Call me naïve, but I still think the Edmonton Oilers are going to make the playoffs. The thing is, though, that if they manage to do it, it’ll be in spite of GM Peter Chiarelli, not because of him. If that’s not being caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, I don’t know what is.
On one hand, it’s obvious the Oilers, fresh from taking a 7-2 spanking from the San Jose Sharks Tuesday to drop to 20-20-3 after 43 games, don’t have a good enough roster to be a serious contender even if they do make the playoffs. The shortcomings we know – the Oilers are thin on scoring on the wings and they have a blueline group lacking enough quality top-four D-men, a situation glaringly apparent during the absence of Oscar Klefbom.
On the other hand, I don’t trust Chiarelli to make the moves the Oilers need to address their shortcomings because he’s the man responsible for those shortcomings. This is the roster Chiarelli built, and it’s not as good as the one he inherited four years ago. His most recent moves have done little to inspire confidence or markedly improve the team, which somehow is just two points out of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
So, what are the options? Do you let Chiarelli, who has painted himself into a cap space corner and thought it was a good idea to trade Drake Caggiula and pick up an extra year of salary to get Brandon Manning, carry on? Do you fire Chiarelli now and bring in somebody else to call the shots? Who might that be, and is it even a reasonable option with the trade deadline approaching? If there’s any truth to the rumor Edmonton’s first-round draft pick next June is in play, I don’t want Chiarelli doing that deal.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
We’ve kicked around all of Chiarelli’s good, bad and in-between acquisitions plenty here. Without going over all of them again in detail, overall, it’s been a fail with a capital F. It’s Chiarelli’s latest moves, with the team hanging on the fringes of playoff contention under Ken Hitchcock, that constitutes the last straw for me, and you likely feel the same. Let’s put that aside for a moment, as we aren’t hockey-ops people.
While Hitchcock has made use of Alex Petrovic, who was injured last night in San Jose, in his third pairing, he’s put Manning in the press box as a healthy scratch for three straight games. Chiarelli had to trade away Caggiula, who could at least contribute a little bit offensively despite his flaws, for a guy to sit in the cheap seats and eat popcorn? Even with Petrovic out, I bet it’s Matt Benning and not Manning who comes in against Florida tomorrow.
Then, there’s Ryan Spooner, who started out as Jordan Eberle and then became Ryan Strome and cap space (that went unused) before Chiarelli brought him in from the New York Rangers Nov. 16. In 21 games with the Oilers, Spooner has scored 2-1-3 and averaged 9:52 in ice time. Against the Sharks, he played 7:25. Hitchcock has cut his ice time in three straight games. He hasn’t been any kind of difference-maker with a team that’s desperate for scoring.
Yet, here we are. Despite all Chiarelli’s missteps, injuries to Klefbom and Kris Russell (I’m not even counting the ongoing absence of Andrej Sekera because he hasn’t been a factor in two seasons), lack of scoring and huge swings in consistency, the Oilers are today just two points out of the wildcard. They have six of their next seven games at home. Klefbom is expected back by the end of the month. Yes, I’m saying there’s a chance.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If it was up to me, I’d relieve Chiarelli of his duties right now because I have no confidence in his ability to make the right moves. It makes no sense to keep him in the big chair if you don’t trust him to do the job. Recognizing mid-season isn’t the optimal situation in which to make a change at GM, I’d look at promoting assistant GM Keith Gretzky on an interim basis.
Moving Gretzky into the job internally would be about the most seamless move you could make leading into the deadline. He could hit the ground running. Re-evaluate the position at the end of the season. Of course, it’s not up to me, or you. It’s up to owner Daryl Katz and Bob Nicholson.
Like I said off the top, I think Hitchcock is capable of coaxing this roster, as flawed as it is, into the playoffs in spite of Chiarelli, but that’s setting the bar too low when the Oilers have missed the post-season in 11 of the last 12 years. There’s no good reason it has to be done that way.
Fire Chiarelli. Do it now.