Can Oilers Afford To Let Chiarelli Fix Problems?

There’s a lot of talk about change in Edmonton. The Oilers aren’t looking like a team that has much confidence, their scoring isn’t consistent, the wins are coming less often than the losses and everyone seems to be asking the question, ‘is the coach about to be fired?’

On Tuesday morning, the Oilers fired their head coach and hired Ken Hitchcock. A short-term replacement, there’s no telling if Hitch will be around next season and perhaps an even more pressing a question would be, if additional changes are required, can the Edmonton Oilers afford to let the man responsible for making those changes do his job?

Peter Chiarelli Got the Oilers Here

I wrote an article a few days ago suggesting Todd McLellan coached the type of period that could get head coaches fired in the NHL. That third period against Calgary was a disaster but I also went onto hypothesize that he wouldn’t be fired in the immediate future and definitely not before the team’s next game against Vegas. Then again, I wasn’t expecting Edmonton would drop the ball as badly as they did against the Golden Knights. It turned out he was let go two days later.

McLellan may be gone but the Oilers woes aren’t necessarily his fault. His decisions were certainly questionable, but many of these losses came because the Oilers simply aren’t a deep enough team. Who is responsible for that? The manager who put this team together.

General manager Peter Chiarelli
CHICAGO, IL – JUNE 23: General manager Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton Oilers speaks onstage during Round One of the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

If we give credit where it’s due, Chiarelli does have some wins on his resume with the Oilers. He did well to find Alex Chiasson when everyone else overlooked him, he looks to have made the right call on Mikko Koskinen when most felt he dramatically overpaid for the KHL goaltender on a one-year deal. If you go back a couple seasons, he did well to land Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon for scrap pieces. Not everything he’s done has been a catastrophe.

Unfortunately, his hits aren’t as plentiful as his misses.

As radio analyst Jason Gregor pointed out on Monday, Chiarelli inherited Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle when he took over the Oilers as general manager. It was the type of forward corps that would make any other GM salivate. He also inherited an average defense with the task of trying to improve it.

Today, he has a similar average defense and no Hall or Eberle. It’s hard to defend that.

Chiarelli valued Adam Larsson as a fair return for Hall. He valued Strome as a suitable replacement for Eberle. He overpaid Milan Lucic, Kris Russell, Leon Draistaitl, and others. He placed guys in positions beyond their means and he’s fallen short of ensuring the development of prospects in the system by giving them NHL time before they were ready. Worst of all, bad trades including big names are a pattern since this is the same man who traded Tyler Seguin and Phil Kessel before their primes.

Related: Oilers Need Cam Talbot to Rebound

Trades Are the Solution. That’s a Problem

If you’re in the camp that it’s not the fault of the coach but the players, then you know that trades are necessary to fix the problem in Edmonton. If you believe management made mistakes with past trades, then you also know that same GM needs to make better trades to right the ship. Chiarelli didn’t take the heat for what happened with the coach today, but he also didn’t absolve himself from some of the responsibility.

This past week, the Oilers began a process of change when the made a trade for the sake of making a trade, moving out Ryan Strome for Ryan Spooner.

Ryan Spooner Rangers
Ryan Spooner, New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s way too early to know if this trade will turn into a good one or a bad one. Giving Spooner some time will be important. But, regardless of what happens, is this the kind of trade that makes a world of difference? Likely not. The best anyone can expect from Spooner is 15-20 goals per season, and that would be generous. But pretending this will take a step forward in solving some of Edmonton’s problems would be irresponsible. Knowing Spooner needs more time, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that trades will need to be better than this to make a dent.

Related: Time for Oilers to Go with Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins

The Untradeable Pieces

It would be nice to acquire pieces that could help the Oilers today, but if we exclude moving the contracts nobody wants, can Chiarelli be trusted to move players other teams might covet?

There are two kinds of untradeable. There are the untradeable assets like Milan Lucic, Kris Russell, and other contracts no team will touch. Then there are the untradeable pieces the Oilers should never consider trading. It would be nice to assume any GM knows better than to trade McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse or Evan Bouchard. But, can any of us really trust that this particular GM knows better? He’s already moved two players that were at one time considered untouchable.