Being a GM in the NHL is not easy despite what many Armchair GM’s and bloggers will try and lead you to believe. Sure, GM’s make poor decisions but it’s usually not because they are incompetent. In most cases, they are hired because they are qualified for the role. But, they are competing against each other so someone is usually going to get the short end of the stick in trades, or at the draft, or be forced to overpay in Free agency – it’s just the nature of the business. Perfect trades for both teams are uncommon. GM’s are in the business of trying to produce positive results within a relatively short window, while balancing a budget & trying to get ahead of their competition. Sometimes, they are forced to take calculated risks while relying on the professional resources and people that surround them. They feel the pressure of rabid fan bases to make moves as they constantly struggle for balance between achieving maximum results and maintaining building blocks for the future. Then by the end, they’ve backed themselves so far into a corner they have no way to get out. This was the case of Peter Chiarelli.
Did I support Peter Chiarelli when he was hired in 2015? Hell ya, I did. Like it or not, he still had a Stanley Cup ring on his finger as a GM. You can debate to what degree the role he played in that in Boston, but it still doesn’t take that ring off his finger. That mattered to me. He also wasn’t part of the “Old Boys Club” in Edmonton, which to me meant a breathe of fresh air away from the “same old, same old“. When Peter Chiarelli was hired, he seemed to be the antithesis of previous regimes that preceded him in Edmonton. Smart, bold, and a winner as a manager. That’s why I supported him. I wasn’t alone either. Almost every other Oilers fan at the time I recall, did so also…. at least until “The Trade”.
When Taylor Hall was traded, I certainly wasn’t one of these fans who was butthurt over the trade, and let that haunt me for years like some nasty smoking addiction. The truth is, I was never a Hall fan living in London and watching him play for Windsor. I just wasn’t. I rooted for him to have success in Edmonton and I admit he tried really hard but it was clear something needed to change when Chiarelli arrived. So when Hall got moved I was totally cool with him going. The trade was what it was – a one for one deal trying to deal from a perceived area of strength, to fill a decade long gaping weakness. In terms of value, even the biggest advocates for the trade admit that more should have come back to Edmonton, even if it was just draft picks. What is often overlooked however is, in that 1 week period, not only did the Oilers sign Milan Lucic but they also drafted Jesse Puljujarvi just days before the trade. So while the Oilers lost Hall from their roster, they added Lucic, Larsson & Puljujarvi which appeared at the time to be a win for THE TEAM depth. Did anyone think Looch would fall off a cliff after year 2 of that deal? NO. Would things have been different if the Oilers traded down and drafted a guy like Tkachuk or Sergachev instead? Maybe. Most people that follow me know I was all over Tkachuk and DeBrincat that year. Regardless, Hall was seen by some as an electric, one-dimensional winger who had controversy surrounding him, but ultimately could be replaced. The problem is, Chiarelli never really did.
Now that season following the trade, did I go on a banter, bashing all the anti-Chiarelli fans by rubbing the Hall trade in their faces? Absolutely. Part of it was because I was new to Twitter and felt the need to antagonize the “smart fans” who thought guys like Jason Demers, Cody Franson, Martin Marincin, and Zach Redmond were bonafide defenceman. Most of them were pompous & ignorant pricks anyways (and still are judging by their reaction to Chia’s dismissal). But more importantly, while many still chose to complain and be negative, I chose to stay positive and support the team and GM regardless. I became Team Larsson not Team Hall. After all, Hall was only one player. The core of he, Eberle & Nuge hadn’t done a thing in Edmonton up to that point, so if management decided that McDavid & Draisaitl would make up the new core instead I was totally cool with that. The Oilers proceeded to make the playoffs that year in what turned into a magical season. They were finally constructed to dominate a division that dominated them and ran them out of the building so many times it was great to get some pay back. That was a great “team” that year so no apologies. Chiarelli was up for GM of the year, life was good as an Oilers fan for once. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.
The Eberle trade was another necessary deal as he was too expensive and underperformed under McLellan especially in the playoffs. How can you justify keeping a $6 Million player who gets your ZERO goals in 13 playoff games, while ending up on the 3rd line? Combine that with Hopkins ($6 Mill) & Pouliot ($4 Mill) who were also on that line and who went goal-less those entire playoffs – clearly someone had to go. I understood the need to get better value with that money especially with McDavid and Draisaitl contracts on the horizon. Pouliot got bought out and rightfully so. I don’t care what the analytic nerds say; he was awful and hurt his team more than he helped, and was always in TMac’s doghouse. Surely, if Chiarelli could have talked some sucker into taking him & his contract instead he would have (looking back now, did he even try? Hmmm). Now, did the GM get enough back in the Eberle for Ryan Strome trade? Hell, no. I was never a fan of Strome to begin with.
What that trade basically did was free up money while acquiring a perceived solid player back in return. What it also did was remove a second, established scorer from a team that suddenly was really young and short of established scorers. Most “glass half-full” fans assumed with that extra cap space saved that Chiarelli would bring in someone to help out with the scoring by the trade deadline at the latest. But, that never happened. Like the Hall deal, talent was removed from the lineup but not adequately replaced either in the trades themselves, or separately. Rookies and fringe players were asked to step up and take on bigger roles. That was a big mistake as young players like Puljujarvi and Yamamoto simply weren’t ready yet to make the jump so the team regressed. Plus, the NHL changed. The big tough team Chiarelli built to win in it’s division in 2016, suddenly became that slow team that couldn’t keep up in today’s NHL in a couple short years.
What ended up happening over the next year and half as General Manager, was the constant overpaying of players, over projecting young player’s contributions, and overall cap mismanagement. The confidence of fans like myself who felt “don’t worry he’s got a plan, he’ll figure it out” started to wane especially by the end of last season. Other than Maroon for a bit (who he ultimately traded), Chiarelli was unable to add any forward who could make any real contribution in the Top 6 consistently. He started repeating mistakes of adding fringe players & forcing young players to be inserted into the lineup prematurely. He did not adequately replace the injured Andrej Sekera for two years in a row. Basically, he ran out of options.
The absolute breaking point for myself and many others was this season when it seemed everything Chiarelli did – was a mistake. Trading Ryan Strome who was at worst, a serviceable 3rd line player for Ryan Spooner who was having an awful season in New York made no sense. Spooner has subsequently sent to the minors.
Then, when the team needed defensive help he traded away a useful forward in Drake Caggiula who played with a lot of jam that is sorely lacking in Edmonton right now for Brandon Manning who has another year left on his contract and will by default be the #8 – #10 best defenceman on the Oilers when everyone is healthy.
There were several other head-scratchers too but that’s the gist of it. His time in Edmonton was clearly over. He had backed himself into a corner with no real solution on how to get out of it. Every trade got worse, every signing or re-signing drained the cap more. His moves became indefensible and the frustrations of Oilers fans overbearing. He had to go.
When Chiarelli took over as the General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers he didn’t have a lot to work with. The team’s defence and goaltending was awful, and the farm was bare. He and his staff did do a good job of drafting, fixing the leftorium and replenishing the farm during his tenure. I give him some credit for that. But in the end, a lot of the mistakes he made in Boston like trading away talent and not properly replacing it, and loosely spending against the cap – ending up being his downfall again this time in Edmonton. I supported Chiarelli right from the beginning and I really thought once we got McDavid he would turn the Oilers into a Championship team……but I was wrong. He made a lot of mistakes, then compounded that by making more mistakes and he deserved to be fired. I and many other fans put our faith in the wrong guy.
Despite his downfall, the future of the Oilers is still very bright in my opinion. The building blocks of a solid core are already in place, and there are plenty of quality prospects either on the cusp or on their way. You could argue the hardest pieces of the puzzle are already in place. But, the team is in salary cap hell right now and need someone to come in and undo the damage Chiarelli did. All is not lost, it’s not all doom and gloom. Just ask Islanders fans if you don’t believe me. But it will take time. Something that Peter Chiarelli ran out of.
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