, but I’ve watched enough hockey to see when a coach has run out of tricks – and to know when a GM has simply not built a good team.

  • Is Connor the Next Barry Sanders?? I attended school when Barry Sanders played at OSU and you knew 2 seconds into any game this guy had the ‘it’ factor…Wins Heisman, breaks tons of NCAA records and is drafted by the lowly Detroit Lions (D’OH). In 10 seasons, Sanders played in a total of 6 playoff games, 6!! What a waste of talent, no wonder Sanders retired at 30. I watched a generational talent in Sanders and I am watching another one in Connor, I hope and pray the results are different.

  • abmule

    Over time learning to chop wood and carry water doesn’t sound so ridiculous…….it was a plan. My biggest fear now is Lucic skating back towards the defensive zone and laying out McDavid breaking out full stride.