Brandon Manning

Looking at Oilers’ future after firing Chiarelli

8 Comments

A “be careful what you wish for” scenario emerged late on Tuesday night, as the Edmonton Oilers finally fired Peter Chiarelli as GM.

The following morning, Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson addressed the future, mixing the reassuring (not wanting to blow everything up) with uncomfortable feelings of “same old, same old.” For many who’ve seen this movie before, there’s legitimate concern about sad history repeating itself.

So, what should the Oilers do? Let’s consider the good, the bad, and the Puljujarvi.

First, a quick summary of their cap situation

Thanks to the always-handy Cap Friendly, we know that: the Oilers are basically right up against the ceiling in 2018-19, and are slated to devote about $73M to 15 skaters next season. Yeah, that’s not great.

The most prominent pending free agent is goalie Cam Talbot, who’s almost certain to be gone after the Oilers signed Mikko Koskinen to that baffling extension.

Fresh voices

Keith Gretzky is serving as interim GM, while Ken Hitchcock’s been given very little indication that he’ll be coach beyond next season.

Maybe that’s a good thing. This team needs fresh voices, not situations like the front office being littered with relics from the failed past, like Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish.

Nicholson said that the Oilers will take their time when it comes to such future moves, so here’s hoping they get with the program. After years of attempting “heavy” hockey and getting humiliated in trades, how about being forward-thinking, whether that means playing to Connor McDavid‘s speedy strengths, or finding a savvy GM who will sell-high, buy-low, and actually be ahead of the curve for once? Just a thought.

Assessing the good

As The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis aptly mentions, the Oilers do have a lot going for them. Willis mentions:

So, that list includes two stud centers, one nice forward in RNH, and Klefbom, a 25-year-old defenseman who’s been very effective when healthy.

Let’s consider a few other intriguing players who could provide the Oilers with cheap, useful production in the not-too-distant future. If you’re noticing an omission, that’s because a certain Finn is getting his own little section in this piece.

  • Kailer Yamamoto, the 22nd pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. A promising, smaller forward, even if he’s struggled at the top level this season.
  • Evan Bouchard, the 10th pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, could be a building block defenseman for a team that needs help at that position.

Your mileage will vary on other players, but you could do worse than to start with that mix of proven talent and decent prospects.

Now to what they need to get right, starting with another young player whose future is pivotal for Edmonton, whether he sticks with the Oilers or not:

The Jesse Question

Considering the Oilers’ history of bold moves, it’s tempting to just rubber stamp the word “DON’T” on any talk about trading away Jesse Puljujarvi, the troubled fourth overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft.

But, as Sean “Down Goes Brown” McIndoe detailed in-depth recently for The Athletic (sub required), sometimes it actually is smart to move a Puljujarvi-type. The key can be filed under “easier said than done,” as it’s all about getting the right trade, if Edmonton chooses to do that.

And, as McIndoe notes, there is some risk in waiting too long.

If your trade bait doesn’t happen to have met expectations, timing is key. Move a guy too soon, and you risk seeing him turn into an Andrew Ladd or Rick Vaive, and you could be left with regrets. But wait too long and he’ll be Andrei Zyuzin or Stanislav Chistov, and you won’t get much of anything in return.

The Oilers have their own painful history when it comes to arguably waiting too long to move on from Nail Yakupov. Could they have gotten more than the weak deal from the St. Louis Blues if they punted sooner?

Look, there are times when I’d trot out advice that should seem obvious, but isn’t. The Oilers have been burned badly not just in trading away skill, but selling low on ice-cold players who were likely to rebound.

Puljujarvi is a little different because it’s difficult to separate his struggles from the Oilers’ own miscues, and to gauge what his ceiling might be. Few can credibly say they know for sure what kind of player he’ll become, but it’s crucial for the Oilers to get this situation right.

Net questions haven’t stopped

It would be irritating but acceptable if the Oilers merely overpaid a bit for Mikko Koskinen, if he was more of a sure thing.

Handing a three-year extension at $4.5M per year gets more reckless when you consider Koskinen’s unsightly combination of unprovenness (just 32 NHL games) and age (he’ll be 31 when the extension kicks in). His .910 save percentage this season doesn’t exactly kick down doors, either, even if Koskinen’s been respectable enough.

That previous paragraph is a procession of bummers, but the Oilers can at least do their best to put themselves in a position to succeed. It’s perfectly plausible that Koskinen could end up a great bet – he’s had his moments, and also goalies are extremely unpredictable – yet Edmonton would be wise to arm themselves with Plans B and on.

