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Damage has been done, but quality pieces still remain in place

When Peter Chiarelli was hired as general manager of the Oilers on April 15, 2015, he inherited an idiot-proof situation. The Oilers, who had spent the past half-decade loading up with high-quality talent from the draft, won the golden ticket.

It was a slam dunk. There was already a wealth of quality players in Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Jordan Eberle, and then a generational talent in Connor McDavid got added on top. There was also a mid-first and an early second round pick after McDavid in a deep draft and a wealth of cap room to make some moves in free agency. It was any general manager’s dream.

Now, three-and-a-half years later, the Oilers are somehow in worse shape than they were when he inherited the team.

It began with inexplicably trading a first- and second-round pick for Griffin Reinhart, who was already well on his way to bust territory. It continued when Taylor Hall needed to be dealt to fill the void on the blueline that wasn’t with the Reinhart deal. As time went along, Chiarelli routinely got fleeced in trades, spilling the value the Oilers had acquired through that Decade of Darkness down the drain. He also backed himself into the corner with bad free agent contracts, making it virtually impossible to make edits to the deeply flawed roster he had assembled.

Nobody in 2015 imagined that this is where the Oilers would be four years into McDavid’s career. Nobody. Even when people said “the Oilers will find a way to screw this up”, they didn’t envision the colossal failure that Chiarelli managed to put together. You might have thought the Oilers were the laughingstock of the league during the Decade of Darkness, but Chiarelli wasting the early career of the league’s best player ushered in a whole new level of comedy.

But this is a dead horse now. We don’t need to argue about Hall for Larsson or Eberle for Strome or Milan Lucic’s deal or Kris Russell’s deal. It’s time to look ahead.

Chiarelli’s tenure is over. The Oilers decided to pull the plug half-way through the season, which is pretty uncommon when it comes to executives, mostly because they didn’t believe he could clean up his own mess. He got a vote of confidence just over a month ago from CEO Bob Nicholson, who stated Chiarelli’s job was safe if the team made the playoffs. Given the way things went, the organization ultimately felt Chiarelli could only do more harm than good if he was kept around.

As I said earlier, the situation is worse now than it was at the draft in 2015. The team doesn’t have as much high-quality talent, the cap situation is murky, and the fans have reached an all-time boiling point in frustration. Still, despite the challenges, there are pieces in place here to turn this thing around.

The good: 

  • Connor McDavid, the league’s best player, is here and he’s signed for seven more years after this one. Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, and Oscar Klefbom behind McDavid represents a formidable core.
  • There’s a wave of good prospects on the way. Evan Bouchard looked good during his cup of coffee at the NHL level and fellow 2018 pick Ryan McLeod was excellent in training camp. Caleb Jones looked like a pro in his call-up and Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, and Cameron Hebig look like they can become depth NHLers one day.

The bad: 

  • One thing making life difficult for the Oilers to make changes are ugly contracts to Milan Lucic, Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera, Ryan Spooner, Brandon Manning, and potentially Mikko Koskinen. There’s a lot of dead weight bogging things down that won’t be easy to deal with.
  • There have been mismanaged prospects under Chiarelli’s watch. Due to the team lacking depth, players like Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and, to a lesser extent Evan Bouchard, were rushed to the NHL level. The organization has to handle these players better in order to get the most out of them long-term.

The future: 

With Chiarelli out of the mix, I think it’s become clear the Oilers aren’t going to be buyers at the trade deadline. They can still make it to the dance with their internal options, namely a healthy Oscar Klefbom, but they are no longer in a position with a desperate general manager at the helm to push for it. Instead, the Oilers would be best to sell at the deadline. I don’t mean a full-on firesale, but if there are teams who could use a player like Alex Chiasson, it’s best for the long-term health of the organization to pull the trigger. If you can find a suitor for somebody like Zack Kassian or Kyle Brodziak, you have to take it.

Whoever eventually takes the wheel from the Old Boys Club group effort will have an interesting challenge ahead of them. There’s a lot of talent to work with, especially the best player in the league at the forefront, but there are also obstacles to work around. The worst things Chiarelli did, I think, was losing an MVP-calibre player in Hall and putting the team in cap hell. Finding another quality play driver like Hall and navigating out of cap hell will be the biggest obstacles for whoever comes in next.

