On April 18th, 2015 the Edmonton Oilers organization won the 2015 draft lottery and, most importantly, the opportunity to draft Connor McDavid first overall.
Six days later Peter Chiarelli was hired and named President of Hockey Operations and General Manager. When he took the job Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and McDavid (essentially) were part of the team.
Fast forward three years and eight months, and the Oilers best players are arguably the aforementioned five players. Chiarelli had no input in their spot on the roster, but he has built the rest of it, and the supporting cast isn’t close to good enough. He’s done what I thought was impossible; Have the most dynamic player in the NHL, but downgrade the skill around him.
Take away the five players he had no say in, and Jujhar Khaira, who was drafted in 2012, and compare the roster then to the one today.
1. 2015 forwards: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot, Teddy Purcell, Nail Yakupov, Derek Roy, Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon, Rob Klinkhammer, Luke Gadzic, Anton Lander Tyler Pitlick, and Jesse Joensuu.
Defence: Justin Schultz, Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin, Martin Marincin and Keith Aulie.
Goaltending: Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth
**Jeff Petry and David Perron were traded during the season and weren’t on the end-of-year roster.
2, Here is the 2018 roster. Forwards: Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, Alex Chiasson, Tobias Rieder, Kyle Brodziak, Ty Rattie, Zack Kassian, Ryan Spooner and Kailer Yamamoto.
Defence: Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera, Matt Benning, Kevin Gravel, Alex Petrovic, Brandon Manning and Caleb Jones.
Goaltending: Mikko Koskinen and Cam Talbot
3. So what areas has he improved? He downgraded the forward skill and the worst part is Hall and Lucic make the same money. Hall won the Hart Trophy last season scoring 93 points and has 37 points in 33 games this season. Lucic has 42 points in his last 120 games, and in his last 81 games he has a whopping two goals. And please spare me any mention that Hall wasn’t good in Edmonton. He was top-ten in scoring twice.
4. On December 31st, 2015 the Oilers depth forwards (I excluded the top three scorers, Hall, Eberle and RNH) had a combined 39 goals and 94 points. The current Oilers depth forwards (excluding McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH) have 40 goals and 86 points. And in fact this morning they only have 33 goals 75 points because Caggiula is no longer on the team. Chiarelli hasn’t been able to surround his best players with any productive forward depth in three and a half years.
5. The defence and goaltending is better, but in 2015 the Oilers allowed 3.37 goals/game and this season they have allowed 3.11 goals/game. The Oilers blueline, excluding Nurse and Klefbom, has $20.5 million in cap space between Larsson, Sekera, Russell, Manning, Petrovic, Benning and Gravel. He has now stockpiled a boatload of defencemen and none of the depth guys provide offence in an era where puck movement is a must from the backend.
6. I will say under his watch the Oilers drafting has improved. It isn’t great, but at least the Oilers have some prospects in the American League. However, despite that, his scouting staff and he decided at the 2015 entry draft that Griffin Reinhart would help them. They liked him so much that they gave up the 16th and 33rd picks to get him. Their scouts believed he was better than all of the picks available at #16 which included Matt Barzal (16th), Kyle Connor (17th), Thomas Chabot (18th), Evgeny Svechnikov (19th) Joel Ericksson Ek (20th), Colin White (21st), Ilya Samsonov (22nd), Brock Boeser (23rd) and Travis Konecny. Even if they didn’t’ take Barzal, then one of Connor, Chabot, White, Boeser and Konecny would have been much more impactful to the current roster. Hell, even Ericksson Ek, Svechnikov and Samsonov would be developing. To be that wrong on Reinhart is embarrassing, especially when he wasn’t even a top pairing defenceman in the AHL at the time of the trade.
7. Under Chiarelli’s watch the Oilers still can’t help themselves from rushing young forwards. Jesse Puljujarvi hasn’t been NHL ready since he arrived in Edmonton, but Chiarelli and his management team want him to “develop” in the NHL. Newsflash: the NHL isn’t a developmental league. You let players develop more in junior, Europe or the AHL and when they come to the NHL they will show you they are ready. Puljujarvi is now 20 and in his third pro season. He has scored 16 goals in 120 NHL games and has 15 goals and 37 points in 53 AHL games. He’s never been allowed to develop his offensive game, which is what you drafted him for at fourth overall in 2016, and in the short stints in the AHL he never dominated. This isn’t a knock on him, because learning the North American game when you are only 18 and 19 is very difficult, but under Chiarelli’s watch the Oilers stubbornly believe he can develop in the NHL. He hasn’t, and he sure as hell won’t be developing any offensive confidence when he scores one goal every nine games like he has this season.
