A spring of success will shift to a summer of change for Peter Chiarelli and the Edmonton Oilers.
The general manager addressed reporters in Edmonton Tuesday at his season-ending press conference and gave us a glimpse into how he will treat the futures of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, and Kris Russell.
He also dropped an injury bomb and gave his thoughts on both the expansion and entry drafts.
Here, in brief, are a dozen things we learned from the Oilers’ front-office czar.
Expect major long-term signings, not blockbuster trades
The Oilers have a specific order in which they intend to sign their players. It goes like this:
Chiarelli isn’t concerned about the Oilers’ cap situation for 2017-18, but…
“It’s the following year when Mr. McDavid’s contract will kick in, so I have to be cognizant of that,” he said. “We’ll certainly have the resources to keep a competitive team in place.”
Although the Oilers came within two goals of advancing to the Western Conference Final, there is no plan to expedite team building. He wants the young players to grow together, which is why, Chiarelli said, he didn’t add a high-end rental at the trade deadline (no offence, David Desharnais).
As for cooking up a blockbuster in the vein of 2016’s Taylor Hall–Adam Larsson deal?
“I may want to take a break from the summer for that one,” Chiarelli said.
This is the summer of satisfying Mr. McDavid’s financial needs.
We are not scared of your Draisaitl offer sheet
The GM characterized a hypothetical offer sheet for his impending RFA as “predatory,” a move that would only drive market prices up but serve no other purpose. He did say that the chances of such a rarity increase when a player like Draisaitl remains unsigned late into summer.
“We have a lot of cap space to match. Other than to penalize us, I don’t know why a team would do that,” Chiarelli said.
According to Chiarelli, Draistail’s representatives say the centre wants to stay in Edmonton. Negotiations could get tricky in light of the McDavid deal, but Chiarelli conveyed confidence.
“I don’t anticipate a problem there,” he said.
Who knows what position Draisaitl will play
Is the big, versatile German forward better slotted as a No. 2 centre or finishing McDavid’s plays on the right side of the top line?
“I still don’t have the answer,” Chiarelli admitted.
The GM’s instinct may be to establish Draisaitl as a firm C2 behind McDavid (think Gretzky-Messier if you want to get dreamy), but he’s not sure if this roster is ready for that just yet.
For one, moving Draisaitl to the middle bumps Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a third-line centre position, something Chiarelli spoke about with Nugent-Hopkins in his exit meeting. RNH is a team player willing to take any role assigned, Chiarelli said, but there is a sense his talents and desires align better with a second-line centre role. His $6-million salary certainly does.
Secondly, Chiarelli wants to give Todd McLellan the leeway to juggle Draisaitl around the lineup between and within games to give the Oilers their best chance to win based on matchups and chemistry. The GM noted the value of versatile forwards such as Desharnais late in this season or Chris Kelly from his Boston days — neither of whom are comparable to Draisaitl’s impact.
“In an ideal world it would be nice to have set centres,” Chiarelli said. “[But] I can’t go firm up a lineup. I have to be more resourceful.
“I want to give our coach the ability to flip-flop.”
The Oilers exceeded their architect’s expectations
Chiarelli set the bar at 85 points and meaningful games in March. “I had us in and around the playoffs,” he said.
Edmonton’s leap was “unprojected”: meaningful games in May, 103 points, a Game 7, and two heavy series’ worth of experience against proven post-season heavyweights.
The Golden Knights will force the Oilers to take a hit
Some front offices won’t even blink on June 21, the eve of the NHL Expansion Draft. Others we be sweat-soaked messes. The Oilers fall somewhere in the middle.
“We’re going to lose a player that we prefer to keep, and we have to decide who we’re going to protect,” Chiarelli said. “There’s a little more meaning for them to me.”
A few players at risk include defencemen Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba, centre Mark Letestu, backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit, and winger Benoit Pouliot. Chiarelli would have to incentivize Vegas GM George McPhee to take Pouliot.
The official word on rumoured trade bait Eberle
While many writers criticized Jordan Eberle’s goal-free performance in his first post-season, going so far as to speculate a summertime trade, Chiarelli believes they did so “unfairly.”
Chiarelli noted that the $6-million winger was the Oilers’ third-highest scorer in the regular season (20 goals, 51 points), that he’s done excellent work creating space with his quickness and smarts, and that even aspects of a power game began to come to the fore. Consistency is an issue.
“He’s a very skilled player,” Chiarelli said. “We have to be careful about how we evaluate him.”
The defence is good, just not, y’know, championship good
Chiarelli pointed out how the Oilers’ power play improved to 22.9 per cent, fifth overall, without the presence of “a pure power-play D,” a puck-mover with a booming point shot.
He liked the development of the Nurse-Larsson and Benning-Russell pairings, and praised the defensive depth of Nashville and Anaheim, the two teams left standing in the West.
“It would be nice to have a D at that level. We’re not there yet,” Chiarelli said. “Do we have a championship D core? I’m not sure yet.
“I’d like to let it evolve a little bit.”
P.S. One of our best defencemen was seriously injured by Ryan Getzlaf
Andrej Sekera suffered a torn ACL in Game 5 of the Oilers’ series against the Ducks when Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf hit him into the boards.
Sekera is set to undergo surgery Thursday and will be out for six to nine months.
This is a serious blow to the Oilers’ top four. Sekera is smart power-play man who logs heavy minutes and contributed 35 points from the back end.
Edmonton is willing to trade its first-round draft pick
Selecting 22nd overall, the Oilers have an unusually late first-rounder this June.
Chiarelli said he’s willing to trade down to the second round if the right offer comes across his table.
The Oilers don’t have a second-round pick but do hold two thirds and two fifths.
“It’s a good year not to have a second,” Chiarelli said. “[The draft] is a little deeper than the pundits have said, but still it drops off.”
He wants Russell back, despite what your chart says
Defenceman Kris Russell says he wants to remain an Oiler, and the feeling is mutual.
“I want to have Kris back,” Chiarelli said. “The way he approaches a game, the way he battles, his poise, his skating — I think he was a really good complement to our group.”
Russell will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and looking for more money and term than his $3.1-million, one-year deal for 2016-17.
Chiarelli said he needs certainty on McDavid and Draisaitl’s contracts before extending Russell, even if that means reaching the July 1 deadline.
He’s keeping faith in Puljujarvi
Though it would be hard to sell 2016 first-round pick Jesse Puljujarvi’s NHL debut as a positive, Chiarelli spun the focus to the 19-year-old prospect’s 28-point showing in 38 games with AHL Bakersfield.
“If you ask him, he’d say it was frustrating,” Chiarelli said. “Every time he touches the puck in the American league, it turns into a scoring chance.”
The Oilers must win more draws
Edmonton’s faceoff win percentage this post-season was atrocious: 44.4 per cent, worst among all 16 playoff teams. This was in keeping with their league-worst 47 per cent success rate during the regular season.
Much of this can be chocked up to size and experience. McDavid and Draisaitl should get better in this area, and Chiarelli gave faceoff homework to Nugent-Hopkins this summer.
But you have to wonder if the Oilers pursue a bottom-six centre like Brian Boyle to help in this area.