When Chiarelli came in, he had a massive load of disposable income in the form of high-quality assets and a blank slate to make his mark. To be fair to Chiarelli, he also had a very obscure roster to fix, loaded with forwards and devoid of blueliners and goalies. He also had a prospect system barren of any kind of depth beyond top picks. The new guy will inherit a more balanced roster with less glaring issues. There won’t be the pressure to execute a Hall of Larsson deal, instead, the new guy will have to be shrewd in making smaller moves that improve the quality of depth at the NHL level.

Bob Nicholson said during the press conference on Wednesday that the suggestions of Old Boys Club involvement were overstated and that Chiarelli’s team was, in fact, Chiarelli’s team. We have to take his word for it, but, still, while this was Chiarelli’s team, Chiarelli was Nicholson’s guy. The situation this time isn’t idiot-proof like it was last time, but righting the ship is doable so long as the Oilers can find the right person for the job.

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  • Natejax97

    Can we please just come back from the break refreshed and positive (players fans and media) and have a good reset…Oscar healthy, and get on a roll that gives us all exciting hockey down the stretch. Please…

  • Randaman

    Can we please STOP calling out Russell’s contract as bad. He has lived up to every penny he is being paid. As far as I’m concerned he is part of the solution.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      Yeah, I was actually going to add that to my comment below. I don’t think Russell’s contract is bad. It might be a good pricey, but he does good work, night-in, night-out. And I bet Koskinen’s contract will be considered a bargain in a year or two, as well.

      • btrain

        I can see where you are coming from on Russell but what can you hang your hat on with Koskinen? He would have to amount to a top 10 goaltender in 2 of those 3 years for it to be a “bargain”. The odds are strongly stacked against him when you think of how many goalies each year hit hot steaks to fall back to earth and eventually out of the NHL.

        I like extending the guy but at this point in the year, as his game is falling apart, you lowball the guy. You dont give him beyond what he could expect on the open market even with a strong finish.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          Koskinen was arguably Chia’s last move, let’s look forward on a positive note. He is a veteran professional goalie & we have to have faith that K. Gretzky (the scout) saw good things & did his research before he was even first signed here to that inflated (so we all think) contract. If your a fan of this team. After yesterday’s move all we can all do is cautiously have faith… cautiously…

      • Glencontrolurstik

        This is great… positive, constructive comments from a fanbase looking for solutions & showing promise… Keep it up, it’s great… so far anyway.

    • TKB2677

      I 100% agree with you. I don’t get why people hate on Russell. Is he amazing? No he’s not. He’s a solid, give you everything he has, skates well, block shots, good team guy, sacrifices his body, decent defending 4-5 dman who can play both sides. The whole notion that he is this 3rd pairing, crap dman isn’t true. He would be in a lot of teams top 4. His contract isn’t a bad contract. Do I wish he was making less? Yes! But I wish every player was making less. McDavid is worth every penny but if he made 2 mill less, it would be a lot better. Ian Cole signed with the Avs this offseason. Cole is a 4-5 , defensive dman. He makes 4.25 mill.

      So to list him off in the same breath as Lucic or Spooner or Manning or Sekera, is ridiculous to me. He’s not even close.

          • Quoteright

            I still contend that our defence has always looked bad because the forwards don’t help enough and have bad board play. This is caused more by the blender than lack of talent. Defence is a team thing. When you don’t have the puck their should be 5 defenders.

      • Kneedroptalbot

        The Oilers had to make a choice between Cam Talbot and Mikko Kostkinen, as both of them were ufa’s at seasons end. They could not risk going to free agency without a starting goaltender under contract . 4.5M per season ranks about 18thin the NHL (slightly below avg.).
        They made the right choice.

