After what can only be described as a disastrous season for the Edmonton Oilers, it was Peter Chiarelli’s turn to face the music and answer questions about where this team went wrong and what he’ll be doing to fix it. As always, I’ve got the breakdown.
After finding out that Chiarelli was going to speak today, all I could think about was how this was probably going to be a waste of everyone’s time because the guy doesn’t ever really say anything of substance. Today’s press conference was more of the same, though he did finally admit to making some mistakes in terms of placing bets on young players that weren’t quite ready for primetime and not plugging various holes when he had the chance.
Let’s get to it.

On the wingers

One of the weirder parts of the press conference, and the quote that seemed to get the most attention on Twitter, was when he talked about getting enough offence out of their wingers.
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Uhhh… Did ol’ Pete not look at the stats before he threw this gem out there? The highest scoring winger the team had (after the Maroon trade and not counting RNH) was Drake Caggiula with a whopping 13 goals. Does he really think that’s good enough? I don’t think that’s even close to good enough. Especially when you consider that one of those wingers is a $6 million man that was supposed to be bringing swagger to a team that desperately needed it.
When asked about Lucic specifically, Chiarelli defended the big winger while acknowledging that he didn’t play well enough either.
This one was a little bit weird to me only because I think he was more forthcoming with younger players like Puljujarvi (we’ll get there) and Ty Rattie. Shouldn’t the $42 million dollar man have taken more heat for his shitaneously bad play (1G in 46GP to end the season) than just saying he was “sub-par?” Maybe it’s just me. That said, what else is he going to say?
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Another weird quote about the forwards was when he essentially admitted that they moved out veterans in favour of younger players and, more or less, were expecting that to work out.
Who needs veterans anyway? Oh, every team that was ever successful? Right.
What about that whole “speed” thing?
Say what you will about the speed of the team, the Oilers just plain didn’t have enough talent and that was the biggest problem. To me, blaming the speed of the team is like a magic trick that misdirects the fans from the real issue of not being good enough. You can’t go all-in on young players and expect them to carry you without expecting them to hit bumps in the road. Chiarelli gambled and he lost — that’s the reality. The fact that the team was slower was just a byproduct of the downgraded skill.
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Over-project on a couple of guys? Seems light to me. I can think of at least five guys off of the top of my head (Caggiula, Slepyshev, Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, and Matt Benning) that were fighting above their weight class.
Weird that he ended off by saying they the wingers weren’t good enough when he started off by saying they produced enough offence. Flip, meet flop.

ON THE COACHING

A major topic of conversation around these parts has to do with whether or not Todd McLellan and his staff will be back for next season. When asked about the coaches, Chiarelli didn’t exactly give them a vote of confidence nor did he say they wouldn’t be back.
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I agree with that. But how much of this is a result of the coaches and how much is on the players?
To me, this was the money quote relating to the coaches. Maybe I’m just overthinking this but it seems like the coaches had a hard time getting through to the players and making sure that they were ready to play on any given night. That’s part of the gig, no? I’m not saying that the players tuned the coaches out, I have no proof of that nor did Chiarelli say it, but quotes like this make me feel like that’s the case. Am I wrong? Gord knows it’s happened before.
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The ridiculous part of sports is that the guy that built a flawed team will have the opportunity to try and fix his own mistakes while others will get fired or moved out because of those mistakes. Aside from maybe weathermen, how many times can a guy be this wrong at his job but still manage to dodge the axe?
In hockey, it’s always the coaches that get punted first regardless what kind of team the general manager gave them. Whether it’s fair or not, McLellan (or his assistant coaches) will probably be the ones that are looking for jobs after this season despite having a flawed roster to deal with. To me, it doesn’t make sense to blame the furniture after the roof caved in but that’s the business and that’s what we’re likely to see here. If I had to guess, I’d bet on McLellan coming back but that assistant coaches are different.
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When asked who would be evaluating the coaches, Chiarelli sounded like a man who will be back next season.
Oh good. If there’s one thing that we’ve seen in the three years he’s been here, it’s his ability to properly evaluate the team he’s responsible for. That said, the heat is on and if Chiarelli can’t turn this ship around in short order then he’ll be hitting the unemployment line and may have a real hard time ever finding a job again.

