EDMONTON — Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli was fired late Tuesday evening, after another loss at home — this one to the NHL’s last place team — sent the Oilers limping into its All-Star break with nine losses in its past 11 home games.
Behind closed doors, Oilers brass met post-game Tuesday evening to discuss their next move. Led by Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson, they decided to fire Chiarelli, and likely decided on someone to shepherd this franchise through the trading deadline and as long as the search for a new GM might take.
That news should be announced at a press conference expected for Wednesday morning. Chiarelli was in the fourth-year of a five-year contract.
So, this is where the Edmonton Oilers are at, four years into the gift that is Connor McDavid’s career: Another general manager fired in a season where the Oilers hired their eighth head coach in 11 years.
Rebuild 4.0 is scheduled for the summer of 2019.
On Tuesday evening the Oilers offered another listless, non-competitive effort for the first 40 minutes against Detroit, which entered the game tied for 31st place in the NHL. Edmonton was three points back of a wildcard 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 40 minute 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 — realized 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 transaction 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, deep 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 done his last interview as the Oilers GM. Or as a GM of any NHL 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 — starting with Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, and getting worse from there — were masked by over-priced free agent signings, then glossed over again with young prospects being hung out to dry because the roster is so poor their inclusion is somehow justified.
Mercifully it is over for Chiarelli.
As for Oilers fans, well…
Here you go again.