EDMONTON — Peter Chiarelli swallowed a portion of the blame, but wasn’t taking the bullet for his Edmonton Oilers‘ disastrous start this season. If you think he is solely responsible, we’d pose this question:
If starting goalie Cam Talbot’s save percentage hadn’t fallen from .919 to .901 this season, and if No. 1 defenceman Oscar Klefbom’s game was even remotely as strong this year as last, would the Oilers be 13-9-2 instead of the 9-13-2 they stood at prior to Arizona’s visit on Tuesday night?
In fairness, Chiarelli’s “death by 1,000 cuts” theme was likely the most accurate portrayal of what’s gone wrong in Edmonton this fall — with some of those “cuts” being mistakes by the general manager. He’s GM of a team that was good last season, and has not been good this season.
“We’re in second last in our division, third last in the league,” Chiarelli admitted. “It’s obviously a spot we are very disappointed to be in. You have to be vigilant, but you can’t over-react in the sense that you can’t just blow things up.”
Chiarelli stood in for a stout grilling on Tuesday. Here’s what he said:
• On some summertime decisions Chiarelli made that have not panned out:
“It’s fair to say that they’re not panning out in general. Part of being a GM is you have to balance fixing and going with your gut. You mentioned right side (forwards), depth on D, depth in scoring, backup goalie. Anything else? Starting goalie?” he said, only half-joking.
How does he fix it mid-season?
“You look at a lot of different things from coaching, to management, to players,” he said. “There’s no easy answer. No one is going to help us.”
• On making bets on young players — specifically wingers Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev and Jesse Puljujarvi — who haven’t yet proven themselves.
“Those bets aren’t lost wagers yet,” he said. “The broader issue here is, getting these players in our lineup at some point. These are players who you want to grow in your organization; players who will contribute to your success. It’s not a short-term bet. These are good players who are going to become better players, and you have to let them grow.
“The alternative to those players are players who don’t fit into future plans, due to contract restraints. (Who) just aren’t part of the grander plan.”
Slepyshev has been injured. And Caggiula, “could be better.”
• On Puljujarvi, on 630 CHED radio’s Oilers Now:
“Maybe we were counting on him to start the year. If that’s a mistake, then it’s mine. But he’s a good player and he’s coming. Of the eight games he played six have been very good. And it’s a significantly cleaner game.”
• On team chemistry that has fallen apart, year-over-year:
“Todd (head coach McLellan) and I met over the summer and we talked about managing expectations. We talked about the Flames a couple of years ago where they made it and the next year there were great expectations.
“Is that chemistry that these guys are having trouble dealing with the expectations? I don’t know. To what I’ve seen, and I’ve been with the team a fair bit this year, the chemistry, the in-room stuff seems fine. I can see why you might say it’s chemistry, and maybe it is to a certain degree, but to me it’s that these guys have to get focused and do their job.”
• On having nearly $8.7 million in cap space with a roster that has holes in it:
“I know there has been a line of thinking (that asks), ‘Why haven’t they used this (cap space)?’ You have to spend it wisely, and when you’re in the summer these things can hamstring you into the future.
“You have to look beyond this year with the cap situation,” he said, intimating that he couldn’t sign UFAs to two- and three-year deals, with the McDavid contract kicking in next season. “We do have some cap space now, and we’re in a position to use it. It’s just hard to shake (trades) loose right now.”