If any organization should have it figured out by now, it is the Edmonton Oilers. Firing the coach at the first sign of disappointment is not a long-term solution, and general manager Peter Chiarelli said as much Sunday evening.
“I have no intentions of firing Todd (McLellan). I want to work with the coach, and I think he’s a very good coach,” Chiarelli said over the phone from Nashville. “As far as Todd goes, and (his staff), I am not considering firing them. At this point we’re going to solve it together.”
The Oilers season has been an abject disappointment, but it is the team’s ongoing search for rock bottom that is most disconcerting. The Oilers pulled their record up to .500 just before Christmas, but have lost six of seven games since, outscored 28-10 in those games.
Right now they’re barely competitive, outscored 20-4 in their past five games.
“Everyone is under evaluation, including myself,” Chiarelli said. “We’ve had our challenges from a coaching perspective, and we’ve had our challenges from a player personnel perspective. We went into the season with certain expectations, and we’re not even close to them.
“I see the situation we’re in. I see levels of improvement, but I also see the losses piling up,” he said. “There’s a plan in place, and a plan to bring up through the ranks, at the proper time, younger players.
“But remember my press conference (on Nov. 28) with the ‘death by a thousand cuts?’ That’s still going on right now.”
As a GM, Chiarelli failed to adequately replacing the injured Andrej Sekera on defence for the season’s first half. His salary-dump trade that sent Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome is also a sore spot for fans, but the downgrade in wingers has been exacerbated by all the regulars having poor seasons for Edmonton.
This is where coaching comes in, for some.
Why has Oscar Klefbom’s game descended so far? What happened to sophomores Drake Caggiula and Matt Benning? Why have Pat Maroon and Zack Kassian not been the players they were last season? What on earth happened to Mark Letestu’s usually dependable game? Why does Leon Draisaitl’s game come and go like the wind?
And then there are the special teams, which have been crippling for Edmonton.
Chiarelli has, among other possible solutions, considered bringing in another assistant — like long-time NHL assistant coach Perry Pearn — to help assistants Jay Woodcroft (power play) and Jim Johnson (penalty kill).
“It’s something we’ve looked at, talked about,” he admitted. That likely won’t happen, however.
The truth is, Edmonton’s spot near the bottom of the standings precludes Chiarelli from making a blockbuster trade. Even if there were one to be made, he would be dealing from a position of weakness the way most of his roster is performing.
“I have to have a clear head,” he said. “I have to stick with what we have in place, what we’re trying to do, for more than two months or a (bad season). But, we also owe it to our fans to make sure the team is in a position (to win), whenever that time is. I have to look at the bigger picture, but having said that, that bigger picture includes the coaching staff, the players …
“I have to have a clear head, and I have to have someone in charge — meaning Todd — who has a clear head.”
The special teams have fans clamouring to fire assistant coaches, but the reality is, designing a penalty kill isn’t rocket science. Players making wrong decisions, not blocking shots or clearing pucks is a bigger problem than how they are aligned for a faceoff.
The power play is partially on Chiarelli, whose team lacks a shooter from the back end. He has not been able to provide one, a failure on the GM’s part.
“I know special teams have been lacking,” Chiarelli said. “They’ve been working non-stop on them. I have the utmost confidence in Todd and the coaching staff as a group. This is about working through it.”
As a GM, Chiarelli’s M.O. has been patience. He’s not a hothead who fires people, though if we’re having this same conversation 11 months from now, we suspect that will change.
“That’s not to say it’s not a tool in my toolbox, but I am apt to look at the bigger picture here now,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re (never) going to make change, but Todd is a very good coach.
“We’re going to look at other things, other than what people are asking for as an obvious change. Although they may be asking for my (head) too.”
“May be” asking for the GM’s head?
There’s no “may be” about it, Peter.
That’s how it works for guys like Chiarelli, McLellan and the assistant coaches, when things go as sour as they are in Edmonton this season.