8. Now Chiarelli and his staff believe adding another 20-year-old in Kailer Yamamoto is the way to go. He isn’t physically ready for the NHL. He thinks the game very well, but he isn’t physically ready. He had four goals and eight points in eleven AHL games before being recalled. No other team in the NHL has two 20-year-old forwards on their roster who have combined for 17 goals in 142 NHL games. These are supposed to be offensive players, and Chiarelli believes having them produce like fourth line players will help them grow. Wake up. This is not how winning teams develop players. Yamamoto will not be any better than Ryan Spooner today, and if they don’t let him develop properly and maintain his offensive confidence, he might never end up being better. They could have recalled 25-year-old Joseph Gambardella instead of Yamamoto last week, if they needed a body on the roster. He is 200 pounds. He leads their AHL team in scoring. I’m not sold he will be an NHL player long-term, but today I bet he could be just as impactful as Yamamoto in the NHL. And most importantly Yamamoto would be playing a lot, scoring a lot and gaining confidence in the minors, so when next year’s training camp comes around the Oilers might actually have a young forward who could give them some complementary scoring. The Oilers could have recalled Gambardella and not traded Caggiula, instead they trade Caggiula and then recall Gambardella.
9. The problem with the Oilers is they continually fail to realize you don’t win with all young players. It is a man’s league. Yes, there are some elite skilled young players in the league, but the elite ones produce right away and the Oilers have two in McDavid and Draisaitl. Winning teams don’t rely on having all young players in key roles. Washington and Pittsburgh have won the last three Stanley Cups. Did they have any major key contributors who were on entry level deals? Tampa Bay has Brayden Point, who is 22, but look at the rest of their top forwards — they are all veterans. Their young forwards— Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph — are 21, and both played in the AHL for a season and are in bottom six roles. Where is Edmonton going to get another top-six forward for next season? If they believe Puljujarvi or Yamamoto will be that guy, they are taking another major risk. They thought one of them would be ready this year and neither is close. And they are doing nothing to help their offensive development. In fact they are hindering it. It’s embarrassing how this organization doesn’t see this, yet other teams do.
10. Yesterday Chiarelli traded away Caggiula for Brandon Manning. Manning has a $2.25 mill cap hit for next year while Caggiula makes $1.5 million. Caggiula is far from a perfect player, but he has seven goals this season and over the past 1.5 years he has 20 goals, fourth most among Oilers forwards behind McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH. Caggiula is also physical. He needs to improve in his own zone, but good coaches can improve that.
Most coaches can’t teach offensive instincts or finish, and the Oilers just traded one of the few complementary forwards they had who could actually produce some goals. Chiarelli and new head coach Ken Hitchcock still believe size is a major factor in winning. This is 2019, size only helps if the player with it has the same amount of skill as the smaller player. The Caggiula/Manning trade just reaffirmed to me Chiarelli has no direction for this team. Why acquire Manning, another left shot D when you have Klefbom, Nurse, Russell, Sekera, Gravel and Jones? What was the effing point? He isn’t any better than Gravel and Gravel costs 1/3 the price. Gravel has been on for 12 GF and 12 GA at 5×5 in 296 minutes. Manning has played 358 5×5 minutes and is has been on for 9 GF-26 GA. He is -17 at 5×5, makes three times as much and some people actually think he is an upgrade on Gravel. Oh my.
11. Chiarelli added salary for next year for D-man who has been a healthy scratch 14 times on a team below them in the standings and Chicago has surrendered 27 more goals. Is he much better/different from the defenders they have on the roster today? Manning makes $2.25 million this year and next year. Kevin Gravel makes $700,000. Caleb Jones makes $720,000. Is Manning any better? If you wanted to trade Caggiula, fine, but it makes zero sense to do it when the return is a more expensive D-man, who doesn’t add offence and isn’t a stellar defensively. How does this make the Oilers better? It doesn’t.
12.And remember the Oilers have no scoring depth. Since the start of last season Caggiula has the 4th most goals, 20, on the Oilers behind RNH, Draisaitl and McDavid. Yes, he has warts in his game, but if you think trading him to add salary for another LD who brings no offence and has no numbers suggesting he will help defensively is utterly laughable. With Chiasson out of the lineup and Caggiula traded, the fourth most goals among Oilers forwards is now three from Kyle Brodziak and Puljujarvi. The Oilers had added a defensive RD earlier in the day in Alex Petrovic, who has better analytics than Manning, so the Manning trade made even less sense for me. I want to make it clear I have nothing against the player. He didn’t ask to be traded for Caggiula. And it doesn’t mean Caggiula was someone they couldn’t have moved. It is the simple truth here is another trade where the GM downgraded in talent.
13. Chiarelli did a good job filling out the Boston Bruins roster between 2006-2014. He helped build them into a Stanley Cup winner, but that was in Boston and the game is different today. His track record in Edmonton speaks for itself. The Oilers have made the playoffs once, but that looks like the outlier, as they missed the other two years and currently sit in 11th place in the Western Conference. The trades he’s made in-season this year have made zero positive impact.
14. Chiarelli has the most dynamic player in the NHL. He didn’t need to add big names to the roster he inherited, he just needed to revamp it, but he hasn’t come close to making the rest of the roster any better than the one his predecessor, Craig MacTavish, built. The sad part for Oilersnation is I don’t see a quick fix coming. Unless McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH manage to carry the team on their back for 40 games, and play at an even higher level than they currently are, this team isn’t making the playoffs and they simply don’t have the depth to compete if they do make the postseason.
This isn’t the players’ fault. The GM’s job is to build the roster and make the team competitive. The results are proof Chiarelli has failed.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/31/2018 – 8:00 am MST