Now what?

So, with Peter Chiarelli rightfully sacked and shown the door by the Edmonton Oilers in the better-late-than-never department, an obvious question begs: Now what? That’s really a two-part question, the way I see it. First, what happens in the short-term? Second, what happens in the long-term? They are, it goes without saying, connected.

Specifically, can the immediate future include a push for the 2019 playoffs that doesn’t involve mortgaging the future and weakening a roster Chiarelli already watered down for what could be a one-and-done taste of the post-season? Can the organization put the Chiarelli era behind it without leaving whoever takes over from interim-GM Keith Gretzky and his front office committee in a deeper hole?

I say yes. Whether it’s somebody like Kelly McCrimmon or Bill Guerin or any of the other candidates being speculated about coming in to clean up Chiarelli’s mess, I think it’s possible. I think the Oilers, who stagger into the all-star break three points out of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference after three straight losses, can make a run without Chiarelli’s bungling as part of the process. No mortgage needed.

I know that sounds optimistic in the extreme to many of you and that’s completely understandable given the roller-coaster ride this season has been, but I think it’s do-able. The only caveat is that Gretzky and those around him don’t make the kind of boneheaded moves that got us here in the first place – Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome for Ryan Spooner comes to mind. The Oilers don’t need to make big deals to get into the playoffs, they just can’t afford to make any bad deals.

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Here’s the way I see it.

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Oscar Klefbom has been out of the line-up so long, his return after the all-star break and bye week from a broken finger will almost be like getting a new player, and a top-pairing defenceman no less. In the 31 games Klefbom played, the Oilers were 17-12-2. In the 19 games he’s missed, the Oilers are 6-12-1. Neither mark rests solely with Klefbom of course, but there’s no getting around the impact his absence has had.

Without Klefbom and, for a time, Kris Russell, an already thin blueline group has been stretched beyond reasonable expectations in terms of having players like Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson play too many minutes and others like Kevin Gravel, Caleb Jones and Matt Benning play too high in the line-up. Nurse and Larsson, in particular, have worn down and struggled. Jones is going to be a player, but was forced into too many minutes.

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Getting Klefbom back and up to speed doesn’t make this roster contenders for the Stanley Cup with all the holes up front, but he’s the team’s best puck-mover and he’ll help on the power play. Just as important, Klefbom re-sets the pecking order on the blueline. A top-four of Klefbom-Larsson and Nurse-Russell is a start in front of whoever rotates through the third pairing.


Dec 13, 2018; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock talks to his players during a time against the Winnipeg Jets in the third period Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve got a lot of respect for Ken Hitchcock because I’ve seen him find a way to get the best out of the line-ups he’s had to work with dating back more than 30 years to his time with the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL. While Hitchcock is no magician, as the slide the Oilers endured after Klefbom went out shows, I don’t think we’ve seen his best work yet.

Hitchcock knows how he wants to play, but it takes time for any coach to figure out who fits where within any given scheme. As important, it takes time to figure out which buttons to push with different players to get what he’s looking for out of them. I believe he’ll get more out of Jesse Puljujarvi. I feel the same way about Milan Lucic. There’s a time to coach with the carrot and there’s times when you have to go to the stick. Hitchcock knows that as well as any coach I’ve ever seen.

That doesn’t make the roster as it stands today anything resembling stellar because that’s a long-term project, but for all of the faults and flaws at forward and on the blueline, the Oilers are three points out with 32 games remaining. Can Hitchcock squeeze more out of players not named Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? I say yes.


Make no mistake, I’m not saying that firing Chiarelli means this team can or will turn on a dime. It’s likely going to take years to replace the talent that’s been bled out of the lineup. It’s going to take some time to build the kind of depth around McDavid it’ll take to become a legitimate contender no matter who ends up being the new GM.

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In the big picture, it’s going to take a fundamental shift in philosophy at the top of this organization, namely from owner Daryl Katz, for any real change to take hold. Katz must rid the team of any interference or influence by those not working directly in hockey-ops, and it likely means swapping out some old friends who do. That’s a story for another day.

Here and now, I believe the Oilers can make the playoffs this season without sacrificing the future before a new GM takes a swing at things down the road. That’s certainly not the end-game, but it sure would be a pleasant distraction along the way after the monotony of misery fans around here have endured for a dozen years.


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RELATED ARTICLE:   LAING: Could the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks be trade partners?

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Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • The Off Ice

    Now what? Continue to clean house and bring in competent management.Try and find better players to support Connor before his frustration turns to exasperation. Lower ticket and concession prices in an attempt to atone. But none of this will happen because Oilers.

  • camdog

    I just hope Keith isn’t listening to the guys that didn’t think Jeff Petry was a top 4 d-man and that Griffin Reinhart was going to be a really good NHL d-man. I don’t know how Keith is supposed to make a trade to help the team when the ones giving him advice are incompetent?

  • DoubleDIon

    The good news for you sad sacks is that no one seems to want the last 3 playoff spots in the West. When I look objectively you have as good a shot as anyone. Need some depth. A couple of Lee Stempniak types (3rd line decent players) you give up a 3rd and 4th rounder for.

    Was listening to Burke on Fan960 this morning and he stated as fact that Chiarelli was pressured into the Reinhardt trade by “people in the organization.” Interesting.

    • Darcy yaceyko

      I knew it!!!!! Just like when Tambellini was here. Kevin Lowe and Mac t made those deals and Steve had to answer for it. But this time around Lowe and and Craig has no influence on this GM. Ya right. Daryl sell the team and first of all fire BOB get rid of all these leeches that are employed on the senior staff

    • camdog

      Trade was made in the off season. When PC and Keith Gretzky were in Boston, Griffin Reinhart was not on their radar. I doubt they even watched him play. The guys that watched him play are still on the Oilers payroll. At that time the Oilers were trying to get all Oil Kings players that they could get their hands on. At least half a dozen players in total…

        • Kevwan

          For one thing I could care less if you like me or the Oilers

          For another ask yourself who could possibly be less connected to the Oilers OBC management than Burke. He and Lowe hate each other. How would Burke now this info on Reinhart?

        • Kevwan

          I feel likewise about the Flames.

          You guys (flamers) come on here (Oilersnation) with your cowtown agendas and perspectives . When I tell you to beat it because they’re idiotic (like this Burke story) you get indignant.

          You come on here and call us “sad sacks” and then call me out when I tell you to beat it? Your arrogance is amazing.

    • That falls on Peter for letting the 2 guys he replaced to wander into his office, he came from a stanley cup winning organization so he should most certainly know better. Kevin Lowe is that one older sibling who can’t seem to let go and chases you even after you’ve moved out. If I were the GM of the Oilers I would’ve put ankle bracelets on MacT and Lowe and make sure they’re not within a 15km radius of the hockey operations office.