Edmonton is burning, the city’s hockey team is struggling mightily, and the hotseat should be SCORCHING for general manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd McLellan. Well, maybe not for McLellan, but you can bet your bottom dollar that it is.
See, in the NHL GM’s have a longer leash than coaches do. Is it right? No, it isn’t, but that’s just the way it is. Unfortunately, we have to have this conversation about the Oilers because the team is lifeless and going on the road with a 4-8-1 record. In that, the Oilers are 1-6-1 against the east. Edmonton will play four eastern opponents this week, all on the road, with a pair of afternoon back-to-backs set for Saturday and Sunday. Ouch.
The Oilers, as I mentioned this morning, are seven points back of a playoff spot. It’s more likely than not that they will be nine points back when they eventually take the ice tomorrow night in Brooklyn, putting them awfully close to the death line. If the Oilers fall over ten points back of the playoff cutline this month, it’s going to be near impossible for them to make up the ground and recover to make the playoffs.
In my mind, missing the postseason would be a massive failure. While the Oiler fanbase rarely agrees on anything, I think we can all sit back and agree that missing the playoffs with this group would be absolutely unacceptable. With the reigning MVP and one of the best four players in the world on their roster, AND another top-ten scorer from last year in their forward group, the Oilers should be a shoe-in for the postseason. The fact they are where they are is alarming.
If Edmonton goes 0-4-0 or 1-3-0 this week, they will likely be done. At that point, the question is no longer “Can they recover?” but rather “Whose is going to lose their job for this?” To be frank, it is inexcusable for Edmonton to be in the position they are in this afternoon.
The team has folded on the ice. They look ill-prepared night in and night out, and fold the moment adversity strikes. On the other hand, the club also is suffering from a severe lack of talent, and was gutted by the general manager in the off-season. As it stands right now, Peter Chiarelli SHOULD be on the hotseat, while Todd McLellan likely already is.
The general manager did a good job in his first season at the helm in Edmonton. There, he added Andrej Sekera, Mark Letestu, Eric Gryba and Cam Talbot to the mix. While Edmonton didn’t make the playoffs that first season, Chiarelli did a good job of finding solid players that could fill roles on his team. It was refreshing to see.
During the course of that first season, Chiarelli also managed to add Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon for essentially nothing via trade. The first 13 months of Chiarelli’s Edmonton tenure were terrific, there is no way around that.
His moves beginning that summer, however, were questionable. First, it was the Taylor Hall trade for Adam Larsson. I think the value there was very poor, but Larsson is a solid defender and he balanced the roster out last season. He hasn’t been as strong, but I like Larsson’s game and think he is a solid top-four defender.
After that, however, Chiarelli struck out big time. His seven-year deal for Milan Lucic looks like a complete boat anchor of a deal. His Kris Russell signing in October of 2016 panned out on a one-year deal, but Russell hasn’t been nearly as good this season and Todd McLellan appears to trust him much less, limiting his minutes. His four-year contract extension looks like another anchor for a team desperate for cap space.
The Jordan Eberle-for-Ryan Strome deal? Utter disaster to the point where Strome is already on the outs. Buying out Benoit Pouliot? Surprise surprise, he’s bounced back in Buffalo! Jussi Jokinen? Father time has apparently caught up to him.
The thing with Chiarelli is, he has bled talent out on a consistent basis. The Oilers are now faced with a lack of talent, and it has everything to do with the GM’s moves. He decided to save cap space this summer that he didn’t need for another calendar year. His moves, which actively made the NHL roster a much worse group than last year, are the main reason why Edmonton is in the spot they are in.
The hotseat likely isn’t even on for Chiarelli, but his moves are the reason why Edmonton is where they are. He made the team worse and he should pay for it. If I owned the Oilers, Chiarelli’s hotseat would be scorching by now. I suspect it will be if Edmonton finishes in their current standing, 30th place.
If the Oilers make a move soon, it likely will be firing the coach. Personally I think that is a mistake. While McLellan isn’t the best coach in the NHL, he is a serviceable veteran coach that has had a lot more success than failure during his career. He consistently had the Sharks as one of the league’s best teams during his tenure there.
The coach usually gets it first, but I have a hard time faulting McLellan when his general manager went out and traded his third highest scorer from a year ago, failed to replace his number three defender, bought out arguably his best penalty killer, and gave him no bottom six depth. A carpenter is only as good as his tools.
The only knocks right now against McLellan? His team looks unprepared some nights and the special teams have been downright awful to this point of the season.
I believe the hotseat should be turned up and that Peter Chiarelli should pay for his roster decisions this summer if this team doesn’t turn it around soon. Unfortunately, I suspect Todd McLellan pays the price if Edmonton struggles on this road trip. A winless trek out east or a one win trip may result in a coaching change in Edmonton.
Bottom line is this start is unacceptable, and missing the playoffs is a colossal failure for this organization. If it comes to that, someone needs to pay with their job. Edmonton was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender this season, but they appear far from it. It’s too bad, really, because Oiler fans deserve so much better than this sad-sack product.
Changes need to come if this doesn’t turn around soon. Fact of the matter is, that’s the price you pay.