Fans of the Edmonton Oilers may be anti-Peter Chiarelli, but current team general manger (GM) Ken Holland encompasses a different (and unheard of) perspective. Holland recently spoke to Bob Stauffer on Oilers NOW and praised Chiarelli for the current roster:
“It’s a big part, the job that Peter Chiarelli and his people have done previous to allow us to be where we are today.” The GM pointed out that Ethan Bear and Mikko Koskinen, both Chiarelli signings, have excelled this year. Holland also marvelled at Caleb Jones’ ability to compete at the NHL level.
Does Holland have a point? Let’s take a look.
Chiarelli’s Disastrous Moves
It’s no secret that Chiarelli made numerous silly—to put it nicely—trades and moves during his time as GM of the Oilers. How many did he make? Let’s calculate.
1. His most notorious trade? You guessed it: the infamous one-for-one Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson swap. Need I say more?
2. Oh, and signing Milan Lucic to a massive contract when the league was shifting from big and strong to speedy and skillful was a massive miscalculation that burned the Oilers for seasons.
Lucic met expectations in his first season with the Oilers (50 points in 82 games), and his bull-like presence came in handy at certain times throughout his tenure with the team. Yet, his ability to generate points dropped significantly in his last two seasons when the franchise desperately needed Lucic to produce.
3. What about when Chiarelli traded the Oilers’ first- and second-round draft picks in the talented 2015 NHL Entry Draft for American Hockey League defenseman, Griffin Reinhart? Who did the New York Islanders pick with Chiarelli’s giveaway? In the first round, they drafted Mathew Barzal. The 22-year-old forward has 169 points in 190 games. Ah, secondary scoring, to dream of such a thing.
4. Some may argue that choosing Jesse Puljujarvi over Matthew Tkachuk in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft was a major mistake, especially when you consider Puljujarvi’s current situation. But we can let this one slide. It’s tough to predict how young players will fit into the NHL.
5. After Jordan Eberle performed poorly in the 2017 playoffs, Chiarelli thought it would be a good idea to trade the flashy, skilled forward for Ryan Strome. To be fair, trading Eberle helped to clear up some cap space, but Strome didn’t amount to much as an Oiler.
During the 2018-19 season, Strome’s one goal and one assist in 18 games prompted Chiarelli to swap the centreman for Ryan Spooner, who also had one goal and one assist at the time of the trade. I think Chiarelli felt that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, and Connor McDavid were enough to carry the Oilers offensively.
6. Chiarelli also traded Drake Caggiula, a secondary scorer, for the man who intentionally injured McDavid in his rookie season: Brandon Manning. (The trade also included swapping Jason Garrison for Robin Norrell.)
Caggiula had 11 points in 29 games at the start of the 2018-19 season—more than most bottom-six players on the current Oilers’ roster have so far this season.
However, it is important to note that injuries to Oscar Klefbom, Kris Russell, and Andrej Sekera left a gaping hole in the Oilers’ back end, so Chiarelli had to act fast and make a move.
And, to top it off, last season, just before the 2019 All-Star break, after a three-game losing skid, the hashtag #FireChiarelli took Twitter by a storm. Fans were angry.
7. The tipping point for fans? When Chiarelli signed Koskinen—an unproven, number-one goaltender—to a $13.5-million contract spanning over three years. Sportsnet’s Mark Spector wrote about the signing:
“We don’t mind the three-year term or the goalie. But as is almost always the case, Chiarelli has panicked and paid too richly.”
How many questionable moves did Chiarelli make during his tenure as GM? Seven. And they were seven very impactful moves.
Last season’s performance even propelled a detailed rant from Jeremy Roenick where he stated that he was “boggled that this is a professional hockey team.” He went on to say, “This team might have, from 18 players, the lowest hockey IQ that I’ve ever seen in a long time… It’s embarrassing.”
Thankfully, Holland stepped in as GM and righted some of Chiarelli’s wrongs. But, for some odd reason, Holland thanked Chiarelli for the roster that has propelled the dismal-looking team from the last two seasons to first place in the Pacific Division this season. Does Holland have a point? Bear with me when I say this: Holland might have a point—might.
