If you want to make an Edmonton Oilers fan wince in pain, utter this line: “Peter Chiarelli isn’t done yet.”
It’s gotten to the point where a lot of hockey people wouldn’t trust Chiarelli to make a lunchroom snack trade with grade-school children, yet a bunch of factors point in the direction of another bold move … and in almost every case, bold trades have been unmitigated disasters for the Oilers.
Let’s consider the rumblings at hand.
- On Monday, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reported that the Oilers are in a “full-court press” to land some help at forward. They’re shopping three possible components according to Rishaug, with the two scariest components bolded to express my horror for Oilers fans: goaltender, first-round pick, and “a young developing forward” are in play.
Now, it’s not necessarily guaranteed that the “young developing forward” could be Jesse Puljujarvi, but that brings us to an additional, well-sourced report that should make Oilers fans pour out flop-sweat, and any number of opportunistic opposing GMs lick their chops.
- In the latest edition of 31 Thoughts on Wednesday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman also confirms that the first-round pick is “definitely in play,” while depicting an internal tug-of-war regarding whether Puljujarvi should be dangled, as well.
Friedman also notes a crucial facet of this, and something that could really increase the chances of Chiarelli throwing up a Hail Mary pass, only to be intercepted by a waiting defender/happy GM:
It sounds like people above Chiarelli are taking a “playoff or bust” mentality.
This would be a concern with your run-of-the-mill, good-to-average GM. But with a GM who’s shot himself in the foot with trades so often, you’d think he didn’t have any toes left, it’s terrifying with Chiarelli.
(I mean, unless you’re rooting for one of the NHL’s other 30 teams. Then you’re calling for someone’s head if they aren’t calling Chiarelli every 15 minutes.)
Last week, Friedman noted in a 31 Thoughts podcast that executive suites and other ticket packages will be up for the Oilers after 2018-19, so the team has some very bottom-line-related reasons to chase a playoff spot, even if it means giving up dangerous value.
In a more immediate sense, it feels like Chiarelli’s been more likely to make a one-for-one-type “hockey trade,” then moving a pick or prospect for a rental. After all, his most famous (Oilers) blunders involve Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, and then somehow losing another Strome trade with Ryan Spooner (who the Oilers are – pause for laughter – already trying to shop).
Chiarelli’s history is really just a buffet of bad trades, though.
After all, one of his most notorious trades meant paying up Edmonton’s 2015 first and second-rounders for Griffin Reinhart, who’s currently playing in the AHL and hasn’t made an NHL appearance since 2015-16.
Dig deeper and you open old wounds, including to Chiarelli’s trades with Boston.
Looking at those days, it’s even scarier to trust Chiarelli’s speculative abilities when it comes to a young player’s future, whether it means making the right move with Puljujarvi (not easy for anyone right now, frankly) or determining if a rental is worth a first or even second-rounder.
After all, Chiarelli traded Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. The disastrous Tyler Seguin trade has Chiarelli’s fingerprints all over it.
It’s not fair to lay the Nail Yakupov era at Chiarelli’s feet, yet that name brings up uncomfortable parallels for Puljujarvi. Edmonton faces a crisis here: is there potential that some other team might unlock in Puljujarvi once they trade for him, or could it be that he’ll continue to be exposed as a potential bust, ultimately leading to the Oilers getting very little for him if they trade him later?
(That agonizing groan you just heard came from Edmonton.)
One minor salve
This all seems like a disaster waiting to happen for Edmonton, and an opportunity for another team to sucker a desperate GM and franchise, right?
Probably, and that’s where things get worse once again: if Chiarelli believes – reasonably – that his job security is on the line, wouldn’t he be more likely to make reckless, short-sighted moves that hurt the franchise in the long run?
With that in mind, there might be one way for the Oilers to mitigate a larger-scale disaster, even if it might mean a lower ceiling for this season. The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis makes a very even-keeled suggestion (sub required): the Oilers should determine Chiarelli’s future in the next week, whether that means firing him or keeping him around.
Now, sure, more Chiarelli could open the door for more mistakes. In the grand scheme of things, he doesn’t seem to be learning from those mistakes.
Yet, making that decision now instead of later would at least help the Oilers avoid digging a hole even deeper for the would-be next GM, if they part ways with Chiarelli anyway.
After all, as Chiarelli said, other teams aren’t looking to help you come trade time, and the Oilers might just experience that sensation one last time under their much-maligned GM.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.