    • Redbird62

      I agree neither Russell’s nor Sekera’s contracts were bad. Sekera’s two injuries are just plain bad luck. He had never had serious injury problems previously in his career, and at the time of his injury, he was a bonafide 2/3 defenseman maybe not on every NHL team, but most. And the new GM is only partially limited with their contracts after this season anyway, since both switch to modified NTC. I read the other day someone saying the Oilers lack the experienced veteran defensemen to help calm things down and mentor the others. That is exactly what Sekera did in 2016/17. And the primary way to get those guys, if you have not developed them yourselves, is signing a free agent, where you have to pay in $$ and term what the market dictates.

      • n(Ice)

        The worst thing ever was trading Taylor Hall to free up $$$$ for the Milan Lucic pension fund. And don’t tell me it was all about Larsson. He’s fine but not at that price

        • CityofWhat

          When Hall was send packing I knew any chance of winning a cup went packing too. Don’t tell me he wasn’t a winner, some of the great players took a long time to get a ring, Marcel Dion never won one and guys like Boutique won in the last year in their career. Hall with RNH, Drai and McDavid would’ve brought a cup way sooner than the position we are in now.

        • Quoteright

          At the time there was huge pressure to get bigger. We did get bullied a lot, and Lucic was coveted. It could never have been guessed how bad it turned out. Ironically, the man was brought in for swagger and self admitted to losing it here. Total confidence meltdown to the biggest goon in the game. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to play under the pressure here is not listening to the players.
          Forget about Looch
          Let him play and if we ever make the playoffs, hope he remembers himself.

    • 50 Flex

      I like Kris Russell, but lived up to every penny? No, he hasn’t. He is overpaid. There is no arguing that. He would be a third paring d-man on any playoff team and you simply DO NOT pay third paring d-men 4 million dollars. You like a player all you want, but they can hurt you if they are overpaid in a salary cap league.

      • Odanada

        I dunno. Russell brings it every night and sacrifices his body without question. Did you see him go to block a shot after he had lost his glove in the Detroit game? He’s got “compete” in spades and is the kind of guy I’d want watching my back in the trenches.

        • Arfguy

          I am actually quite sick of the Russell hate. I would much rather be paying him his $4+ million than the likes of Spooner or Manning. I can’t believe what a bust Spooner has turned out to be and the Manning trade was just a giant WTF!

          Unlike a lot of the dead weight we have on this team, Russell actually puts in an effort every frikkin’ game. I can’t believe how invisible and lost players like Brodziak, Kassian, Lucic and Rieder look on a regular basis. It’s like every single player forgets the simple essential hockey skills when they join the Oilers.

    • Beer_League_Ringer

      Russell is currently part of the solution here. His mates and the coaches love him. He is effective when he isn’t required to play above his capabilities. The guy goes to war.

  • hockeyartist

    Actually I think the D as a unit is starting to shore up. Jones looks good and will only trend upward. Nurse has reached another level. All depending on how Sekera looks when he comes back.
    The focus should be on plugging those gaping holes on wing.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      The focus for the D should be playing in position & not leaving the goaltending out to dry… That said, with Klef & Sekura coming back they should be able to do that as they won’t be playing every second shift…

  • btrain

    I do think there is reason for optimism and I think the OBC narrative is the distraction but in reality they maybe didnt get involved enough.

    What Chia did in Boston is relatively indistinguishable from what he has done with the Oilers. So for me, the Oilers did give Chia the reins and it’s his fingerprints all over this mess. The overpays, the willingness to move elite level talent, and counting on gambles and gut feelings rather than analytics and league trends are Chia’s calling cards.

    I hold the OBC accountable for not taking back control from Pistol Pete sooner. As a result of a lack of intervention/involvement the Oilers have 3 more in-season contract disasters to deal with in Manning, Spooner, and by far the worst of all (given the timing), Koskinen.

    Chew on this, in 24 games Hammond put up a .941 sv% with the Sens. He literally pulled the Sens into the playoffs. He recieved a 1.35mill over 3 year extension for his efforts. In 56 regular season NHL games Hammond sports a .923 sv%. Koskinen in his 32 NHL games has a .905 sv%. One of these goalies makes league minimum and cant even get into an NHL lineup while the other just received a 4.5mill extension with a NM sweetener to boot. What a parting gift that was! Thanks Pete!

