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

  • Ko-D

    ?McLellan, the assistants can run the ship until a new head coach can be found. Chiarelli is tough, bring in a bright young hockey mind as an assistant GM and make every decision Chiarelli makes for the remainder of the season be signed off on by the assistant GM. Chiarelli does make some terrible decisions, but he does have a lot of knowledge and experience and has made some quality smaller moves.

  • Bills Bills

    Bring in the next Ken Hitchcock or Jaques Lemaire. They coached gross hockey but if they could get this team to buy into a strict choking style of defensive play, they would certainly win more games. Add a couple game breakers like CMD and Draisaitl and this team could be dangerous. Of course none of that matters if Talbot can’t stop the puck.

  • Burnward

    I’ve been thinking about an action plan for you guys. Here’s the best I gots…

    You need to move draisaitl and talbot.

    Talbot to Pitt for Sprong and Sheahan.

    Draisiaitl to Montreal for Hudon, danault, mcarron and shaw.

    Downgrade a high end talent for depth which you need. McDavid can carry the gap.

    Talbot is done. So who cares?

    That’s the best I got.

  • btrain

    I don’t know how you can look at this roster and still hang a significant amount of the blame on TM. Each night he has to slot in at least 3 hopes and dreams into his top 6 forward group. His D have a good night if they just stop the bleeding never mind actually contribute offensively. His starting tender has lost himself on a team that can’t win without being bailed out a half dozen times a game.

    As many have said, and I agree, TM deserves his fair share of criticism, but I just think it would take a Jack Adams performance behind the bench to get this roster into the playoffs. That is on the GM. Please don’t wait for another lost season to fire the GM, or a terrible division resulting in a playoff birth keep him around. He needs to go.

  • Derian Hatcher

    1) There is no number high enough to quantify how much dislike I have for the maple leafs organization. In saying that, it would have been better for McDavid if he would have gone there…Out of all of the horse$hit around this pathetic excuse for an organization, it is 97 for which I feel most badly. He has done everything in his power to help this team be better. As many others have stated, I would not blame him one bit if he asked for a trade.

  • gordo

    everybody in the current boys club, including both gretzkys, lowe, howson, mact, howson, nicholson, coffey…have to go. maybe a real hockey guy like quenville wants to be a team president/gm. go from there.

    • How do you rate Keith Gretzky’s work in his position and what do you base it on? Same with Scott Howson in his new duties. Do you know what they do or are you just leaning on the old boys club line? That’s lazy. Joel Quenneville is not coming here as president/GM.

      • Serious Gord

        Yes let’s look at that resume:
        Hired by phx after his brother became part owner.
        Hired by his brother in 2006 to director of scouting for Phx.
        Hired by oilers in August 2016 after his brother became a consultant to the owner and two months before his brother became partner and vice chair of oeg.

        So yes, definitely no association with the old boys; definitely no beneficiary of Nepotism ever.

        • JimmyV1965

          You conveniently leave out his 10 years with the Bruins. Talk about picking cherries. He did a great job drafting there and has done well here. He’s not part of the OBC. No one said he hasn’t benefited from nepotism. So did Stevie Y at one time and half of the frickin scouts and managers in the NHL.

          • Serious Gord

            And you conveniently leave out who hired him in Boston and then hired him in Edmonton.

            And Who must have known chia via Keith when the job opened up in Edmonton.

            Such a connected little group.

    • Slats

      Gretzky is not part of this debacle. No way i trust Chia with any more blockbuster trades. Waiver wire is all he gets. McL gone? I think he’s lost the room as this team makes a lot of mental mistakes more so than they make ability mistakes? To me it’s always on the players but we can’t remove all of them except for McDavid so you have to change the Messenger. I really thinks he’s feeling the pressure as he’s been out coached in many games this year.

      @Robin curious about your “no way not now” comment on Quennvelle- what’s the rationale for that?

        • slats-west

          Except these counter arguments
          – he’s already 60
          – the other “needy” teams are not any closer than Oilers (Detroit, LA, NYI, Florida) and Don’t have a MCDavid
          – competitive people like Quenneville don’t like to play golf and shop (although it appears he like shots at Bears tailgating) they like to compete
          …. my bets are he takes something before year end. Why not Oilers ?Their Billionaire Owner needs one thing his money can’t buy …A Stanley Cup.

