EDMONTON — New Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson fired former GM Craig MacTavish, and informed Kevin Lowe he’d be moving from the hockey department firmly on to the Oilers Entertainment Group side.
But when it came to firing pro scout and former Wayne Gretzky bodyguard Dave Semenko, Nicholson hired new GM Peter Chiarelli, and let him deliver the news. Can you blame him?
“These are difficult decisions,” said Chiarelli, who moved out Ontario amateur scouts Brad Davis and Kent Hawley, pro scout Semenko, plus director of coaching Billy Moores over the weekend. “I’m someone who has been on the job for two months, and we’re relieving some really good people, and people who have been here a long time. They are hard decisions I had to make. It’s been a tough weekend.”
Of course, we’re kidding. Hiring and firing scouts is a GM’s call, and Chiarelli is making some tough ones early in his tenure in Edmonton.
But to Oilers fans, the continued dismantling of two areas — the Old Boys Club of former Oilers greats now in management, and a scouting staff that has simply not delivered — is the second best news they will receive this summer.
The first, of course, will come on Friday night in Florida, when Chiarelli steps to the microphone to draft Connor McDavid.
“At the end of the day we have to get better at evaluating players and developing players. Unfortunately some people have to lose their jobs,” he said plainly. “We have to … be successful at it, and that’s one of the reasons I was brought in here.”
Losing Brad Davis is particularly symbolic. Brad’s father Lorne Davis joined the Oilers scouting staff in 1980 and scouted several years alongside his son. So this coming weekend in Florida will mark the first time in 35 years a Davis has not been at the Oilers draft table, truly the end of an era and the turning of a page.
Like any project taken over halfway through, there is always going to be some teardown that precedes the build. In Edmonton, that period is pretty much concluded, as Chiarelli moves on to the next phase — acquiring a goaltender and a couple of defencemen. He won’t trade the No. 1 overall pick, and he might deal the Oilers No. 16 choice (Pittsburgh’s in the David Perron trade), though he’d rather not.
“Instinctively you want to keep the pick. Especially as the draft approaches, you get more pumped about that pick and the player,” the former Boston GM said. “The other level is, it can get you a pretty good player. So, instinctively, yes, I’d like to keep it.”
Here’s where the Oilers stand on a goalie: suitors want the No. 16 pick in any deal, while Chiarelli would much rather part with their No. 33 overall choice. The problem is, between Edmonton’s No. 16 and 33 lies two Buffalo picks — No. 21 and 31 — and the Sabres are also in the market for a goalie. Both teams covet Rangers backup Cam Talbot, then Ottawa’s Robin Lehner.
“There are goalies out there,” Chiarelli said. “We’re in a group of … maybe four teams that are looking for goalies. There are more goalies than that number of teams, so we’re in a buyer’s market. We’ve got multiple picks, so I seem to be a popular potential trading partner on that front.
“Would we trade a second round pick (for a goalie)? Yeah, sure.”
We’re betting he could have Talbot today for that No. 16 pick. We’re also betting he’d rather give the Rangers No. 33 and something else, assuming Buffalo doesn’t snap Talbot up with their second first-round pick. Either way, Chiarelli will find a netminder from one of three groups that is emerging in the market:
The small sample size, younger goalie who may well turn into a franchise goalie, like Talbot, Lehner or Martin Jones; the more experienced backup who is ready, perhaps, to be a No. 1, like Eddie Lack or Karri Ramo; and, the established No. 1, like Antti Niemi or Craig Anderson.
“I’m not adverse to either of the types of groups. For me it’s about fitting into how we’re going to improve our (defence), and how we’re going to play defensively,” Chiarelli said. “Whether it’s the trade market or the free agent market, we’re going to play better defensively. Our defencemen will improve, and their defensive play will improve.
“My guess is we’ll probably be able to do something before the draft, but I’m not completely sure.”
With extra first-, second- and third-round picks, Chiarelli knows he’ll be able to help his bare-bones blue-line and arid goal crease. He’s just not sure, quite yet, how it will all shake down.
The one thing he does know however — even though he won’t publicly declare it — is that he’ll be calling McDavid’s name not long after the draft begins Friday night.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Chiarelli said, smiling. “I’ve heard dimensional, generational, all that stuff. We had him in town last week with his family, he’s a humble kid but he’s driven. Excited (to be in Edmonton), if we draft him…
“As a manager, you see a player like that? It only comes around once in a while.”
Change, and wins. Oilers fans are hoping they start coming around once in a while as well.