    • A-co

      Burger Bob said Koskinens deal was a collective decision and not solely on Pistol Pete….there are still a couple guys that know a thing or two about winning lingering around which is not good for business BUT makes the little real estate mogul owner happy which is all that matters at the end of the day.

      • btrain

        The alternative to saying it was a group decision was to say that they continued to be hands off with Chia and allowed him to make another immediately critisized decision. From a PR perspective taking ownership of the Koskinen deal was the best play.

  • Hemmercules

    I hope they gut the team as much as possible in the next few weeks.

    Get whatever picks you can get for any of Rattie, Brodziak, Chiasson, Talbot, Kassian, Rieder, JP, Benning, Manning, Petrovic, Cave, Gravel, Sekera, Spooner and Khaira. If their contracts are up, let them walk if you can’t get anything for them. Buy out any lower dollar ones if they have term left and cant be offloaded to other teams. In a perfect world Lucic is gone too but thats at least 2 or 3 years away.

    Finish as low as you can in the standings this year and spend the next 3 years building the right way. Connor will probably be pissed but there is no other way at this point. Playoff worthy team in 2022-2023 if things go right.

    • Goaltender Interference

      A lot of other teams have shown that you don’t need tank in this way to rebuild. Look at Calgary this year for example. Toronto is another one. Even Vancouver is improving at a speed that puts the Oilers to shame.

      Tanking is a loser strategy that creates the wrong culture in the room. Better to have informed management making decisions that improve the value of the team with every step.

      Of course, you won’t find that sort of management here in Edmonton.

    • Whaler

      Two of these guys were already passed on by every team in the league to be had for free, and I believe a few others would clear waivers as well. We aren’t getting picks back for them. Why would you get rid of Khaira? He’s pretty much the only oilers ever drafted outside the first round to make an impact for our team. He’s big, can score, can kill penalties, and you have you seen the dude fight? I love the guy, he’s a keeper in my books.

          • Big Nuggets

            You want to strap on skates and play after we gut this team? Or just find some other plugs to fill in the holes in the roster? I agree most of those players can be sent packing but Khaira and Chiasson should stick around. This notion that it will take years to turn this team around is BS. Keep the players that can help, add whatever good players they can find, the rest of them are not a factor.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I hear you but you are definitely over-reacting… As bad a team as this seems (they arguably haven’t showed up as a team since Christmas & before). The Oilers are just 3 points back of a playoff spot… With the GM out of the mix, it’s time to bear down and get this going… No excuses.

      • Hemmercules

        What were the players excuses before? We cant win games because we dont like the GM? This team is just flat is not good enough in both effort and talent. Can you imagine this team without Mcdavid? They are a laughing stock even with him. Cant fire a coach or GM every time the team needs “bear down” and win a few games. These guys mail it in too often no matter who is above them. Keep McD, Nuge, Draisaitl, Larsson, Russel, Klef, Nurse. Every other player on the team is expendable in my eyes. I would even consider moving some of the guys I just listed if the price was right.

        3 points back from a playoff spot, 5 from the basement. These remaining games before the break are pivotal. From what I have seen since new years they are far more likely to be completely toasted before the all star break than in the mix for a playoff spot. Maybe Klef gives them a little boost but he’s been out 2 months.

        I’m predicting they are sellers at the deadline and Keith Gretzky is named GM in the near future.

          • Hemmercules

            I drove up to a game last season against St. Louis and it was probably the worst hockey game I have ever watched live. The Oilers lost 4-0 in a completely lacklustre effort. I decided after that game that I wont attend another game until there is sweeping changes. I haven’t spent a dime on anything Oilers since.

            Im actually starting to have more fun trashing the Oilers than liking them these days. There is just so much material. 12 years of bafoonery really adds up!

            I like some of the players but it pretty much stops there right now. I really wanna see Mcdavid happy again. He looks beat down these days.

        • camdog

          Matti Virmanen is one of our scouts in Finland. He’s generally thought of as one of the worst hockey minds in Finland. If your having fun google him, he’s trending on Twitter.

