Freshly fired Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli met with the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton this week. What might his role be, and what would it mean for the rest of the Oilers brass?
It’s clearer every day the players won’t be the most intriguing free agents this NHL off-season. Coaching and front office vacancies keep sprouting up. We’re only halfway through round 1 of the playoffs, and we’ve seen bench bosses Todd McLellan (Sharks), Peter Horacek (Leafs) and Craig Berube (Flyers) part ways with their teams, McLellan via mutual agreement and the latter two via firing. Leafs GM Dave Nonis got the axe and, in the biggest bombshell of them all, the Boston Bruins pink-slipped GM Peter Chiarelli.
Was there cause for Chiarelli’s firing? Yes, most notably his bungling of the Tyler Seguin trade, the cap mismanagement of Johnny Boychuk and missing the playoffs this season.
But that doesn’t mean Chiarelli has to wait long to find new work. Chiarelli amassed quite a resume before the wheels came off. Chiarelli’s Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, reached the final in 2013 and won the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record last year. His nine seasons as GM were book-ended by a missed post-season his first year and the final year, in which the Bruins were eliminated on the season’s final day. Bruins drafted during Chiarelli’s tenure included key 2011 Stanley Cup cogs Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Chiarelli didn’t technically draft Phil Kessel but turned him into the picks that yielded Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.
It’s thus not a massive surprise to hear Chiarelli already met with another NHL team Wednesday. It was a mild surprise to learn that team was the Edmonton Oilers, since it muddies the picture as to what his future role would be. General manager makes sense, except the Oilers still have one, Craig MacTavish, as of this exact moment. We know Bob Nicholson is now CEO of all aspects of the Oilers Entertainment Group.
“As of (Monday), everyone in the organization reports to me,” Nicholson told the Edmonton Journal’s Jason Gregor this week.
So what about director of hockey operations, in a role similar to what John Davidson does in Columbus? Well, that’s technically occupied as well – by Mr. Kevin Lowe, who in theory had final say on all things hockey over MacTavish since Lowe slid into that role in 2013.
At Monday’s press conference, Nicholson also stated of hockey ops, he “would like to do it right away, but I won’t commit to that. I will do it when the timing is right. There are a lot of playoff games going on, so we won’t rush any decisions.”
It appears from what Nicholson said he wants to address hockey ops before the GM job, so the circumstantial evidence implies a stronger link between Chiarelli and hockey ops than the GM position.
It appears the Oilers are launching a massive rebuild starting with the broadest strokes. Install Nicholson as the true czar at the top. Then address hockey operations (Lowe? Chiarelli?), then address the GM position (MacTavish? Chiarelli?), then coaching (a Todd of some sort? Nelson or McLellan?). And get all the pieces in place for the epic draft, in which the Oil will crown Connor McDavid as Wayne Gretzky’s successor. Actually, Wayne already did that.
In two months’ time, will the Oilers have a brand-new brain trust following the Columbus Blue Jackets model, in which an established name like Davidson oversees an intelligent but lower-profile GM like Jarmo Kekalainen?
Another possible route: The Journal’s Jonathan Willis made a good point suggesting a sought-after commodity like Chiarelli would want a job with a fair amount of authority, so maybe GM and hockey ops get melded into one position, cutting out the intermediary.
Chiarelli seems like a smart name to target for a team fresh off missing the playoffs nine consecutive seasons. Still, the Oilers’ process feels a little backward. They’re meeting with Chiarelli and reaching out to McLellan before deciding the fates of Lowe, MacTavish and Nelson, which might ruffle a feather or three.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin