On April 24, 2015, the Edmonton Oilers hired Peter Chiarelli to serve as their president of hockey operations and general manager, becoming the sixth individual in that role since the Oilers joined the NHL in 1979.
Chiarelli was generally well regarded at the time, having won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and reaching another Stanley Cup Final with the team in 2013. The Oilers were certainly excited to have him, with CEO Bob Nicholson noting that “a person of Peter Chiarelli’s caliber does not come around very often.”
Chiarelli’s history of bold moves promised Oilers fans more activity than the previous two general managers, and fans dreamed of a return to the playoffs featuring his team-building prowess and the soon-to-be drafted Connor McDavid’s arrival as a generational superstar.
Chiarelli’s First Two Years With the Oilers
Chiarelli spent very little time arriving at his first notable move, acquiring Griffin Reinhart at the draft on June 26, 2015, sending out the team’s 16th and 33rd picks in that year’s draft. It was a move that was nearly universally panned at the time, and remains an awful deal today, particularly in the wake of Reinhart’s development stalling as a mediocre minor-league defenseman and Mathew Barzal’s early stardom for the New York Islanders.
Chiarelli followed that with a better deal the next day, using draft picks to acquire Cam Talbot, who would serve as the Oilers’ starting goalie for most of the following four seasons. Despite Talbot’s inconsistency since joining the Oilers, this has generally been viewed as a positive acquisition.
After signing Andrej Sekera to begin to reshape the Oilers’ struggling defense, Chiarelli spent the remainder of his first season tweaking the edges of the roster, and made at least one other positive move, acquiring Patrick Maroon from the Anaheim Ducks for a fourth-round pick and Martin Gernat.
The following summer, he made his most controversial deal, sending Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson, one-for-one, three words which have become the rallying cry for Chiarelli-haters throughout Edmonton. He doubled down on controversy two days later, signing Milan Lucic to a seven-year contract that most believed he would struggle to justify.
The supposed sins of his 2016 offseason were forgiven by many as the Oilers thrived in the 2016-17 season, compiling 103 points and taking the Ducks to Game 7 of the second round of the postseason.
Chiarelli’s Last Two Years With the Oilers
Any capital Chiarelli had built up with the fanbase and media has been lost over the last two years. His major move of the summer of 2017 was trading Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, again a one-for-one trade which represented a major downgrade in talent and productivity. At best, it was a move to create salary cap space. However, Chiarelli failed to use the financial freedom from that trade, and the Oilers’ roster felt incomplete as the 2017-18 season began.
The 2017 offseason also included two other important transactions: signing Leon Draisaitl and McDavid to long-term contracts. McDavid was universally lauded for taking less money than he could have while Draisaitl’s contract received mixed reviews but is generally viewed as acceptable. It is reasonable to assume these two contracts will serve as Chiarelli’s most positive contributions to the franchise.
Other contracts signed that summer have all factored into the “death by a thousand cuts” that have torpedoed the Oilers’ roster. Useful players like Kris Russell and Zack Kassian were signed above market value. Money that is still on the books was spent on Erik Gryba and the buyout of Benoit Pouliot.
The summer of 2018 was no more useful, as Chiarelli chose to essentially bring back the same team that missed the playoffs by 17 points the previous season. Beyond that, he began a stretch of completely bizarre decisions like retaining Strome on a two-year, $6.2 million deal and buying out Gryba, which extended their cap liability for an extra season when they could have simply placed him, and his contract, in the minors for this season.
While Chiarelli started his tenure with a mixture of wins and losses in his decision-making, the 2018-19 season has seen only outrageous and indefensible choices.
He traded Strome for Ryan Spooner, which swapped their useful third-line centre for a player who has turned out to be unproductive and now destined for the minors. Strome’s contract was also significantly less restrictive to the Oilers, as he could have been bought out for a very minimal penalty while Spooner’s contract, based on his age, is barely worth buying out (per Capfriendly.com).
Chiarelli traded a draft pick for Chris Wideman, and then had to trade another, higher draft pick to get rid of Wideman in order to acquire Alexander Petrovic.
On the same day, despite the Oilers’ lack of capable wingers and plethora of depth defensemen, he traded Drake Caggiula for Brandon Manning, who is more expensive than Caggiula, is not a replacement-level player and intentionally injured Connor McDavid a few seasons ago.
Finally, despite very little proof that Mikko Koskinen can serve as, at minimum, an average NHL starter, and despite many comparable goalies making significantly less money, Chiarelli chose to sign Koskinen to a three year, $4.5 million per year deal earlier this week.
Casey DeSmith: 27 years old, 42 GP, .918 SV%
Mikko Koskinen: 30 years old, 31 GP, .905 SV%
DeSmith signed for 3 years, $1.25 mil AAV, Koskinen signed for 3 years, $4.5 mil AAV. Absolute insanity
— Dan Hopper (@DanHoppOPS) January 21, 2019
Oilers Fired Chiarelli Too Late
Arguing that it was time to replace Chiarelli as GM was has become pretty low hanging fruit in the past week, month or even year.
Last March, well before the latest run of moves described above, Jonathan Willis wrote for The Athletic that it was “impossible to defend keeping [Chiarelli] on as Oilers GM” (from ‘The Oilers have paid the price for Peter Chiarelli’s convictions. Now he must do the same’ – The Athletic – 3/8/18).
I must admit, I was originally excited to see the Oilers seemingly step outside of their organizational personnel-tree and bring in an outsider of Chiarelli’s pedigree. Through his first couple seasons, even amidst two major and very poor trades, I appreciated that he was building a roster that seemed structured and logical.
The last two seasons have been something different altogether. It was not just his lack of foresight that the league was trending towards skill and speed over size and grit, although that has been frustrating.
Chiarelli’s demise came from the simple fact that he has, with the exception of the Alex Chiasson signing, made decisions that any media member or fan could quickly identify as problematic, if not downright bad. He has bled talent in every trade. He has overpaid in every signing. He has given out no-trade and no-movement clauses like candy. He has furthered the roster imbalance. He has locked the Oilers in a salary cap hell so deep that any new GM candidate will have to think twice or three times about their own sanity before accepting the position.
Two summers ago, the Oilers’ roster could have been cleaned up fairly easily. After the inexplicable series of decisions since then, this mess will take creativity, shrewdness and most importantly, a lot of patience to emerge from.
Over the past month, it seemed that the Oilers’ future was under serious threat every day. If the team’s upper management had made this decision just two days ago, the goaltending future would be a blank slate instead of a significant commitment to an unproven 30-year-old.
Just a month ago the roster didn’t have an overpriced, minor-league level defenseman who the soft-spoken McDavid once called “classless.”
The Oilers were far too slow in removing Chiarelli from his role, and it will make the next GM’s job that much more difficult. However, Chiarelli’s position was one they could finally no longer justify to their very committed, and very angry, fanbase. With his firing late last night, the correct decision was finally made.
Note – Oilers transaction history reviewed from spotrac.com.