ON PERSONNEL CHANGES

When you have Connor McDavid on your roster and still finish in 23rd place overall then you know that changes are coming. When asked about personnel moves, Chiarelli once again talked about not dismantling the roster and looking for tweaks rather than major plays.
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Here’s hoping that this means no more one-for-one trades are coming. Maybe? ANYBODY!? *sigh*
What else?
If there’s one area of depth on this team that should definitely stay intact it’s the three centremen up top. With McDavid, Nuge, and Draisaitl in place, the Oilers have a trio of centremen that any team would love to have it was really nice to hear Chiarelli talk about wanting to build around that. Selfishly, I loved hearing him talk about Nugent-Hopkins as a core member which should have been obvious, but that wasn’t always the case amongst some of the media that cover this team. For some reason, there are people out there that seem to think #93 is expendable which makes very little sense to me, so I was happy to hear Chiarelli have his back.
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While Chiarelli didn’t really say much about player turnover, the quote that interested me most came when he was asked about finding a new backup goalie for Cam Talbot.
Wait a minute… Didn’t Chiarelli move a fourth-round pick to acquire Al Montoya? Yes, yes he did. And now he wants to look for another upgrade? Apparently. Are we really cool with having the team piss away assets on a guy that isn’t even in the plans? Who are the pro scouts on this team anyway?
I will not rip my hair out… I will not rip my hair out… I will not rip my hair out… AHHH I LOVE WASTING ASSETS! *faints*
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For as long as I’ve been writing at this website, one of the biggest holes we have is a guy that can produce points from the back end. When asked about acquiring that elusive puck-moving defenceman, Chiarelli said that it’s definitely on his shopping list and that he didn’t care if the guy was left or right-handed.
I was happy to hear him say this. I know that, in an ideal world, we’d want to have lefties and righties balancing each other out but that shouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker if he can land a quality puck mover. That said, I don’t know how he’ll be able to get this guy without moving something substantial which somewhat eliminates the idea of him not dismantling the roster but I digress.
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I also liked hearing that Chiarelli was open to moving this year’s pick because the Oilers need immediate help and it would be a nice change of pace to see them going for it with a magic bean or two. Now, with that said, the Oilers are desperately going to need value contracts in the coming years so it would be a real gamble to move a mid-first round pick with the prospect cupboards being as bare as they are.

THIS AND THAT

On Puljujarvi:

Another hot topic here at the Nation is in regards to how Jesse Puljujarvi was being used and Peter Chiarelli offered a vote of confidence for the young Finn.
That sounds like a pretty fair and accurate evaluation to me. Puljujarvi had an up and down season, but that’s not exactly surprising when you consider that he’s only 19-years-old and barely speaks the language. I know other players from his draft class are ripping it up right now but that doesn’t mean that every prospect will develop in a straight line. Needless to say, it is way too early to give up on this kid and I hope that the organization is willing to give him the development time he needs.
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Happy to hear this. Give the kid time (preferably another season in the AHL).

On Ty Rattie:

Many of us wondered why it took so long to call up Ty Rattie after he led the Condors in scoring and Chiarelli gave us the answer.
If Rattie’s game needed to be more well-rounded then it makes a lot of sense to keep in him the AHL to work on his game. This answer worked for me and I hope Rattie can use this as motivation to work on his two-way abilities. Personally, I hope to see him back next year because I think there’s a player there and he could be one of those value contracts that this team desperately needs.
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On RNH sticking on the wing

This morning, Gregor wrote about Nuge playing on the wing but Chiarelli wouldn’t confirm that he will stay there next year.
As long as he’s still here, I don’t really care. That said, McNuge was magic on ice so I can’t think of any reason why the team wouldn’t just keep them together.

On setting up young players for success on and off the ice

Gregor asked if the organization is doing enough to ensure that the young players are prepared for life in the NHL and Chiarelli gave an honest assessment.
I know that the Islanders hired a life coach for Matt Barzal and I would love to hear about the Oilers doing the same thing for their young guys. That said, it took them until this year to get Jesse Puljujarvi an English teacher (better late than never) so I won’t be holding my breath on that one.
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On not finding a Sekera replacement

This is the quote that pissed me off the most because it was an obvious problem from the moment they found out Sekera would need surgery. Not finding a suitable replacement for Sekera while he was recovering was ridiculous, but so was Chiarelli’s answer about whether he regretted his decision to move forward without.
Oops. If only someone could have seen this coming. *facepalms hard enough to knock head off shoulders*

THE WRAP…

With the end of season presser done and Chiarelli disappearing back into the shadows for however long it will be until we next see him, we’re left to guess at what his plans for the summer will be based on very little information. One thing we know for sure is that putting too much stock into anything he said today will likely result in being wrong because this is a guy that keeps his cards close to his vest. Chiarelli is the kind of GM that will say one thing in the press and do another thing in reality so the rollercoaster ride that will be the offseason is only just getting started.
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Aside from saying that RNH was a core member, not giving the coaching staff a firm vote of confidence and being open to trading the first-round pick, there wasn’t a whole lot here to get excited about but that’s exactly what I expected. That said, Chiarelli did admit to making some bad bets and expecting too much out of some of the younger players so I’ll give him some credit for that because that candour (if you can call it that) is not something that we’ve seen much of with him. Frankly, I was happy to hear some accountability from the GM but it’s also important to recognize that he created a lot of the current issues himself.
In the end, nothing he could have said would have made this season any better and he’s got a long road ahead of him to try and make things right. Can he do it? We’ve got six months to find out.