    • GRC

      Unfortunately that is never going to happen. We all might as well accept the fact that Katz and his Oiler boys on the bust buddies are here to stay.

      In terms of just the Hockey Ops side of Katz’s ownership…it can be best described as a debacle. Makes me wonder how much meddling has gone on since he bought the club.
      Dysfunction has been the only constant so far.

      I agree with Robyn wholeheartedly that Chiarelli cant be trusted to make a big deal but more importantly can Katz (or the Red Wine Summit) be trusted to run this team in a professional and intelligent manner?
      History suggests the answer to that is No.

      Oilers fans deserve better than this.

  • GRC

    I think one of the major problems with this team and its lack of chemistry is Lucic. Just watch his body language on the bench. He has checked out…he isnt a team player. He wants out and instead of making damn sure that he helps his cause by playing to the top of his game he is sulking. IMO he has become toxic and the team is stuck with him.
    This is totally on Chiarelli…one of a few big moves/signings that has severely handicapped this team.
    This isnt an easy mess to clean up and meanwhile precious years of Connor are being watsed. How long before Connor asks for a trade so he can be free and clear of this dysfunctional mess?

  • BR

    This is surely the point at which both go…. Gulutzan as interim head coach, Keith Gretzky as the new GM is the easy route – Keith can be given some time and Gulutzan gets the remainder of the season?

    More pressure on the GM from this point on-wards to fix a lacking roster though. Lucic needs to be dumped and a major piece (nuge?) should be moved in a hockey trade (1for1 with offensive D coming back?) to change the balance of the team.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Mahaloeh

    Totally agree with your assessment RB. Fans need to chill & see if Koskinen can keep playing good hockey with an expanded role? Maybe Talbot can come around as well with less pressure, don’t know but this is what they have to figure out.

  • camdog

    Todd’s best attribute is deflecting blame from himself on to the players. He was particularly nasty towards Eberle. He’s really good at it. He’s managed to convince everybody in the media that he’s the victim here. He was playing that angle all year last year. He’s been coaching to win the Corsi, rather then to win the game For over a year Todd’s been more concerned about positioning himself for another job rather than trying to win. It’s sickening, how he’s getting people to buy into his shtick.

  • MrBung

    After dreading the Oilers playing the Flames and having all of my insights confirmed after the beat down in Cowtown….next team I am not looking forward to the Oil playing are the surprising Canucks. The Swedish Gretzky has scored again.

  • Soccer Steve

    Does anyone actually know what it would entail to buy out Lucic? I’ve heard his contract is “buy out proof” on these comments but what does that mean?
    Once the target moves away from the coach and the gm it’ll be (even more) squarely on his back so I’m curious to know.

    • Drinkin' the Oilaid

      The deal is “buy out proof” in the sense that there is very little benefit in buying Lucic out.
      He’s got 11.5 million in signing bonus after this year that is guaranteed and 7.5 million in actual salary over the remaining 4 season. The buyout is for two-thirds of the salary, or 5 million, paid out over 8 years. So you would paid Lucic 16.5 million (11.5+5) over 8 years to not play hockey rather than 19 million (11.5+7.5) to play fourth-line hockey for 4 years. You are not really saving money. Who cares? Well, burn the money, save the cap?
      If you buy Lucic out, then his caphit over the 4 years remaining on his deal lies between 3.6 and 5.6 million in cap space. And after the first 4 years, there are 4 more years at 625k in cap space wasted on Lucic.
      Buying him out might spare your eyeballs from watching him, but it doesn’t have any other benefit in terms of team building. You’ve sunk your money and your caphit.
      And this is why this was a bad deal from the moment it was signed, 2017 playoffs or not.

  • Hockeytalkguy

    As much as I would like the whole works of them need to be shown the door, you all know that is never going to happen. Remember when Bobby Nic had to relieve Mac T as GM? He talked about honour and loyalty, he wasn’t talking about the fans. He was talking about keeping Klowe, MacT, Howson, Gretzky…..theses guys will NEVER be shown the door. You can trash this post all you want but it is the TRUTH. For the last time the ONLY WAY you will get a complete change is when the people STOP going to the games. As an avid hockey fan, I really hate being the laughing stock of the NHL.