Pressure builds for Oilers, Chiarelli ahead of NHL Draft

The Apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in the Tkachuk family. Keith played 19 seasons in the NHL, his eldest son Matthew was drafted 6th overall two years ago, and his youngest son Brady is going to join him on June 22nd.

It’s Monday of draft week and your name is Peter Chiarelli.

They say an NHL general manager builds his team in the summer, and then simply augments it during the season. Well, the summer starts now, and you are fully aware that — in Year 4 of a five-year deal — you’d better get it right this summer.

The narrative of a building team that makes a huge jump to 103 points two seasons ago, then falls back for a year before tasting long-term success can work for you. But you have to make it work, because it is either that storyline in 2018-19 for the Edmonton Oilers, or the theme of a departing management team that has wasted another year of Connor McDavid’s career.

Chiarelli is in control of which conversation prevails this coming season. Now, it is his time to make the favourable scenario play out.

Here is a look at some names that are on Chiarelli’s tongue as he works the phones this week.


Milan Lucic

Let’s work backwards on this one, shall we?

With five years at $6 million per remaining on his contract — and a no-movement clause in place — whether or not the Oilers wish to move on from Lucic is irrelevant. The decision is in the hands of Lucic, and he and his agent Gerry Johannson have been silent.

The rumours are that he wants out. If this were not true, experience tells us the agent and player would have quietly — our perhaps loudly — quashed these rumours. They have not.

So, in the vacuum of information that exists, it is up to us to read the proverbial tea leaves, based on our extensive experience with players who come to Edmonton for the money, then for whatever reason decide that they would rather earn out that paycheck in another locale.

Lucic came to Edmonton to be McDavid’s left-winger. “The McDavid factor changes it all,” Lucic on July 1, 2016. “That’s why I chose to come here.”

The problem? That first season Lucic played 691 total minutes on McDavid’s left wing, just 478 minutes at even strength — about a half a season for Lucic. Compare to Patrick Maroon’s 792 minutes, with 764 at even strength, and you can see how Lucic lost his gig to Maroon.

Last season, Lucic’s total minutes with McDavid fell to 573 minutes — and only 435, or about 27 games worth — at even strength.

Heading into the season it is a foregone conclusion that — barring a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins trade, which we don’t see happening — RNH will be McDavid’s left-winger. So if the Oilers have moved on from their plan of Lucic being McDavid’s trigger man, we shouldn’t blame Lucic if he wishes to break his promise of spending seven years in Edmonton.

Moving this deal is next to impossible. This isn’t Nathan Horton, where a team simply takes on cap space. Lucic will arrive at your camp in the fall expecting to play, and his success at reclaiming his status as a 20-goal, 50-point player — which we believe can happen — will directly affect the dressing room he resides in. Good or bad, for five more seasons.

Our money is on Lucic reviving his career in Edmonton, and a year from now Chiarelli hopes to be quietly trying to move a rehabbed asset. If Lucic posts another 10-goal season, we’ll be discussing buy-out terms for Edmonton 12 months from now.

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Oscar Klefbom

This is a far more comfortable trade for Chiarelli, because if a deal is there he is happy to retain a solid, high-in-character, soon-to-be 25-year-old-defenceman whose only real drawback is that he has been hurt too much, and that has hindered his performance.

Klefbom has 255 games of NHL experience, and five more seasons at $4.167 million on his contract. He’s only now reaching his prime, but Chiarelli needs a power-play quarterback, which Klefbom is not.

So, theoretically, the GM would swap out Klefbom for a Torey Krug, a Tyson Barrie or a Justin Faulk, depending on the ancillary parts required to make the deal happen. And if the deal doesn’t work, you retain Klefbom, develop guys like Ethan Bear for a while longer, and wait to see who comes open around the league as the season wears on.

And like the rest of his roster, Chiarelli hopes Klefbom plays this season the way he did two years ago — as opposed to last season.

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Cam Talbot

Any trade rumour suggesting Talbot is being shopped for skaters is ridiculous. Yes, the Oilers brought in 29-year-old backup Mikko Koskinen. No, Talbot isn’t moving out.

Again, like over half of this roster, Chiarelli is expecting a bounce-back season from Talbot. So are we.

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