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Photo Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

This, That, and the Other Thing

As if fans of the Edmonton Oilers don’t already know how bad things are, how poorly their team is built and how overmatched it is, they got another reminder late in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders when Colby Cave and Alex Petrovic got a shift on Ken Hitchcock’s second power play unit. That capped a three-game road trip that produced 116 shots, four goals and no points.

With the horse that is playoff contention now long out of the barn thanks to a 1-8-2 record over the last 11 games, we already know the Oilers aren’t skilled enough up front, deep enough on the blue line and consistent enough in goal. From where I sit, the obvious question now is how long it might take interim GM Keith Gretzky, or whoever inherits the mess left by fired Peter Chiarelli, to undo all of that and build a team capable of contention.

The Oilers are 24-29-5 for 53 points in 58 games and they’ve won just 15 of the 38 games they’ve played under Hitchcock since he took over from Todd McLellan. With no drama left in the stretch drive, other than who the Oilers might try to unload between now and the trade deadline, Gretzky has gone to work. He shipped out Cam Talbot for Anthony Stolarz to create cap room for the return of Andrej Sekera – a deft move — and brought back Sam Gagner for an encore by sending out spare part Ryan Spooner.

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Next up, navigating the Jesse Puljujarvi situation with rumors flying that he and his agent might have been jerked around by this organization enough that a fresh start might be the best option for both sides. Early on, it’s been a full plate for somebody who has only been on the job a few weeks and has that interim tag attached to his name, but that’s what Gretzky has had to work with. Now, we wait to see what happens leading into the trade deadline.

The reality, to borrow from Captain Obvious, is re-shaping this team into contender status isn’t a matter of days, weeks or even months – although avoiding the kind of miss-steps Chiarelli made a habit of through this off-season would be a start – it’s a longer road than that for Gretzky or whoever has the gig. It’s a road Oilers’ fans have been asked to travel without getting where they want to go too often.

THE WAY I SEE IT

  • I like the move to bring Gagner back. He’s not going to be a difference-maker by any stretch, but he’s a solid team guy, and while frustrated fans might roll their eyes, good teams never have too many players who register on the give-a-crap meter. Sam gives you what he’s got, and that’s never a negative. Gagner’s return after five seasons also brings into focus how this organization has been turned upside down without any real results, save for the two-round playoff run the Oilers had two years ago. Just two players, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom (17 games), remain from the team Gagner was traded from in the summer of 2014.
  • Given the cap corner Chiarelli painted the Oilers into, punctuated by a three-year deal for Mikko Koskinen on his way to the unemployment line, I understand why Gretzky opted to move Talbot for Stolarz, but the Oilers lost one of the best team guys and wonderful human beings who has graced their dressing room in a long time. Again, some fans might place little value in that, and that’s fair because results matter most, but having had dealings with Talbot away from the rink, I can tell you he’s a damn good man.
  • I’m hoping owner Daryl Katz and Bob Nicholson resist the urge to over-value Gretzky’s early work based on his first couple of moves. I like both deals he made, actually, but nothing he does in the coming months should prompt the team to remove the interim label until a proper search for candidates has been done. Might Gretzky do enough to deserve a place on a short-list of those in the running for the job? Sure, but naming him GM before that is done is poison.

WHILE I’M AT IT

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  • Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet on Hitchcock: “He’s certainly made a lot of noise in terms of the way he’s challenged his players. I think it’s been noted within the organization and my understanding is they’ve addressed it and they’d like him to be a lot more positive, not only publicly but behind closed doors in the dressing room if he’s to remain behind the bench the next 24 games . . . if not, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a guy like Glen Gulutzan in the rest of the season.” I wrote about this a few days ago. Stay tuned.
  • I’ve got a lot of respect for Don Cherry. Back when I first got on the hockey/Oiler beat under Jim Matheson at The Journal, Cherry became a go-to guy for me for all kinds of features I was asked to write. Grapes always took my calls and always gave me more than I could use, even though he didn’t know who I was at the time. That said, I cringe at his takes on the post-game celebrations the Carolina Hurricanes and their fans are having so much fun with. Calling them “jerks” is simply out of touch with what’s happening today.

Previously by Robin Brownlee



  • Oiler Al

    It is difficult to fathom how a pro team,much more an NHL team can be in such disrepair this day and age, in huge hockey market, with a shiny new arena and best player in the world. We all know how it all went wrong!The question is, how was it allowed to happen over the past 3 years. The guy in charge is still there,in the aftermat,trying to repair the damage with interim people. THIS DISASTER IS A SLAP IN TRHE FACE TO THE FANS.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    I thought that Bob Nichelson said…” we are only a couple of players away from the playoffs.”???
    Must be something in the Bobby Nicks burgers?

  • Soccer Steve

    “A deft move”.

    Brownlee, please don’t. KGretzky is one of the main architects of this mess. He, along with all upper management, need to be shoveled out the door. THAT is the first step to fixing this mess. Nothing else.

    • dabears318

      Keith is one of the main architects of this mess? He was heading up our drafting and scouting the past two years… which has been a silver lining throughout this debacle.

