To suggest the past thirteen years have been rough on the Edmonton Oilers organization is about as big of an understatement as one could make. Their record over said time period speaks for itself and has directly led to certain “narratives” surrounding the team on an on0going basis. Most notably, the perception of the “Old Boys Club” running the show but that simply hasn’t been the case since the summer of 2015.
And yet, following last week’s dismissal of Peter Chiarelli, the all too familiar grumbling started to gain traction among both media and fans. Instead of focusing solely on the poor performance of the general manager and decision making of CEO Bob Nicholson, the apparent influence of Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Scott Howson, and to a lesser degree, Wayne Gretzky has become more of a story with each passing day.
This Isn’t on the Old Boys Club
A convenient narrative to be sure but there is no evidence to support it. Again, if we were talking prior to the summer of 2015, it’s not even a debate. Hence, why the organization went out and decided to bring Nicholson onboard to oversee the workings of the organization in 2014 and the eventual hiring of Chiarelli to be his general manager. It’s fairly straightforward but the Oilers continued lack of success has made the obvious unacceptable to some.
Let’s call a spade a spade shall we. Neither Nicholson nor Chiarelli took the jobs they did for the sake of doing so. If you’re being brought into to help clean things up, the expectation is to be handed the keys to the car and be allowed to do whatever necessary to right the ship, which is exactly what happened. A different direction from the traditional approach that had taken place in Edmonton and it applauded by the vast majority.
Need some perspective? Just go back and look at how things played out after the Oilers won the Connor McDavid lottery. In the week that followed, the organization promptly removed MacTavish as general manager, shifted roles for some within the front office and dismissed of others. Chiarelli wasted little time and started to flex his muscle immediately, by slashing the scouting department and putting his people in place.
Chiarelli Had Complete Control
After taking roughly ten months to analyze where the organization was, Nicholson decided what direction he wanted to go and hired the man he hoped would get them to where he wanted to go. Unfortunately, when the script doesn’t go according to plan, shifting blame elsewhere isn’t uncommon. And as is often the case, it is nothing more than a reach, just as the three plus years Chiarelli was in charge suggests.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 23, 2019
From a roster standpoint, the connection to former Boston Bruins players have littered Edmonton’s roster since his arrival and certain decisions were clearly tied to subsequent moves. Be it the moving of Taylor Hall and signing of Milan Lucic early on, to this season’s Ryan Strome trade and putting the final nail in the coffin of his head coach. In the eyes of some, the latter isn’t fair but actions speak louder than words and there have been plenty of examples.
Related: Edmonton Oilers Jersey History
If we are going to put the cards on the table, let’s not pull any punches. For a general manager to go out and trade for Ryan Spooner, who had been terrible with the New York Rangers, was confusing enough but to do it when he did, told us quite a bit. With the Oilers having just ended a four-game losing skid and showing signs of old habits creeping back into their game, it was rather obvious what was happening.
Too Many Panic Moves
How else do you explain moving your third line centre with no viable replacement in place, Kyle Brodziak sick and unable to play and the Calgary Flames next on their dance card? Though the team got off to a decent start against their provincial rival, the Oilers were manhandled over the final twenty minutes in a disappointing loss and promptly destroyed the very next evening, on home ice no less, against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Not surprisingly, McLellan didn’t coach another game and Chiarelli managed to buy himself more time…albeit to dig himself a deeper hole. My question, how exactly did the “Old Boys Club” influence these moves? That’s right, they didn’t and no one should be surprised by that. This was Chiarelli’s baby and it was evident from Day One that he had as close to full autonomy as any general manager in the league.
Now, do I believe for a moment that there weren’t those in the organization who let their opinions be known? Of course not but at the end of the day, Chiarelli had the final say and was the one pulling the strings. By the sounds of it, he leaned heavily on Keith Gretzky and Duane Sutter and that would make perfect sense. So please spare me the argument that Lowe and company are the ones to blame.
Look at Sutter…Not Lowe and MacTavish
Believe me, I understand fans are tired of this endless merry-go-round but can we not stop making up narratives to suit whatever angle we want to push? If you want to throw blame on the previous regime for what took place prior to the new sheriff’s arrival in town, have at it. No question there were those in the organization who weren’t fans of Hall and spoke glowingly of Griffin Reinhart but remember, the shift in power had already taken place.
Whether fans, media or whomever else want to admit it, each and every one of the “Old Boys Club” could have easily said thanks but no thanks and walked off into the sunset during the aforementioned summer of 2015. Though most fans and critics would have preferred that route been taken, they stuck around despite the real possibility of this coming back onto them if it didn’t work out. And here we are, three plus years later, going through the same song and dance.
The organization is still spinning its wheels and instead of solely pointing a finger at the two people who are most responsible, the CEO and general manager, many want to take the easy way out and it is unfortunate. To his credit, Nicholson has taken full responsibility and it’ll be up to him to right his previous blunder. For the organization’s sake, let’s hope he gets it right this time around.
At the end of the day, if portions or all of the “Old Boys Club” are shown the door at the conclusion of the current campaign, it would be more than an understandable decision. However, those dismissals would be based on their previous transgressions and not because of anything that has taken place over the past four seasons. Sorry but this isn’t on them, no matter how many times or loudly some want to say it is.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.