  • The Oilers have too many of their top 7 players with losing attitudes and need some of those players traded for players from teams that win, know what it takes to win and refuse to accept team mates that are content with losing. That is called leadership which the Oilers sorely lack. These players can’t be 3rd or 4th liners or bottom pairing d-men but go to top line players. They have to make trades, soon or they can kiss this season goodbye.

  • Goaltender Interference

    The NMCs that Pete handed out like water don’t help very much either.

    Agree with the commenters on the Russell trade. Maybe a slight overpay but unlike some others on the team he’s earning it. The difference in the games he was away and injured was noticeable. His absence had as much impact as Klefbom’s.

    Bob Nicholson is a liar. Right from the Reinhart trade the heavy hand of the OBC has been apparent. If he thinks anyone buys that they aren’t involved then he’s an idiot as much as he is a liar.

  • Axe

    Great article.. Was just so painful getting through the first couple of paragraphs and re-living all of the horrible moves made.. I have to agree with some of the other commentators, I don’t view Russel contract as a problem.. But yes I see the point that Chiarelli was spending like a drunken sailor.. And yes a half million here and there will add up and make a difference.. We have to somehow get rid of manning and Spooner I think that’s a good start.. And if Chiasson is not gonna re sign then yes try to get something for him at deadline

  • CMG30

    The trouble is that the line of thinking that resulted in signing a player like Looch to a long term trade-proof contract and valued the character of a player like Russell over actual defensive ability is still ingrained in the Oilers brain trust and sadly much if the fanbase. This is what’s in the water in Edmonton: valuing things in hockey players over and above their actual ability on the ice.

    Sadly, this is why Chirelli was a ‘fit’ in the first place and It’s why having the same dinosaurs picking the next guy will result in more if the same.

    • Datsyukian

      A good point. Character, “grit” and hustle can only get you so far. Today, games and Cups are won on talent and ability much more so than the nebulous “character”.

    • Gorf27

      Dinosaurs for sure. Sorry to be negative, but after listening to Bob yesterday, I am convinced that nothing will really change until season ticket holders cancel, especially those with boxes, and tell the organization they’re doing it because of the OBC. Not only is the on-ice product dreadful, but the entire game experience is bush league. Katz might, just might, get the message if fewer $$ are coming in

  • HockeyRooster

    The next GM has a hell of a lot of work but this is fixable. My main concern right now is can Nicholson make the right hire? They can’t “Eakins” this hiring. Gotta get it right!
    Let’s go Oilers!

  • madjam

    Nicholson should be gone with Chia , being as he hired him and his team with great long approval in retrospect , not in charge of finding another GM for our team . Nicholson losing faith and luster of the fans . How can Bob and Wayne be unbiased with K.Gretzky being GM supposedly on an interim basis ?

  • GK1980

    This will be my last post until this team is competitive and makes the playoffs. I’m not being apart of this new rebuild. It’s been a real pleasure and joy being a part of the nation. Hopefully this team gets better sooner then later.

    • The damage has been done, but non quality management has been retained to continue the gong show would be more accurate. Perhaps they can ruin the 3 good players we have left. The chips have been traded, they have nothing left that they can give up without weakening the team even further. By the time they get better, Katz JR will be the owner and Keegan Lowe will be the GM. I would wager this nonsense is not going to stop as long as Katz remains the owner.

      • AJ88

        What kind of person are you? Your hatred goes far beyond normal. It’s a hockey team that you can choose not to follow, sounds like your life would be much better off, and so would ON, the100’s of posts that are just the same over and over is mind blowing.

        • Don’t read them then . And I wont be. But ON is entertaining. My Fire the OBC mantra is called perseverance, because I believe it is the right thing to do for the beleaguered fan base and the franchise. You would prefer they keep the same clowns driving the same clown car right into the ditch? You have not noticed every media outlet in North America and overseas is mocking the clowns except in Edmonton? You have not noticed that virtually every player has success elsewhere? You are in the minority as far as reality goes. Keep drinking the Kool Aid and propaganda (BS) if you wish, Flames flag goes up on my truck today, until McDavid decides where he is going when he escapes this gong show. This franchise is only good for comic relief at this point. (No offence to the Kool Aid poster!)

