As the Edmonton Oilers once again find themselves in a tailspin, with a roster that is much closer to resembling a non-Vegas expansion team than a serious contender, a lot of energy is being expended to decide which of the team’s front-office members should be receiving a pink slip.
Should it be GM Peter Chiarelli, who completely owns this roster, has made this team slower and can’t seem to find anyone who can complement the best player in the world? Is it coach Todd McLellan, who can’t seem to have a competitive team when Connor McDavid is not on the ice and has been searching for answers since the beginning of last season? Should it be both? Should it be Bob Nicholson, the former president of Hockey Canada who was brought in to bring stability to the franchise and has presided over the hiring of a GM and coach who have spectacularly underdelivered?
Does it even matter at this point? It doesn’t. One of them, or all of them, have to go. Both Chiarelli and McLellan were brought in to change the culture of a team that had become something of a country club, a group where the notion of a meritocracy had gone by the wayside and young players were not being pushed to be better because there was no talent in the system to push them. Those same young players were rewarded with big-money, long-term contracts and rewarded the franchise by learning how to lose and accept losing.
And aside from one playoff run fuelled by getting the best draft prospect since Sidney Crosby, neither Chiarelli nor McLellan has moved the needle one iota. In fact, you could argue the Oilers have taken a couple of steps backward. The bottom line is that the NHL is a results-oriented business and the Oilers have not produced enough good results.
There are a lot of people who would like to see what this team would do with another coach behind the bench. There are just as many who are convinced that McLellan is not part of the problem and replacing him would be a desperation move that would achieve only a immediate boost, if that. They may be right. We know McLellan is a good coach and we know the GM has not supplied him with enough talent to produce a winning team. But McLellan has had four years with this group and it seems the same deficiencies that he was pointing out in his first year are still with them in the fourth. McLellan has a .578 points percentage in his tenure with the Oilers, which is light years better than the records posted by the five men who preceded him in the job – Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson.
Firing McLellan might not be the answer and you could certainly make the argument that this is not his fault. But it rarely is with coaches. Almost every time a coach gets fired in this league, it’s because the talent he has to work with is not good enough. And McLellan certainly seems to have a fondness for veteran players who continue to betray him with their play. This is a team that has a penchant for killing itself by not being able to put together 60 minutes of consistently good hockey, with huge lapses that lead to the Oilers falling into a death spiral. A penalty-killing unit that was atrocious last season is even worse this season. This is a team that seems to deflate like an unplugged front-yard Santa Claus at the first sign of adversity. Some of that is on the coach.
McLellan can’t control the fact that Cam Talbot has not been able to give the Oilers the big save when they need it. His GM responded to the latest swoon by swapping underachieving Ryans with the New York Rangers, acquiring Spooner in exchange for Strome, a player he acquired for Jordan Eberle, one of those aforementioned players who was rewarded with a big contract and responded by playing his way out of town. The litany of trades and other personnel moves that Chiarelli has orchestrated that have blown up on the Oilers is well documented. The Milan Lucic contract that looked suspect when it was signed is aging very, very poorly. Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, when they might have been able to get P.K. Subban instead. Pontus Aberg has six goals in 16 games for the Anaheim Ducks this season, which is more than the Oilers’ bottom-six forwards have combined. But he was given away on waivers last season after the Oilers acquired him for Mark Letestu. Justin Schultz for a third-rounder. We’ll stop there, you get the idea.
You see, the problem here is that fans of the Oilers deserve better. They have done nothing but sell out the arena that their tax money went toward building despite a team that has not even come close to living up to expectations. They deserve something, some shred of hope, don’t they? Firing Chiarelli will not make this roster any better this season and showing McLellan the door in favor of Glen Gulutzen or, gasp, Craig MacTavish on an interim basis might not yield any better on-ice results. But continuing to allow people who have not produced results in a results-based business to continue to work doesn’t do anything for anyone.
This might be one of those rare occasions where a change needs to be made for the sake of change. The same people delivering the same message is simply not going to cut it anymore.