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Peter Chiarelli breaks his silence

It’s safe to say that Peter Chiarelli’s tenure in Edmonton was a disaster. But, after 14 months of reflection since being fired as the Oilers’ general manager, Chiarelli is ready for another chance.

When Chiarelli was hired shortly after the Oilers won the Golden Ticket at the 2015 draft lottery, there was genuine optimism about what he would bring to the organization. He had just been let go by the Boston Bruins, but he was credited with building that big, tough, scary team that won the 2011 Stanley Cup and nearly won it all again in 2013.

For an organization that heard nothing but the same voices over and over and over again for so many years, it was a nice change of pace to see the Oilers bring in somebody with a  pedigree of success from the outside.

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Instead, Chiarelli — who quickly became known as Pistol Pete for the deals he seemed to make without much thought — was a complete disaster.

Though the Oilers did bust their playoff drought in 2017, Chiarelli frequently lost trades, made panic decisions, and mucked up Edmonton’s salary cap situation, all while building a roster that wasn’t competitive in today’s NHL. When it was all said and done, Chiarelli had left a big mess for his successor to clean up.

In a sitdown interview with Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, Chiarelli finally broke his silence after 14 months since being let go by the Oilers. What did Pistol Pete learn during his tumultuous tenure in Edmonton?

Chiarelli wasn’t out of work for very long. He was offered a scouting gig with the St. Louis Blues and he’s since been helping advise general manager Doug Armstrong. This role has allowed Chiarelli to see things from a different angle. His last two jobs in hockey have been general manager positions, both in Boston and in Edmonton, so he hasn’t been able to take more of a back seat since he was with the Ottawa Senators organization in the early 2000s.

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“I’m exposed to a different way of doing things and secondly you’re not driving the bus so it gives you a way to expand the breadth of your hockey curve. Then, you can look back, at what I did in Edmonton, and when you come out of the job and you’re fired, especially in a Canadian market, it’s a difficult exercise as I’ve found out. I really wasn’t exposed to that in Boston.

There’s a negative narrative out there and you can’t really rebut on why you did things. The break has given me time to reflect on what I did in Edmonton: The good things, the bad things and the things I would do differently.”

The one thing Chiarelli really wished he had done differently was straying from his plan in order to capitalize on the quick success the team had when he arrived. Garrioch notes that when Chiarelli was hired, he presented a six-year plan to win the Stanley Cup. It was the same idea as the five-year plan he offered to the Bruins in 2006 before he was hired. The Bruins, of course, won at the end of his five-year plan.

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Unfortunately, the article doesn’t dive into any of the specifics of what Chiarelli’s six-year plan entailed or where it was that he deviated from it. It seems the narrative that Chiarelli is trying to push here as his defence is that he was a victim of his own success, rushing through his plan because the team made the playoffs in 2017.

“You go in with a longer look and in this day and age it’s easy to stray from that longer look especially when you make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and you win a round,” Chiarelli said. “I knew it was coming and I should have been more forceful in my position on where we were in the plan but it’s hard because you’ve got paying customers, an owner and people around you that feel you should take the next step.

Garrioch even makes the point to refer to him as ‘Patient Peter’ which was apparently his nickname in Boston. With the Bruins, Chiarelli didn’t make big moves until a few years into his tenure. Starting in 2009, he dealt @Phil Kessel to Toronto and acquired members of the team’s 2011 run like Mark Recchi, Nathan Horton, Rich Peverly, Chris Kelly, and Tomas Kaberle.

So, since the Oilers made the playoffs and beat San Jose in the first round in 2017, Chiarelli is saying that he deviated from his plan, which seems to mirror his plan in Boston of being patient. That’s kind of confusing given the fact the moves that Chiarelli is ostracized for all came before the team made the playoffs.

There was the puzzling Griffin Reinhart deal right off the hop at the draft shortly after he was hired, and, the following off-season, there was the infamous one-for-one trade and Milan Lucic’s albatross contract.

Speaking of the Hall for Larsson, deal, Chiarelli offered Garrioch an explanation that completely contradicts what he said after pulling the trigger on the deal. Back then, Chiarelli made his classic “that’s the price you have to pay” line in regards to having to pay a premium price in order to acquire a top-four, right-handed defenceman like Larsson.

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What does he have to say now, with a few years to reflect?

“[Hall for Larsson] was a difficult one because we felt we wanted to give breathing room to Connor McDavid and with where the salaries would go that’s a long look.

I had one offer. In hindsight I should have waited but the development of Connor was very important and we felt that we had to clear some room for him — both salary room and room in the (dressing) room.”

So Chiarelli wanted to get rid of Hall because he wanted to open room for McDavid to grow into the team’s leader and because he wanted to open up some salary cap room. The savings between Hall and Larsson was under $2 million annually and it was immediately erased when Lucic was inked to his deal that was identical to Hall’s $6 million cap hit.

And then there’s the “I had one offer” part. Chiarelli blames his failure in Edmonton on the fact he had to deviate from his plan because of the team’s early success, but he’s also admitting he pulled the trigger on the Hall for Larsson deal without looking at another offer. And this was all before the team had even made the playoffs and that pressure he’s complaining about was turned up.

This all makes my head spin.

Finally, Chiarelli offers us his redemption arc. He isn’t happy with the narrative that follows him after his tenure in Edmonton and he wants another opportunity. Next time, though, he’s doing things his way.

“There’s a negative narrative out there and I want the chance to dispel that because there shouldn’t be. I want to win again but I want to build it properly and I want to be patient in a timely manner.”

After reading that, it becomes very clear that Chiarelli hasn’t actually realized what went wrong in Edmonton. He’s built up the excuse that early success forced him to deviate from his plan for success, when, in reality, it was the plan that torpedoed things in the first place.

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Regardless, I hope for the sake of the Oilers that Chiarelli becomes a general manager again. I actually hope it happens to a team within the division, for that matter.

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