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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.

Here’s the way I see it.

THE NEW GUY

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.

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.

THE OLD GUY

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.

THE BOTTOM LINE

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.

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.

NATION DRAFTS

The rules of this draft are simple, as always. After signing up (***FOR FREE!***) using your email, we’ll give you boxes of players and it will be up to you to select a name from each box until you’ve put together a super crew that can contend for a Nation Drafts championship. Seems easy, right? That’s because it IS easy.

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With that big ol’ hockey brain of yours, this here draft should be a breeze. Unless, of course, you’re scared of failure and the resulting ridicule… You’re not scared, are you? No, I didn’t think so. Sign up HERE.

Previously by Robin Brownlee



  • madjam

    Oilers not that far out of playoff picture when defence is healthy , which it has not been for half a season . Can not blame Chia for that totally . However, there appears to be a riff in the locker room that has many players under achieving , or perhaps lack of leadership and accountability on part of players . My first move would be to rid the burden on team by dealing somehow or even buying out Lucic . Seems like he wanted to be dealt even before season started . Second move would be to see market interest in Puljujarvi and/ or Yamamoto .

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Call me optimistic, but hear me out. We have seen such a Jeckle & Hyde team this year that we can win against other good teams (Jets, Sharks, Sabres etc) and lose miserably against basement dwellers (LA, Detroit).
      etc….) We as fans have known the main issue all along & it seems we were all “preaching to the choir” about how this team has been built over the last few years. The new coach has alluded to this constantly “we’ve got what we have & we’ll work as hard as we can with what we got” paraphrasing of course, but we’ve all heard that sentiment…
      The fans see it, so how much more intense do you think the players see it, the coach… If you’re a skilled player on the Oilers & you don’t have the team-mates that can accentuate your talents, it gets old really fast… You’re a coach, that’s trying to prove your worth, do your job, uphold your contract & keep your reputation. You’re given players that when released, can’t even get picked up by another team. Players that are barely into their 20’s with little to no size and experience getting top line minutes… As we have told each other for years, the GM is the issue here. We are “preaching to the choir.”
      I believe the players took it upon themselves to get this GM fired. By pointing out to the leagues fans and writers, the shortcomings. What better way to do that than to tank against the bottom feeding teams. Constantly showing no heart & drive.
      That’s my theory, McDavid has recently gone on record by saying that “he would not throw his team-mates under the bus.” Ray Farrero also quoted him some time ago by saying that “he had trouble playing with many of the younger forwards on this team, because they had no idea where to be on the ice”. The players have shown an indifferent attitude, in order to get changes to the H.R. department. That’s my take. After the Allstar break I think that we’ll see a different attitude. The different team will come slowly, as the moves are made. But (as Sather used to say) “now that the cancerous arm is severed the body has a chance to thrive”. Say what you want about OBC, I don’t disagree, but I think Hitch has the wherewithall to stand up to them, let’s hope a new GM does too.

  • TruthHurts98

    Drinking the Nicholson koolaid? Playoffs? Delusional much? They are 13th and will me more than 5 points out by the time they play again. 0% chance of making the show. The rot in this organization runs deep from Nicholson and Katz all the way down to the pro scouts. Clean house now, not later!

      • Derzie

        You can say that but the word defy the statement. Your piece reads like Chiarelli was the cancer and now that he has been removed, the healing can begin. I would wager that not one of his moves was without old boy direction. Not veto. Not approval. Direction. Anyone with an understanding of the NHL today would have stopped every move he made. What you are saying is that the OBC are not complicit but are oblivious/stupid. Which is it? Evidence suggests both.

    • FlamesFan27

      sportsclubstats has their chances of the playoffs at 9.8%. hockey-reference has it at 15.8%. They are not quite done yet, but man did they ever blow an opportunity with that January schedule. It seemed like they were playing with 100 lb weights on their backs. I’m not sure if the GM firing will change that or not. Somehow, they have to relax and just play.