  • vetinari

    Every GM needs supporting executives and coaches who can look them in the eye and say “are you sure you want to do that?” and “does this make the team better?” Given Nicholson said that signing and trading players was a collaborative effort between senior management, led by Chiarelli but also including the Old Boy’s Club, wouldn’t it make sense to also replace the brain trust which either approved of Chiarelli’s decisions or were negligent in putting some brakes on his wheeling and dealing? Whoever the next GM is, I hope it is someone from outside the organization, has great evaluation skills when it comes to NHL talent and is uninfluenced by the OBC (preferably because the OBC have also been fired or reassigned to work concessions).

  • Spiel

    Nicholson’s own statement was that he thinks they have a good enough group of players in the dressing room to make the playoffs. I don’t see the team making major changes quickly.

  • oil.99.97.11

    A GM of a McDonalds could have done better than Chiarelli. For Eberle and what he gave up for Reinhardt, he should have got no less FOR EACH trade than a top 4 defenceman or a top 6 forward. For Hall, a *real* first pairing D or a young 25+ goal-scoring forward that routinely puts the puck in the net. If he’d got that, maybe he doesn’t need a goalie outside Broissoit and Talbot. And if he does still need a goalie, or he needs more up front, what do you think Lucic’s contract could have brought to town? Pathetic and pitiful. Worst ‘managing’ in the history of the league. We should be challenging for a Cup instead of having our faces rubbed in embarassment.

  • >One thing making life difficult for the Oilers to make changes are ugly contracts to Milan Lucic, Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera, Ryan Spooner, Brandon Manning, and potentially Mikko Koskinen. There’s a lot of dead weight bogging things down that won’t be easy to deal with.

    Are we really in any position to call Kris Russell deadweight? If a team actually offered to take his contract for nothing would it really help us? The thought of Benning or Petrovic playing 2nd RHD below Larsson doesn’t sound very nice

  • Alfonso

    Bobby Nick wants to go for the playoffs with a team that is terrible … Jeremy Roenick nails it Jan. 22, 2019 …

    “I’m boggled that this is a professional hockey league team,”Roenick said. “The Edmonton Oilers are so bad. They can’t put two passes together. Their feet and their hands go so much faster than their brains,” he continued. “They have no idea what they’re doing out there and it shows so much. This team might have, from 18 players, the lowest hockey IQ that I’ve ever seen in a long time… It’s embarrassing.”

  • Van isl Oiler

    Playing devils advocate a bit here, but…

    Everyone forgets Sekera has been injured for the past two years. Would things be different if he had been healthy?

  • Heschultzhescores

    So many overpays, so many LTD with NT clauses. So many fringe NHL players. Zero cap space. Too many OBC members still involved behind the scenes, I don’t buy the BS that they keep their noses out. What a challenge for the new GM. Best of lucky buddy.

  • You just got LITT up!

    Anyone read the Toronto Star article Re: McDavid? Essentially, the Oilers are cr@p and wasting McDavid’s career … worst part, they’re not wrong.
    I don’t think McDavid will stick around for a rebuild. Trash away!

  • Mc.Rib

    A fan I really admire said to me recently the Oilers last significant player Not taken in the First round was Jarret Stool in 2002, if true that says alot about the team’s scouting staff, and it’s not too good.

  • As much as i hate Hall deal, we did made the playoffs after that. Chiasson is the best contract money/production. Would make sense to try to resign him with little salary increase. Oilers gave him chance again, and he can pay back in term of discount.

    • Hemmercules

      Hahahahah. Discount?!!!! Chiasson is out of town the first chance he gets on a free agency overpay or trade deadline dump. Loyalty isn’t a thing for the Oilers. They have to pay an extra 25% over any team in the league to get a decent player to stick around. It’s not just the fans that loath the OBC either. The entire league knows how brutal the Katz run Oilers are. Every player that leaves generally doesn’t have very good things to say about their time in Edmonton. Been that way for many years.

    • camdog

      Bob’s in charge of press conferences and that is all. If he knew anything about being an NHL GM he’d take on the role until the end of the season. That’ll never happen of course.