Earlier today, PHT spoke about the resounding, uncomfortable parallels between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel struggling to start this season (or at least struggling to find team success).
One can see a similar phenomenon occurring with some NHL GMs who made bold, polarizing moves to craft their teams in their images. In each case, their teams are likely to rebound – at least to some extent – yet it’s remarkable to see the similarities in how they’re being burned for, essentially, making unforced errors.
Ugly growths for Peter Chiarelli
Look, it’s not just about the Adam Larsson – Taylor Hall trade, or even the Ryan Strome – Jordan Eberle move.
Instead, we’re looking at an Edmonton Oilers team built in the image of what GM Peter Chiarelli believes is a modern winner. Players like Hall and Eberle are gone, in part, to make room for Milan Lucic and Kris Russell. With more than $8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, the Oilers assumed that they didn’t need to make additional moves during the summer – particularly to improve their defense – and there’s debate that it’s already too late to make a push.
In this salary cap age, sometimes you need to wave goodbye to quality players, but Chiarelli has instead moved younger, possible core guys out for older, slower, less effective pieces. I’m not the first to make this joke, but Chiarelli is the “general disappointment,” not the team. He’s the one who shopped for questionable ingredients.
The Oilers are asking too much of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Cam Talbot (who carried a ridiculous workload last season). Merely look to Tuesday night to see the strain for these players.
Bergevin in a bind
The parallels between Chiarelli and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin are, honestly, almost startling. (Bergevin’s the better dresser, though.)
Bergevin’s bet big on the Canadiens in the short term. Most obviously, he moved a younger star defenseman in P.K. Subban for an older one with a scarier contract in Shea Weber. Even the Mikhail Sergachev – Jonathan Drouin trade made the Habs older.
In many cases, the Habs suffer from old-school thinking in similar ways to the Oilers. The addition of Karl Alzner is divisive in that way, and it hasn’t gone well. Nathan Beaulieu isn’t a world-beater, but he can play a transition game that can help him fit in with the modern game, and the Canadiens gave him up for a pick. Andrei Markov walked to the KHL.
Much like $20M soon going to Connor McDavid + Leon Draisaitl, we can debate the Carey Price extension, especially with his health faltering, but those are the risks many NHL teams take. The thing that really stings Montreal is the unforced errors Bergevin’s made in crafting a team that plays “the old way” in some cases.
It hasn’t been pretty.
Another parallel between the Canadiens and the Oilers is that they both have cap space used for (???). It brings up a painful thought: Bergevin and Chiarelli, two swashbuckling traders, probably couldn’t get things done early this season. It’s basically the worst of both worlds for fans of the Canadiens and Oilers.
This quote from Bergevin via The Athletic’s Apron Basu (again, sub required), almost feels like he’s becoming slowly, painfully self-aware:
” … So it’s hard to make trades, it’s just the way it is,” Bergevin said. “There’s a few here and there, but at the end of the day teams want to keep their core players. That’s just the way it is.”
Bad defenses, a feeling of desperation mixed with little room for moves, and all this cap space going to waste. Yeah, this is sounding familiar. Both teams are also suffering with goalie headaches, with Carey Price ailing and Talbot struggling.
Thank goodness Dale Tallon’s back?
Of course, in both cases, asking for an Oilers/Canadiens trade is a “careful what you wish for” proposition.
Just look at the Florida Panthers and reinstated GM Dale Tallon, who showed an almost charming lack of self-awareness in discussing his return to a team that … still seems rudderless.
The Panthers allowed Jaromir Jagr to walk in free agency and gave Jason Demers, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault away for little more than mulligans.
Last season, Florida saw crushing injuries to Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau while experiencing a slew of front office headaches. Tallon’s been able to resume control, and in doing so, going back to … wait for it … and old-school design.
Oh yeah, and gutting the sort of depth you need to succeed when that awesome Barkov line can’t do everything, kind of like Edmonton struggling when McDavid can’t do everything. This all sound familiar, doesn’t it?
Seriously, the parallels get creepier the deeper you dive.
The three teams even boast nearly identical records. Both the Oilers and Panthers are 7-11-2 as of this writing, while the Canadiens sit at 8-11-2.
Now there are differences at hand; it seems like the Canadiens and Oilers are at least regretting decisions, while there’s some (at least public) defiance from Tallon. It’s also fair to expect improvements in each situation, especially with Montreal and Edmonton.
And that brings us to an important question: are these teams learning any lessons about giving up skill and speed? For all we know, it might be too late for this season, but McDavid, Barkov, and others are still easily young enough that their teams can get back on the right path.
That might not happen if their teams keep making the same, critical mistakes.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.