Edmonton’s Old Boys Club got dismantled on Friday.
Next up for renovations? The Golden Children.
Former Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli was, as first reported by Sportsnet, announced as the new President of Hockey Operations in Edmonton, and also given the title of GM. Long-time executive Kevin Lowe was shuffled out of the hockey department on to the business side, and we are left to assume that fired GM Craig MacTavish is mulling his future — either working under Chiarelli, or working elsewhere.
And on his first day on the job, Chiarelli put Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and the rest of the baby-faced leadership group on notice.
“I’ve actually made a few trades of good young forwards. That’s something I won’t shy away from,” said the GM who traded both a 22-year-old Phil Kessel and a 21-year-old Tyler Seguin.
In the long-term, this day was about new Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson adeptly stripping the “laughing stock” yoke from around his organization’s neck. With an experienced, highly respected GM in Chiarelli, whomever he hires as his new head coach, any scouting additions Chiarelli may make and Connor McDavid, does any doubt remain that this long delayed project in Edmonton will finally get off the ground?
In the short-term it was about MacTavish being fired as GM, and with him the elimination of undying allegiance to his young core that they would be “rewarded for their loyalty” with a chance to see the plan through in Edmonton.
As Bruins GM, Chiarelli traded Kessel to Toronto for a handful of draft picks, one of which would bring Seguin to Beantown. Then, when the Bruins were convinced that Seguin’s off-ice behaviour was going to devalue their player, he moved Seguin to Dallas in a deal that, frankly, marks one of Chiarelli’s biggest mistakes.
Yet, it was a bold move, the kind of deal MacTavish promised but never delivered on during his two seasons as GM.
“In this business you can’t be afraid to make trades,” Chiarelli said. “The way parity is developing, the way the cap is closing in, the margins are really small. I’m not afraid of doing it. It has to be the right moment, but those are deals you can’t be afraid to make.”
Nicholson came from Hockey Canada a year ago promising a “forensic audit” and has absolutely delivered. Any change that was to resonate with the Oilers fan base had to include the ouster of Lowe and MacTavish from positions of power within the hockey department, and this does exactly that.
It also brings a fresh eye to the project, one with zero allegiance to the players currently in Edmonton and a clinical outsider’s view of their value on the open market.
At the June draft Chiarelli will have an extra first-round draft pick (Pittsburgh’s, for David Perron) after he steps up to the microphone to announce Connor McDavid’s name with the first overall choice. Edmonton also has two second-round picks, and will have two third-rounders if the Montreal Canadiens advance to the Eastern Conference final (from the Jeff Petry trade).
Between those expendable draft picks, Hall and company on the current roster, and graduating juniors Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse, Chiarelli has plenty of assets to fill the chasms in goal and on the blueline that MacTavish left behind.
“This team has got a lot of good pieces,” Chiarelli said. “The way I handle these things, the way I work, there’s nothing really flashy about it. It’s about getting to know the people, the players, instilling an attitude and a philosophy about winning and the sacrifices it takes to win. The mentality that we all have to embrace.
“It has to be a measured approach. That’s the way I operate.”
Chiarelli didn’t promise any bold moves, like the last guy, because he didn’t have to. His boss, Nicholson, had already made the boldest one.
Cleaning house up top, adding a genuine NHL manager, and putting the kids on notice.
Bob Nicholson has been in Edmonton for a year, and may have just undone a decade of decay.