Firing Peter Chiarelli almost a certainty as Oilers limp into all-star break

Mark Spector joined Gene Principe to break down what exactly is going wrong with the Edmonton Oilers, from trades depleting their talent to the lack of skill on the existing lineup.

UPDATE: Sportsnet can confirm that the Oilers have fired general manager and president of hockey operations Peter Chiarelli after three-and-a-half seasons with the club.

EDMONTON — Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is a dead man walking this morning, as his team limps into its all-star break with a home-ice loss to the NHL’s 31st place team.

Behind closed doors, Oilers brass met post-game Tuesday evening discussing their next move. If it is to fire Chiarelli, which is almost a certainty at this point, then they’ll need someone to shepherd this franchise through the trading deadline and as long as the search for a new GM might take.

That’s where the Edmonton Oilers are at, four years into the gift that is Connor McDavid’s career: Another general manager in a season where the Oilers hired their eighth head coach in 11 years.

Rebuild 4.0 is scheduled for the sum of 2019.

The Oilers offered another listless, non-competitive effort for the first 40 minutes against Detroit, which entered the game tied for last in the NHL. Edmonton was three points back of a wild card spot and coming off of two straight home-ice losses, ample reason to try and collect two points with a 10-day beak beginning on Wednesday.

Instead, they trailed 2-0 after two periods and had a scant 17 shots on net. The Red Wings won 3-2, and the Oilers players won’t be able to get out of town on vacation fast enough.

The atmosphere around this team is poisonous, a toxic stirred by an "emperor has no clothes" scenario in which every layer of personnel — and the fan base — realizes the mess Chiarelli has created here.

The team is capped out, with the bottom half of its roster laden with over-priced, under-producing players — many with plenty of term remaining on their contracts. Ryan Spooner, who played 6:56 Tuesday, has become a metaphor for Chiarelli’s trade acumen, when he began a trade tree by dealing Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, then moved Strome for Spooner.

Spooner was on waivers Monday, and when none of the other 30 teams picked him up, he was back in Edmonton’s lineup Tuesday. Playing as ineffectively as he has since arriving.

In the dressing room after the game, we asked a player (who we will not name) if the team still believed in its roster. "Yes," he said, a one-word answer accompanied by a message: a long stare straight into the eyes of the questioner.

Did the stare say, "You’re not going to get me to sell out my teammates?" Did it say, "We both know the answer to that question, so quit putting me in the uncomfortable position of having to lie?"

Did it say, "You’re watching us play. What do you think?"

We can’t be sure exactly what that stare meant, but in the end the player was absolutely right to answer yes, and not expound. Because it isn’t fair that he, or his teammates, or his head coach, continue to field questions about why this stunted, poorly concocted roster cannot win hockey games.

Only one person can truly answer as to why Spooner is here. Or why the Oilers relieved Chicago GM Stan Bowman of his biggest mistake from last summer — the Brandon Manning contract. Or why Drake Caggiula was dealt away for Manning. Or why 20-year-old prospects Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto are having their souls crushed nightly in Edmonton, rather than being properly developed in AHL Bakersfield.

And that man has almost certainly done his last interview as the Oilers GM. Or a GM of any team, we’d wager.

On Monday, Connor McDavid came right out and admitted: "We’re not going to out-skill anyone. We’re a team that needs to find a way to win games 2-1, 3-2."

The next night, he babysat Yamamoto and Puljujarvi, who both took predictably unsuccessful turns on his right wing.

Puljujarvi played 13:13 on the night, after being yarded off of the top line early in the game. Yamamoto, who received 7:27 in ice time, replaced him. But when he made a mistake he was quickly sat down and it was fourth-liner Zack Kassian’s turn.

Under Chiarelli this organization has opted to keep two developing, young offensive players in the pressure-cooker that is the Edmonton market these days, and play them scant minutes on ever revolving lines. They make a mistake and get banished, likely wondering if they even want the puck the next time it comes around.

A team that admits that it doesn’t have enough skill, and this is how you develop your top two skilled forward prospects? With seven minutes a night and a seat at the end of the pine?

It’s all come crashing down on Chiarelli.

His abjectly inept trades, masked by over-priced free agent signings, glossed over with young prospects being hung out to dry because the roster is so poor their inclusion is somehow justified.

Mercifully it’s almost over for him.

For Oilers fans, well…

Here you go again.


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