“We’re not going to blow this up.” — Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli.
That’s where Chiarelli stands heading into his third trade deadline as the Oilers GM, consumer confidence nowhere near where it was when he took this job in April of 2015. No one expects this roster to be “blown up.”
Now, the front office? Well, that’s another conversation.
Taylor Hall is on a 20-game points streak in New Jersey as the buy-out clock ticks on Milan Lucic in Edmonton, two of Chiarelli’s biggest decisions both trending in the wrong direction.
But Chiarelli is here to fix the problem, beginning with Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. He met the media on Friday morning, his 103-point team from last season on pace for a solid 74 points. He knows he has to do more than simply tinker with this lineup before the 2018-19 campaign, and that begins this weekend.
“We have to make some hard changes but we’re not blowing this up,” Chiarelli said. “I’m confident in the players that we don’t want to trade. They (the other GMs) are asking, but they’ve stopped asking.”
A few rules of thumb for Chiarelli heading into a busy trading weekend: Rather than simply moving out unrestricted free agents like Pat Maroon or Mark Letestu for draft picks, “You’re looking for a prospect that is close to playing if not ready to play. It’s an earlier return on your return. A player that can help.
“We’re looking for speed,” the GM said. “We hope to address that as far as prospects in return. That’s the primary objective of this deadline. You can always get picks. We prefer not to.”
It wasn’t the plan back in September, but Chiarelli is clearly denoted as a seller at this deadline. Traditionally, sellers deal pending UFA’s for draft picks. Every once in a while, however, two sellers get together and make a hockey deal.
Players of interest would be Arizona defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, scoring winger Mike Hoffman in Ottawa, or a generally productive Max Pacioretty in Montreal. That would expose Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in every case, really the highest-end Oilers forward who would be considered tradable.
“As far as hockey deals, we’re looking at a couple,” Chiarelli said. “I don’t know where they sit right now. There is some larger action going on right now, and we’re not in it.”
Translation: Chiarelli will wait until Sunday or Monday, when contenders who struck out on some of the biggest fish still have their hooks in the water.
Moving Nugent-Hopkins would have major ramifications on head coach Todd McLellan’s ability to play Leon Draisaitl on Connor McDavid’s wing. It’s a deal that would have to bring in a top power-play defenceman, a trade that Chiarelli simply has to get right.
That’s the GM’s biggest issue these days: he’s been wrong more often than right in his personnel decisions of late. An organization that expects to be better than this won’t settle for much longer for a GM with Chiarelli’s current trade record, as Hall reminds them daily of Chiarelli’s lagging trade record:
• Extending his points streak to 13 games and 20 consecutive appearances on Thursday, Hall just keeps making the trade for defenceman Adam Larsson look worse for Chiarelli. Sure, there were plenty of extenuating circumstances surrounding that deal, but predictably, Hall is even better with his second team than he was with his first.
The NHL is littered with players who grow up and improve upon being traded to their second organization. Hall is one of those. It’s also littered with former GMs who wince when they look at the scoring race. Meanwhile, Lucic patrols the left wing spot where Hall could be.
Would anyone make that trade today?
• Jordan Eberle ($6 million cap hit) for Ryan Strome ($2.5 million) was a salary dump. Six-million-dollar guys are better than $2.5-million guys — plain and simple.
But the transaction lands on the pile of trades you wouldn’t make if you had them to do over again. That pile is too big for Chiarelli. It had better not grow through the deadline and into the summer.
• Griffin Reinhart for the 16th and 33rd picks in the 2015 draft? Complete and total disaster for Chiarelli. Reinhart is on Vegas’ AHL team, while the Islanders drafted Mathew Barzal at 16 and used the other pick to draft Anthony Beauvillier.
The acquisition of Cam Talbot, Zack Kassian, Maroon and a few others are ticks on the positive side for the GM. And if the team was winning — and those players were all playing well — the tone of this article, and the narrative around Edmonton, would be different.
But they’re not. So they’re not.
This deadline will be Chiarelli’s last in Edmonton if he doesn’t start winning trades.