Keep an eye on prospects, in the draft and otherwise. Try to identify a free agent bargain, even if you’re unlikely to hit a grand slam like the Islanders managed with Robin Lehner.

Messing up with goalies can sometimes be luck of the draw, but Edmonton should look at, say, the Blues with Jake Allen and realize that contingency plans are crucial.

Shedding dead weight

Let’s be honest: barring a trip to the LTIR, it’s unlikely that the Oilers will get relief from Milan Lucic‘s $6M cap hit anytime soon. (Question: does Lucic have any rashes?)

Keith Gretzky or the Oilers’ next GM should do everything in their power to find creative ways to get rid of any bad contracts other teams might take off their hand, even if it means giving up a little bit of a bribe in return.

Would someone take Kris Russell (31, $4M through 2020-21) or Andrej Sekera (badly injured, $5.5M through 2021-22) off their hands? Maybe a rebuilding team would throw away Brandon Manning‘s $2.25M next season to try to reach the floor?

Sometimes an incumbent GM won’t admit past mistakes, which means bad contracts rot on their rosters for too long. With Chiarelli gone, the Oilers could at least make greater efforts to shake that Etch-a-Sketch. We’ve seen a ton of examples of seemingly untradeable contracts being moved, so it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Bargain hunting

If there’s an area where Chiarelli was passable, it was occasionally targeting some quality, cheap scorers.

To varying degrees, players like Alex Chiasson, Tobias Rieder, and Ty Rattie have served their purpose, at least for stretches. Even if the Oilers alleviate some cap concerns, chances are, they’ll need to be wizards of the bargain bin. On the bright side, McDavid is the sort of guy who should fatten the bank accounts of the Chiassons of the world, so that’s a workable aspect of this team.

One of those “fresh voices” might be especially adept at gauging who might be a diamond in the rough.

Pulling a reverse-Chiarelli

That brings up another point: maybe the Oilers can do to other teams what savvier GMs constantly did to Chia?

By that I mean: a) trading for players who are slumping, but are almost certain to get it together and/or b) determining supposed “lack of character” guys who can help them win.

It’s not just the Oilers who’ve done this with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. The Hurricanes traded Jeff Skinner after a cold shooting season. Dougie Hamilton may once again be an underappreciated asset.

Buying low on a talented player won’t necessarily be easy for the Oilers, considering their cap predicament, so this advice may be more pertinent if they can shed some of the Russells and Mannings. But if the opportunity arises, the Oilers could really start to turn things around.

***

Again, this isn’t the easiest situation. Chiarelli (and others?) really made a mess of this situation after getting the Lottery Ticket on Skates that Connor McDavid is.

Yet, even considering the cavalcade of mistakes this franchise has made, they’re not that far from being a more balanced and competent team.

It might be awkward to ask powerful front office executives to change the way they do business, but winning is worth more than a few ruffled feathers.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Oilers finally fire GM Chiarelli: report

26 Comments

(UPDATE: It’s now official. No replacement has been named with Keith Gretzky taking over in an interim basis.)

It is done.

It would appear that a loss to the last place Detroit Red Wings was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. And man, that camel was a stubborn such and such.

The Oilers reportedly fired general manager Peter Chiarelli late Tuesday after another miserable outing in a 3-2 loss on Tuesday, a move that the club is expected to formally announce on Wednesday.

The move, of course, was a long-time coming.

Chiarelli had failed to move the team forward, and in the eyes of many Oilers fans, only moved the team in the opposite direction.

The Oilers went from being a win away from reaching the Western Conference Final to one of the most disappointing teams in 2017-18. Perhaps it was just a fluke. Surely, a team sporting the best player in hockey couldn’t be held down for too long.

Tuesday’s loss, Edmonton’s third straight and perhaps most embarrassing of the season, was proof even McJesus can’t save this bunch alone.

The Oilers own a 23-24-3 record, shockingly just three points out of a playoff spot and yet still likely insurmountable.

In his wake, a litany disastrous moves that may take a while to make right after Chiarelli’s three-and-a-half years in northern Alberta.

We’re reminded of Milan Lucic’s contract, that Griffin Reinhart deal and others that saw good players — Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle — leave with less than adequate players coming to replace them.

More recently, the trade of Drake Caggulia for Brandon Manning, and the very recent three-year, $13.5 million deal for Mikko Koskinen, one based on less than 40 NHL games, a career .905 save percentage, and equipped with a limited no-trade clause just so Chiarelli’s legacy will live on in Edmonton all the longer.

