If you’ve spent some time around Hockey Twitter lately, you’ve likely noticed that Edmonton Oilers fans are especially dour these days.
Can you really blame them? As splendid as it must be to watch Connor McDavid be some next-level hockey superhuman, someone with his alien-like talents can only overcome so much. The Oilers ended 2018 with a deafening thud, and the hits could keep coming in this new year.
Even the Oilers’ six-game losing streak is uglier than most.
In an NHL where “three-point games” run rampant, the Oilers remarkably failed to generate a single “charity point” from their current skid, losing all six contests in regulation. To rub a shaker full of salt in their wounds, only one of those losses came on the road, as they flubbed a five-game homestand to end 2018.
Now they begin the year with a four-game road trip, so a team that currently sits five points out of a playoff spot might only dig that hole deeper. Woof.
Chiarelli’s blunders continue
In all honesty, it’s still surprising that Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli kept his job through the disappointing 2017-18 season, when one of his few successful trades ended up looking less successful (Cam Talbot), while one of his most embarrassing moves was highlighted by Taylor Hall winning the Hart Trophy. It’s truly difficult to imagine a team flushing a winning lottery ticket down the toilet like Edmonton has mostly done with McDavid.
It’s painful to ponder the notion that, while Chiarelli’s big trades are lampooned to the point of becoming memes, his smaller moves also draw plenty of criticism.
On paper, it’s not that big of a deal that the Oilers acquired two marginal defensemen in Brandon Manning and Alex Petrovic, even if giving up assets like Drake Caggiula still makes the end result seem like a disquieting loss. But when you dig deeper, it’s almost comical how head-scratching it is.
McDavid said all the right things about Manning, but there’s no getting around their past:
At best, McDavid and Manning can keep things professional. Then you remember that Caggiula isn’t just a rare depth Oilers scorer who can help; he’s also close with McDavid.
“I’m going to miss him a lot. I’ve known Drake a long time … he’s a good player, a guy I really like,” McDavid said, via the Edmonton Sun. “We trained together in the summers but it’s part of the business and it’s happened enough to know that these things happen.”
As a reminder, The Athletic’s Scott Powers reported on Dec. 30 (sub required) that Manning was considered “untradeable” by many in the league.
So, the Oilers traded McDavid’s valuable, cheap friend for a (former?) foe, with the end result most likely making Edmonton worse. It’s all very on-brand for Chiarelli, who’s developed a reputation as the opposite of a trading maestro.
And the scary part is that Chiarelli might not be done yet.
Ominous music plays
Even a soggy, inertia-laden franchise like the Oilers must acknowledge that another failed season is unacceptable, and this team is in a very tough spot to make a playoff push.
Money Puck gives the Oilers a 23.65-percent chance of making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Corsica and other sites don’t get a whole lot rosier.
It’s foolish to count out any team with McDavid, but the point is that Chiarelli likely knows that they need to beat the odds. Even a GM with a history of genius trades would be vulnerable to foolish maneuvers in a situation like this, so there are very real worries that Chiarelli’s last stand will be a Quixotic disaster.
If you’re an Oilers fan, a simple line from the latest edition of Elliotte Friedman’s “31 Thoughts” is downright chilling:
Jesse Puljujarvi’s future is uncertain.
Look, it’s quite reasonable to wonder if Puljujarvi needs a change of scenery, yet would anyone wager that Chiarelli’s the person to get the most out of such a trade?
Botching a Puljujarvi trade could tie a fitting bow on the Chiarelli era of errors, but such a neat narrative would likely only deepen the suffering for Edmonton’s fans. And it’s far from the only scary scenario for the Oilers. Would Chiarelli throw away prospects or picks in the hopes of chasing a short-term fix? Would he misidentify the wrong type of player as an upgrade, only to lose another move? After dying down in recent years, would a terrible Nugent-Hopkins trade dig the knife deeper?
(Hey, is it me or is the “Jaws” theme playing?)
With the Ken Hitchcock honeymoon phase over, and the threat of more mistakes looming, the situation seems pretty grim for Edmonton. You can make a very real argument that, in the big picture, it would be better if the Oilers did very little during the trade deadline, missed the playoffs, and then moved on to a totally new outlook in the front office.
Of all the scenarios that could play out, it’s uncomfortable to admit that Chiarelli might once again repeat his history of lousy trades. The NHL’s other 30 teams might be licking their chops, but it’s a scary situation for the Oilers and their fans.
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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.