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

  • camdog

    Still curious who it was in the Oilers organisation that was ripping on Strome last year to the Hockey Night in Canada folks? The entire organisation is clueless.

  • Shaun Doe

    So how many of the players who have played this season would we describe as lacking in confidence? Lucic, Talbot, JP are there any others? Have to wonder if a change in message is enough to at the very least get some of these players back on track. Maybe not save the season but build on something to move forward with

    • Serious Gord

      Klefbom and larsson both looked pretty weary and down the last game.

      I think the team and org have come to the realization that they just aren’t good enough to compete for a playoff spot – that it’s going to be (yet) another long – lost – season.

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • Anton CP

    If for any other franchise that a 1-7 stretch with the best player of the planet on the team will at least put them on hot seat even it is only the first season. TMac has 3+ seasons and obivously that he is no longer on hot seat instead he should be let go already. Firing TMac may not change the course of the team for the rest of the season but it is a start.

    • Serious Gord

      I think jq is going to spend the winter on a beach somewhere and then entertain offers in the off season from big market teams with rosters that are on the upswing.

    • slats-west

      Time to offer the Blues and some players a change of scenery for a complete – Big Bold Trade

      Draisaitl for Tarasenko
      Lucic for Steen
      Nurse and Russell for Boumeister and Edmondson
      They can have McL as well.

  • grumpyKoala

    Nobody will be fired this year. The GM and the coaches are in until the end of the year regardless of what we think. Katz will not fire the poho the poho will not fire the GM and the GM wont fire the coach TMac will not fire his assistant. More time and more trade are to come before that

  • Book Em Dano

    I think Chia needs to take the fall for assembling this roster. I do agree about the Strome for Spooner trade, why? With Tobias Raeder and now Strome gone, those are your two top PKers out of your lineup. Plus Strome was defensively responsible and a decent 3rd line C. You just traded for a guy who struggles offensively and not as reliable defensively. I don’t get it, another questionable trade by Chia.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • KennyG

    If there’s firings all will be replaced with personal within. Who would want to come here and deal with this mess PC created??!!! Thanks for another 20 game season.

  • camdog

    Joe Thornton having the C wasn’t why SanJose didn’t go anywhere in the playoffs. I know Todd put on a good job with that smear campaign. And people bought that line too boot.

  • OldOilFan

    “California Sweep” anyone?

    It could happen, and if it does it will certainly change the climate around the team. But will the sweep be 3 and 0, or 0 and 3?

    • OilersGM

      Honestly if they go 3-0 it will be worse than 0-3 just because it won’t change anything. Winning few games will only delay the inevitable and hide the big problems on the teams for a little longer.

    • crabman

      you know what? a 3-0 sweep will change how angry and frustrated a lot of people are but I don’t think that should change Chiarelli’s fate. This isn’t a poor last 7 games. It is a poor season and a quarter. Even with a shot at the playoffs this isn’t a team that will compete for the cup this year and without some major changes they won’t be competing for a cup next year either. This is Chiarelli’s team and it is time he loses his job for it.
      A 3 game win streak could save MvLellan’s job but I would still let him go end of season of not right now.

  • 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.

    • Serious Gord

      You are watching it the wrong way. This is a shakespearian tragic comedy. Look for the rhymes and the poetry in this epic, decades-long disaster. So many lessons in prudence to be learned from it all…

  • camdog

    Anytime you clean out the head coaches personal choices, his go to guys for over a decade, you are admitting there to a problem. The problem was never fixed.

  • 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.

  • 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.