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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • D1983

    I think there isn’t much choice to move on from both chiarelli and Todd it simply has not worked and they have had plenty of opportunity gotta try something different

  • ed from edmonton

    TMac is on a game to game basis and odds are he won’t be around in two weeks. Not saying that it’s fair or whether it might help the team win, it’s just the way it is. If PC gets the axe any time on the next year, KG likely next guy up
    I can already hear the OBC complaints starting.

  • 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

  • Towers-of-dub

    Why put off the inevitable? Is it just because it’s embarrassing for Nicholson to fire a GM? Let’s be fair, he’s never actually been in charge of an NHL team before, so this is new to him. The setup isn’t working tho. The Coach and GM have to go. There were internal replacements. Why wait?

  • Consultant

    Wow every article says the same thing today. Just read Staples article as well. It truly is time.
    I imagine someone is telling Bobby right this minute, “hey Bobby people want TM’s head”, and old Bobby is now in shock running around trying to find his cell phone so he can call a few buddies and see who is available, this will surely take far too much time, Bobby saw the decent start and probably went on a long holiday.

  • 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.

  • OilersGM

    I don’t know how you can sit there and justify the GM and coach not being fired. If you are, you truly are little behind in not seeing what is going. McLellan is not a Stanley Cup winning caliber coach. He got absolutely destroyed and eaten alive by Randy Carlyle in the 2016 playoffs and he was eaten alive twice by Sutter and the L.A. Kings prior to coming here. As soon as he left SAN JOSE, the team went to the finals. I don’t care how many wins he has don’t mean squat.
    As for the GM, how many bad moves does he has to make before your eyes can open up and see the damage. Wake up, these two along with buncha others should’ve been long gone. Wow wake up.

  • Rama Lama

    The problem with how the situation is framed tells the real story…….I understand the basic premis of the article here, that firing either PC or TM will not change the fortunes of the club but the real question is do you trust either of these people to fix the problems they have created?

    I think most fans have tuned out the narrative that this is simply a player personnel problem………in other words we have either the wrong players or the wrong mix of players. I think that the last time I checked since PC and TM have been in place, we have replaced the roster twice over.

    As a certified armchair critic, I suspect the main problem is a coach trying a system that is NOT embraced by any of his players………just a hunch.

  • 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…

  • RexHolez

    I wish Lowe, MacTavish and Howson’s name came up more. The one constant in the last 12 years of garbage, for the most part, has been them. I would like to see internal changes in the entire management. Not just another change of coach or gm

    • Stinky Mitt to the Face

      Remember when they fired the training staff, equipment staff, parking attendants and the mascot…but not Lowe and MacT. Not sure if howson was hear then.

  • 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.

  • Rufio Barcoli

    If Oilers had a coach who knew how to use and deploy the players properly this roster would look a lot better on paper and ice.
    Unfortunately, Todd is not that guy.

  • puckle-head

    I actually miss Ralph Krueger. That was probably the worst decision McTavish made during his brief GM stint. Krueger is a great coach, and from my understanding, he could easily have an NHL job should he wish it again, but he’s happy in Switzerland.

  • 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.

  • bcoil

    I just posted this else where but my question is this .Is Talbot as with other goaltenders in the league having trouble adjusting to the new equipment rules
    They can’t be Michelin men any more and any deficiencies in their games are magnified. I wonder????

  • ziyan94

    Fire Chiarelli before he gets the chance to sink this team into an even deeper hole with another lopsided trade.
    As for coaches, hopefully Alain Vigneault will be considered. Quenneville won’t be coming to this tire-fire

    • Ohlyr

      I wonder how long we loyal Oilers fans have to wait for a “Bold Move”?
      Grab some… Daryl. You call the shots, right?
      Say, Bye bye to the Bob and Peter show.

  • Kelly Youngblood

    There are reclamation players out there that are dying to prove they can still play & you get them at a bargain price. Alex Chiasson worked out. Right shot D men Luke Schenn & Dylan Mcilraith we’re both waived. Nothing wrong with having a veteran stay at home D man at your disposal. Chiarelli should have taken a shot at Mike Hoffman. He’d look great on McDavid’s wing. Anthony Duclair sat around jobless when Edmonton could have signed him. So many missed opportunities that could have been made without losing top end talent. Do something!!!!

    • OilersGM

      I agree, both Duclair and Hoffman could’ve been had for nothing and both are fast and can put the puck in the net. San Jose got him and got rid of a bad contract and Duclair was a free agent. Our GM has no creative thinking and can only get fleeced.

    • Hockeysense9393

      Geeeze… how many Flames throw aways and past Oilers with you guys go through before someone actually runs that team properly? I can see McD actually getting fed up and demanding a trade to “any” other team, so he actually has a real career. I never thought I would say this but…I actually feel sorry for the guy!