The Edmonton Oilers have finally pulled the trigger, firing GM and President of Hockey Operations Peter Chiarelli according to multiple reports including John Shannon of Sportsnet. Keith Gretzky will serve as interim GM as the team begins a search immediately for Chiarelli’s replacement.
It’s hard to find a more disappointing team than the Oilers the last few seasons, and Chiarelli is finally paying the price for that failure. Despite having arguably the best player in the world doing incredible things on a nightly basis, Edmonton now sits 23rd in the NHL and just six points from the bottom of the league. They dropped below .500 yesterday with a devastating loss to the Detroit Red Wings, though the move to fire Chiarelli was apparently made before the game.
That decision also comes just days after the Oilers puzzled the hockey world with a three-year extension for Mikko Koskinen, despite the goaltender having just 31 games of NHL experience. Mark Spector of Sportsnet reports that the extension was negotiated by Chiarelli personally, a deal that was widely derided for being too expensive and premature. Darren Dreger of TSN tweets that the negotiations started in early December, with it being an “organizational plan” to extend the goaltender. CEO Bob Nicholson refuted the idea that Chiarelli completed the extension by himself, and expressed confidence in the goaltender going forward. Koskinen was in net last night against the Red Wings, allowing three goals on 27 shots.
Countless other moves from Chiarelli have been questioned, most notably the trades of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle that have not worked out well for the team. Hall went on to win a Hart Trophy with the New Jersey Devils, while the return for Eberle has dwindled into almost nothing with the team’s recent placement of Ryan Spooner on waivers. The Oilers have struggled to find offensive replacement for the talented wingers, and were rumored to be ready to make another deal to address that issue before the deadline.
Perhaps then this move comes as a precautionary measure by the upper management of the Oilers, who have taken the power away from a GM that was fighting to keep his job. Edmonton seemed to be in a playoffs-or-bust mode ever since the mid-season hiring of legendary head coach Ken Hitchcock, another move that has seemingly failed to breathe life into the roster.
Where the team turns now will be extremely interesting, as it’s not all rain clouds when looking towards the Oilers future. Connor McDavid is still just 22 years old and on pace to be one of the all-time scoring greats, while other talented prospects remain in the system. Though Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto haven’t been able to establish themselves as full-time NHL players, they still have more than enough time to grow into their roles. Evan Bouchard too looks like a solid pick for the team and is expected to be back in the NHL next season.
The biggest question now will be how the team deals with the rest of the 2018-19 season. They are obviously struggling to keep up with the rest of the playoff pack in the Western Conference, and may need to try and reset the roster somewhat over the next few months. The team is pushed right up against the cap and already has almost $73MM committed to next season. Getting out from under some of their big-money deals might be job number one for the next GM, in order to rebuild the roster with a group that can complement McDavid’s speed and skill.
Early candidates for the job have already been speculated on, including Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic (subscription required) listing Kelly McCrimmon (Vegas Golden Knights AGM), Mark Hunter (London Knights GM), Ken Holland (Red Wings GM) and several others as names to consider.