      The difference between this weekends trades (positively improving the team despite dealing from a position of weakness) and the trades we’ve seen the past few years (literally dealing us into the current position) is fairly obvious to me.

      He shouldn’t be gifted the long-term GM position, but he also shouldn’t be ruled out simply because he is an internal candidate. In situations like these, it helps to avoid painting everyone with the same OBC brush.

      Understandably it is difficult to get past the fact he is internal and also Wayne Gretzky’s brother… but his body of work should be the only measure for success, not his family members or ties to Oilers.

      • CityofWhat

        K. Gretzky is as much to blame as Chia, both were together in Boston and here for a long time. Keith with no doubt gave Chia his input on every trade made since he was hired here. Hiring him as a full time GM would be another failure of gigantic proportion and we will be writing here saying the same thing after 3 years.
        Please Oilers do the due diligence and interview everyone capable for the job and don’t just give the job. People learn from their past mistakes but this organization is the exception of that rule. We as fans will not tolerate this B.S and will no longer attempt the games. At least I know I won’t and haven’t all of this year because it’s obvious Mr Katz doesn’t want to fix this problem otherwise he would’ve cleaned house by now. Hiring K. Gretzky would 100% be POISON.

      • polarcap

        Look up. The problem certainly manifested with PC. How do bad decisions occur time after time. Where is the oversight. In most public organizations, the CEO reports to a Board who gives broad direction and provides oversight. Major decisions, like the Lucic decision and the Hall trade would require the CEO to alert the Board and often require their approval. Putting aside the strategy issue of where it fits in the Oils long term plans, their were serious legal oversights in limiting future options as well as the term of the contract, as a Board member you should get independent legal council. PC was accountable to someone, it was their duty to carry the necessary due diligence. If the Oil practiced good governance you wouldn’t wait 3 years to establish PC was going down the wrong path. The OBC may be discredited, however, their input would not have made things worse. Any panel of Oiler knowledgeable fans would have known that things were going off the rails. BN has not shown leadership in directing PC or in providing oversight. Decisions in the millions of dollars are involved, assets were being devalued and the brand weakened. BN your job doesn’t any with the hire and Katz needs to develop a network to get independent advice to hold BN accountable.

    • MrBung

      A big part of the problem is we really don’t know what is going on now and what was going on to make this team so bad even with the best player in the game. How much did Chia do or not do on his own? All the people at the management level have to wear this.

      • CityofWhat

        What I do know is that the organization gave Chia the ok to trade Hall otherwise he should’ve been fired right after that trade or worse yet the Reinhart trade so the OBC have their finger prints all over this mess and Keith is just as guilty as all the others.

    • Ratt McNuge

      He’s the main problem. He’s too soft on his pals and the OBC. He bought the Oilers so he could hang out with the OBC and buils the Ice District and new arena. Actually having competetive team was an afterthought. And then McDavid is drafted, and Katz was laughing all the way to the bank. The generational player to ensure the sale of tickets and luxury skyboxes while raising prices on food and beer to ridiculous levels. Again, actually building a competetive team was an afterthought.

  • toprightcorner

    It will take a couple years to properly turn this team around. Trying to do it too quickly would be a mistake.

    That already made that mistake by trying to build the team around McDavid too quickly. They trying to improve too many key areas via trade and then rushed prospects to fill the holes they made. If Katz was not in such a rush to improve the team and took a couple years to build a solid team that would complete for many years, they would not have been in such a hurry to trade really hockey talent to fill holes. Then JP and Yamamoto would be rushed.

    They were so worries about immediate success that they forgot about long lasting success.

    If a GM tells them they can turn it around within a year by making the”X” amount of trades, boot him out the door.

    Clear cap space, keep cap space and let guys develop. After 2 years, a couple of JP, Yamamoto, Benson, Jones, Bear and Bouchard should be contributing on the Oilers, a few solid trades and the team will be in a good position. Save some cap space to add the missing piece then instead if blowing your wad now.

    • macinmillwoods

      Totally agree. The last 5 years of McDavid can be salvaged with patient and smart management. Higher salary cap along with a few prospects making significant contributions in 2-3 years and proper coaching will help. Still need goaltending though…

  • Odanada

    The front office has a lot of nerve telling Hitch they need a culture change when they’re the unaccountable dogs that both created and personify the culture that has soiled the logo and tanked the team.
    Clean house.

    • hagar

      Yep, and now the heat is off them again. Another ground hog day.. Blame the fall guys, then waste another entire season because the problem is still there. They just dont get it… The only way they solve the problem is to fire themselves, and that isnt happening. Its funny reading an article like this.. The casual observer would think the problem is solved because chia is the reason for 11 years of failure though he was here for a few.

  • Shane

    Jesse’s needs aren’t bigger than the teams. I’d send him down to the AHL long enough for him to look like a blue chip prospect again, then trade him hopefully for another prospect like Necas, or Cirelli. What would you do Robin?

  • ed from edmonton

    I strongly suggest that the Oil don’t make any long term decision about JP until the new GM is in place. A view from someone outside the organization might give a new perspective on the situation. f coirse I’m assuming te new GM will have some authority to do his own thing.