Earlier today, at 11:45am to be exact, Edmonton Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli held a conference call with members of the local and national media to address the firing of Todd McLellan and subsequent hiring of Ken Hitchcock.
I watched the earlier press conference which featured Chiarelli and some of the local travelling media. In the conference call, I felt he had some very interesting answers that provided a good look into the mindset of the Oilers POHO.
I also want to add that there were some fantastic, pressing questions asked by members of the media. Some of the most insightful answers came off questions by the likes of Ryan Rishaug and Greg Wyshynski.
Chiarelli started the call by addressing the dismissal of McLellan.
“He’s a very good man, a very good friend, and a very good coach. By doing this, I’m not absolving myself of any responsibility in regards to the team and its current performance and the same goes for the players, they shouldn’t be absolving themselves either”.
This was a fairly predictable start to the presser, but the part where he adds this doesn’t absolve the players was interesting. I do feel that a lot of the time when a coach gets canned, the players do feel some guilt/responsibility. They have the ability to turn this around more than any coach does.
Chiarelli was then asked about parity in the NHL.
“There’s a lot of parity in this league. You win a couple of games and you’re back in it”.
That rings very true with this Oilers team. They aren’t on pace for a very good season, but we know the Pacific Division is off to a horrible start. The Oilers sit three points back of Vancouver with three games in hand on the Canucks. They have the ability to climb into the race.
One big issue that fans and media had with McLellan was how he handled young players, specifically Jesse Puljujarvi. Chiarelli was asked about that and if he was frustrated by the situation.
“We’re in a win now environment and you got young players that have to be taught the ropes. It’s almost baptism by fire. I wasn’t frustrated. It was a collaborative effort to get these guys ice time and at a certain point I decided they needed ice-time elsewhere.”
Chiarelli then got to the hiring of Ken Hitchcock and the timeline of things.
“It was yesterday morning when I started to think about it. The contact with Ken (Hitchcock) came a little later on.”
A little later on, he would talk about if any other names were in the mix for the job.
“There were other names. I came up with (the idea to hire Hitchcock) and discussed it with the “brain trust”. There were other names we talked about, Ken was the only name we talked to.”
In that answer, he used the words “quote-unquote brain trust”, I found that choice of words a little interesting. Why not just say “brain trust”? I’m probably nit-picking, but it caught my attention. Who did Chiarelli have to discuss it with?
Chiarelli was also asked about certain aspects of Hitchcock’s coaching style and the type of impact it could have, specifically in relation to the teams goaltending and Hitchcock’s history of getting average goaltenders to play the best hockey of their careers.
“It’s something we looked at in-depth. Whether it’s for Talbot or Koskinen, he’s had a history of that and it speaks to the defensive system that he has. He has that element in his repertoire and we looked at that closely.”
He went out of his way to mention Koskinen’s name in the answer. Read into that what you will.
“What he could apply in a short order would be a good tonic for the team,” added Chiarelli saying he believes Hitchcock can make an immediate impact on this team.
Hitchcock has the history of being a tough coach, I don’t expect that to change in his time with the Oilers. One thing is clear to me though, I don’t think this is a long-term solution. I believe this is a band-aid fix by Chiarelli.
“He’s going to be our head coach for the year and then we will evaluate at the end of the year. We are retaining all our assistants at this point and for the remainder of the year”
This is the GM’s last bullet to fire. If Hitchcock comes in and plays a role in this team going to the playoffs, then Chiarelli’s job is probably safe for another year. If this team misses the postseason again, then I don’t think there is a chance that either Chiarelli or Hitchcock return to this team in 2019-20.
Chiarelli didn’t shy away from shouldering some of the blame himself, as he did during the live press conference earlier in the morning.
“I feel that I’ve been under scrutiny and justifiable so prior to this and if this puts me under scrutiny more, than I understand”
He also touched on the possibility for roster changes, which was sparked by Ryan Rishaug asking about the team’s play in the defensive zone.
“That’s an area where I’ve always liked to improve it. Whether it’s in d-zone coverage or breaking the puck out we’ve struggled in the last six, seven games except for one. We always would like to have a better roster. That puck-moving defenseman and that puck moving element, whether it’s collective or singular, is something I would like to improve.”
Chiarelli was on record a few weeks ago saying that the team’s defence doesn’t move the puck well enough, him coming out again and pretty much saying the exact same thing, only cements that this is a big priority for him.
Can fans expect more roster moves in the near future? I would say it’s unlikely, but Chiarelli touched on that.
“As far as roster moves, we’ll look at them but there weren’t be any more urgency to it then there already is”
That is where things got left with ‘the POHO’. It’s clear he’s still in the market for a defenseman, but I’m just not sure if there’s a fit out there right now.
The biggest tell in all of this is that Chiarelli is on very thin ice and he knows it. If he felt that he had job security and could survive another season without a playoff experience, I don’t believe Hitchcock would be the coach of this team today. I think they would have taken a different approach and tried to find a more long-term solution behind the bench.
Time will tell if the move to ‘Hitch’ will change this organization’s fortunes but one thing is for sure, if this doesn’t equate to a playoff appearance, more jobs will be lost.