Yeah, there’s a mess on a few aisles that need a major cleanup.

But by who? What the future holds is anyone’s guess at the moment.

In the interim, Sportsnet’s John Shannon said a member of the Gretzky family will take the reins in some fashion.

Keith Gretzky will assume many of Chiarelli’s duties in the next few weeks, with Vice Chairman Bob Nicholson being more involved until they find a new GM.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ken Hitchcock, who just took over as head coach earlier this season after the team fired Todd McLellan, take over the post at some point. He appears to want to stay in Edmonton.

It also wouldn’t be surprising to see some recycling, either. That’s kind of par for the course in Edmonton, re-using old parts hoping they work like new again. Canning a GM mid-season isn’t common.

That would be a shame, however.

Edmonton deserves a clean slate, from top to bottom. This isn’t going to be the first “rebuild.” It’s not the second or third either.

Connor McDavid deserves a better fate.

Oilers fans deserve a better team. God knows they’ve been starving for one for a long while.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings at Oilers

Getty

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Off the ice, it feels like there’s never a dull moment for the Edmonton Oilers.

Connor McDavid is admonishing anonymous teammates for a perceived lack of buy-in. Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli continues to make … interesting moves, with Mikko Koskinen‘s extension being an eyebrow-raiser, and Ryan Spooner being a tragicomic waiver addition.

It’s almost easy to miss the actual on-ice product of a team fighting for a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Oilers risk heading into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak, as they fell 5-2 to the Flames on Saturday and 7-4 to the Hurricanes on Sunday.

McDavid and the Oilers face a Red Wings team that’s currently tied for last place in the NHL with 43 standings points. There’s plenty on the line, including Koskinen playing in his first game since signing that extension, so we’ll see how Edmonton responds on Tuesday.

[GAME PREVIEW]

What: Detroit Red Wings at Edmonton Oilers
Where: Rogers Place
When: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Red Wings-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS

Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinGustav Nyquist
Thomas VanekFrans NielsenAnthony Mantha
Darren HelmLuke GlendeningAndreas Athanasiou
Jacob De La RoseChristoffer EhnJustin Abdelkader
Niklas KronwallMike Green
Dan DeKeyserNick Jensen
Jonathan EricssonFilip Hronek

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

OILERS

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Jujhar KhairaLeon DraisaitlAlex Chiasson
Ryan Spooner – Colby CaveKailer Yamamoto
Milan LucicKyle BrodziakZack Kassian
Darnell NurseAdam Larsson
Kris RussellMatt Benning
Brandon ManningAlex Petrovic

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

Ken Daniels (play-by-play) and Ray Ferraro (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Rogers Place in Edmonton.

MORE: Oilers bet on Koskinen with three-year extension

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Things could get even worse for Oilers

12 Comments

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 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.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blackhawks GM Bowman looking forward to Caggiula’s addition

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the 2019 Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET from Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

By Jay Cohen, (AP Sports Writer)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has been interested in Drake Caggiula for a while.

He finally got his man.

Chicago acquired Caggiula and defenseman Jason Garrison in a trade with Edmonton on Sunday for defensemen Brandon Manning and Robin Norell. Caggiula will report to the Blackhawks once he resolves a visa issue, while Garrison is headed to the minors if he clears waivers.

The 24-year-old Caggiula played college hockey at North Dakota with former Blackhawks forward Nick Schmaltz and Luke Johnson, a minor leaguer with Chicago. Bowman said he tried to sign Caggiula before he opted for Edmonton instead.

”We didn’t get him then, but we followed his progress over the last couple years, and I love the way he plays,” Bowman said Monday in his first public comments on the deal. ”I think he’s going to complement our team. He’s another young forward that brings a lot of energy.”

Caggiula has seven goals and four assists in 29 games this season. He had a career-best 13 goals in 67 games last year.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 1 P.M. ET ON NEW YEAR’S DAY – NBC]

”He’s got that combination, he plays pretty intense – he’s a smaller guy, but you wouldn’t know it the way he plays,” Bowman said. ”Obviously he was a prolific scorer in college, so he’s got the ability to contribute offensively, he’s versatile, plays wing, plays center, so when we had an opportunity to make the deal, I thought we had to take advantage of it.”

The Blackhawks play the Boston Bruins in the Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday. Bowman said they are hoping to have Caggiula’s visa issue resolved by the end of the week.

Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports