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.

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.

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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.

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  • 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.


  • 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

  • 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.

  • Rufio Barcoli

    This mess will not get fixed.
    It won’t matter who is the president, ceo and/or gm.

    There will not be any big blockbuster trade that the Oilers are going to win.
    They will have to overpay for any big trade they make.
    The other gms in the league and encouraged to consider Oilers last when trade their superstars, the league would prefer to pump them out and showcase them in other american cities.

    It a known fact that no free agents want to come here. No player wants to make millions and have to deal with the fans and the media.
    Money is easier south of the border.
    Especially for the casual superstars like Heatley, Hall, Eberle etc.

  • Serious Gord

    I have a great deal of respect for don cherry – arguably the greatest living Canadian. But it’s pretty rich that the most flamboyant person in sports media is critical of a team’s post game antics.

    • ed from edmonton

      Good god man, greatest living Canadian. What has Cherry ever done except shoot his mouth off once a week. Personally I would rate every first responder ahead of him and military people who have risked their lives. I also know a fair number of people who donate much of their time to humanitarian causes, someone’s in location where their personal safety is not a given ahead of Cherry

    • Serious Gord

      1. Sir John is dead last I checked (absolute disgrace that we are letting intolerant totalitarian progressives tear down his statues…)

      2. Not trolling at all. He finished second in the most public survey https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Greatest_Canadian

      Behind David Suzuki who shouldn’t be on the list but rather in jail for tax evasion.

      3. Interesting no one has put forward another name.

      4. Never said he was my choice. Stephen Harper by a mile.

      5. Cherry is definitely top five. No one has done more for veterans than he has. He is second only to Gretz in terms of promoting the game.

      Easy the most public Canadian patriot and he was trumpian before it was a thing – speaking up against totalitarian progressives – unapologetic about Canada’s proud history.

      6. All that noted he’s still wrong on what the Carolina players are doing.

      • Archer

        For years I rolled my eyes at Don Cherry, regarding him as a buffoon and embarrassment. Then a number of things happened: 1. I became involved in minor hockey and learned of Cherry’s tireless efforts behind the scenes (for example, he is famous for attending, at his own cost, charity events to benefit minor hockey and donating his time and presence to help raise funds at these events); 2. I learned that Cherry had personally donated the funds to put the “stop” signs on the backs of the sweaters of minor hockey players across Canada, to discourage hitting from behind, but wanted no publicity for doing so; 3. I met someone who worked with Cherry, and was told that everyday Cherry contributes either money or time to minor hockey or charities and typically asks that his contribution be anonymous, and that the public persona he has created is simply showmanship – the real man is nothing like his public image; 4. I met the man himself in an airport and he was incredibly gracious and patient (as was Ron McLean, who was with him) – both Cherry & McLean were besieged by throngs of people but good-naturedly stayed until every last one of them had received the autograph or picture they wanted (I got a picture with the 2 of them) and until every last question had been answered. 2 better people would be hard to find. So, yes, in light of all of this evidence I changed my view of Don Cherry about 180 degrees. If he is not the greatest living Canadian then he is in the running.

      • Wince

        John A. Macdonald was a beauty in his day, by the standards of the day, and a disgrace by today’s standards. If you, Serious Gord/Neanderthal, feel differently, then you may as well advocate for the return of slavery and hunting of whale oil to power your telly. Figure it out.

  • ed from edmonton

    So Brownlee is getting misty eyed because Sammy snow pants returns and Talbot exits. Maybe the nicest guys in the world, but if you can’t play at a high enough level, does being nice guys matter? Kind of the opposite side of the Hall situation who could be a great player when playing at his top, but would criticize team mates for working too hard in practice.
    Being a great human being is something, but success in a profession is not measured by this metric. I recall a very successful football lamenting when he had to cut a guy who “he would be proud to be my son, but not a good enough football player”.

    • Your anger and frustration is interfering with your comprehension, assuming you even took time to read what was written.

      “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.”
      “Again, some fans might place little value in that, and that’s fair because results matter most . . .”

      Vent if you want, there’s lots of reasons to do that, but don’t torque and twist what I write. Teams win with good players, that’s the bottom line, but there is no downside to those players also being good people. That’s the message.

      • ed from edmonton

        I think we are agreeing on a lot, i.e. that bringing in Gagner isn’t going to make the team better and that dumping Talbot was needed. But I am surprised by the fondness you expressed for both these players. Maybe PC is a really nice guy too once you get to know him.

      • Derzie

        Robin, it’s pretty clear that you have a relationship to maintain with the people around the Oilers. Getting defensive about it just strengthens that point. Let other people less close to the org write the ‘truth hurts’ articles. In almost all walks of life, when you get to know the people doing dumb business things, they are nice people who mean well. Results are what matters at this point in history. Anything that resembles the past, even if it feels right, is wrong. The Talbot/Scolar swap seems like a good move. Bringing back an old player undid all of that goodwill, regardless of the actual value/result.

      • hagar

        I dont ever want to be a person that doesnt feel bad when a good person has hardship or loses a job, but most of the world can’t afford to pay incompetent people because of feelings like Katz does for the obc.

        The oilers franchise can ruin pretty well anyone, and the cure wasnt firing pc, though you would sure think it is the start to success reading this article.


    JP is still just only 20. I really hope they can smarten up with Gretzky now running the show. Convince him and his agent to be patient and send down JP back to Bakersfield so he can experience winning and fun again. I really don’t want them to give up on him, he has so much raw potential and once he figures it out hell be a hell of player. What do you guys think? Is there still a chance he can stick it out?

    • Total Points

      If his agent is smart he is gone. The oilers mismanagement of JP could cost JP millions. I would leave and try someplace else, wouldn’t you.

      It can’t be any worse. What does JP have to lose by demanding a trade. Absolutely nothing.

    • 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.