Holland’s Comments: Does He Have a Point?
Every hockey fan knows that the Oilers have failed to succeed since clawing their way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006—with some exceptions (2016-17 season and the current 2019-20 season). And Chiarelli’s roster moves haven’t helped. Or have they?
Let’s revisit Holland’s comments on Oilers NOW With Bob Stauffer: “You look at Koskinen in goal. He’s been outstanding. I know he’s got one regulation loss in like 12 games [now two losses]. And low twos goals-against average and he’s .925 or .930 save percentage. He’s been excellent. You look at Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, he’s up here now and is playing real well. And obviously the veterans, we knew about the veterans.”
He continued with: “I’ve made a couple trips into Bakersfield, there’s some good young players there. Certainly, I feel very fortunate to come into an organization that’s got some pieces. There’s some good young pieces. It’s about players on the ice and there was players in this organization. And it’s a big part, the job that Peter Chiarelli and his people have done previous, to allow us to be where we are at today.”
Holland mentioned Koskinen, one of Chiarelli’s controversial signings. Yes, he has had success so far this season, but he’s splitting the number one netminder role with Mike Smith. It’s still up in the air whether Koskinen can hold his own throughout an entire NHL season.
Analyzing Chiarelli’s Right Moves
Over the last few seasons, the Oilers have struggled to piece together a solid back end. But when you look at the defensemen Chiarelli brought into the system, it’s easy to see that despite all of his wrongs, he managed to do some things right.
1. He drafted Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and Evan Bouchard. Bear has shined so far this season. The young defenseman has been a major reason behind the Oilers’ success. His puck-moving skills have filled a void that the franchise has been looking to fulfill for quite some time.
Jones may not have made the squad initially, but his strong play after getting called up proves that come next year, he has a high chance of making the team off-the-bat. Meanwhile, Bouchard is one of the Oilers’ most exciting up-and-coming defensemen.
2. In 2018, Chiarelli signed unrestricted free agent (UFA), Joel Persson. Fans and critics alike thought Persson would have had a bigger impact in his first NHL season, but he hasn’t disappointed either. The 25-year-old will likely have a key defensive role with the Oilers in the future.
Chiarelli also did a good job with some contracts.
3. He managed to sign McDavid and Draisaitl to long-term deals. Draisaitl’s current play makes him worthy of earning a salary similar to Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner. He definitely deserves more, so kudos to Chiarelli for locking up Draisaitl long-term for a steal of a price!
4. Chiarelli signed Oscar Klefbom—a top-two calibre (almost number one) defenseman—to a seven-year extension worth just over $29 million in 2015.
5. The former GM signed Zack Kassian to a three-year contract worth $5.85 million in 2017. The feisty forward adds strength to the Oilers’ top line.
How many right moves did Chiarelli make during his tenure as GM? Five. Of course, this is just looking at the major moves that have made an impact. It’s also worthy to note that the infamous GM brought in Patrick Russell—a solid, hardworking defensive forward—who has played a significant role in the Oilers’ penalty kill, which is ranked second-best in the NHL.
Chiarelli also signed shot-blocker extraordinaire, Kris Russell. The defenseman brings grit and consistency to the back end. Some fans may tack this signing into the Chiarelli’s-bad-moves section, but I think Russell has been an exceptional addition to the team. However, Russell’s $4 million cap hit places this move somewhere between good and bad.
Does Holland have a point with his Chiarelli-directed praise? When you consider the fact that Chiarelli lined up the franchise with talented defensemen (Bear, Jones, Bouchard), while also locking up McDavid, Draisaitl, and Klefbom to long-term contracts, Holland has a point.
However, it’s impossible to look past the lack of secondary scoring over the last couple of seasons. Holland had to work hard to improve the speed, skill, and overall depth of the current Oilers’ roster over the summer. And he still needs to find more depth scoring.
If Chiarelli hadn’t stripped the team of talent, Oilers would have had a greater chance of making the playoffs more than once in the last 13 years. I believe that Chiarelli’s wrongs still overshadow his rights, but Holland’s comments help to highlight that somehow, through the Hall, Eberle, Reinhart, Manning trades, Chiarelli did manage to improve the future of the Oilers’ back line.