GM Hot Seat part 3: The end of Chiarelli

eberlestromeIt’s almost odd to think that Peter Chiarelli has been fired. It seemed like such an obvious move for so long that it felt like there had to be some secret plan at work to explain why he still had a job. I have to admit, I was one of those people. There were aspects of his tenure that were well executed and then there were head scratching moments where you wondered what the man could possibly be thinking.  Ultimately his downfall may not have been the elephant in the room trade that everyone expects it to be.

The Taylor Hall Trade
This was the kind of trade that needed to be made.  Edmonton had been searching for a solid defender to play the minutes and style that Larsson had played.  Feel free to research it for yourself, but Adam Larsson was the solution to a long time problem.  At the end of the 2014-15 season, the Oilers’ defensive unit for the final games was:
Keith Aulie
Brandon Davidson
Oscar Kelfbom
Martin Marincin
David Musil
Justin Schultz
So, on June 29, 2016, Taylor Hall was traded to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson.  This trade happened as a direct result of the single most disastrous move Chiarelli made.  It was his first trade and it happened 1 year earlier.

June 26, 2015
On this date Chiarelli made the mistake that would cascade and domino through his entire tenure with the Oilers.  It was a move to make the team immediately better and fill a void.  Griffin Reinhart played his junior hockey in Edmonton for the Oil Kings of the WHL.  The big 6’4 defender had been drafted by the Islanders 4th overall in 2012.  Reinhart had finished up his Junior career well and had played 1 moderately productive season in the AHL.  Everything seemed on track for the young defender to become an impact player in the NHL.  Chiarelli figured he had made the right deal in sending a spare 1st round and 2nd round pick to the Islanders to acquire the big defender.  He had these extra picks due to trades made by previous GM, Craig MacTavish.

We all know how this story ended.  Reinhart suited up for 29 games for the Oilers in 2015-16 and then never played for them again.  He was eventually taken by Vegas in the expansion draft.  The 2 draft picks?  They were used to select Matthew Barzal and Mitchell Stevens (by Tampa Bay after Garth Snow flipped that 2nd round pick).

Matthew Barzal vs. 29 games from Griffin Reinhart is ultimately what that trade has boiled down to because even if Griffin Reinhart becomes HALF the player he was projected to one day be, it won’t be for the Oilers.

Revisit Taylor Hall Trade
So now we come back and we realize that the Hall trade occurs because the Reinhart trade was a flop.  Edmonton was desperate on defense but not desperate up front.  Draisaitl had come into his own and there was this McDavid guy kicking around.  They’d both need contracts eventually.  Looking at Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle all locked up to multiyear 6 million dollar deals, Chiarelli figured he could part with one of them.  Would he have preferred to keep Hall and deal Nugent-Hopkins or Eberle?  Quite possibly.  However, there had always been rumors in Edmonton that Hall was cancerous in the locker room.  We may never know if these rumors were substantiated or not, but later comments from Hall after his arrival in NJ regarding Edmonton coaches may give credence to that rumor.  Seeing the opportunity to grab a back-end answer, Chiarelli pounced and sent the future 2018 Hart Trophy winner to the Devils for a humble, hard working defender.  And that might have worked out fine if not for….

June 22, 2017
For whatever reason, Chiarelli spoke to Garth Snow again.  Somehow that conversation resulted in Jordan Eberle being traded for Ryan Strome.  Strome had been another high draft pick in Snow’s stable that hadn’t been working out.  After a strong 2014-15 campaign, Strome tapered off and struggled to get back to the point production that he achieved.  The trade seemed lopsided to just about anyone who read it, but the salary implications seemed to be the driving force.  Also, IF Strome could get back to that 50 point player that he was, this would be a brilliant move.  If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, Peter Chiarelli would still have a job.  Strome did not get back to his 50 point form.  He had a 34 point year, but he looked pretty good honestly.  However, he didn’t look 25 goal, 59 point good like Eberle did.  Then at the start of the 2018 season, Strome started slow with only 2 points in his first 18 games so….

November 16, 2018
Chiarelli trades Strome to the Rangers for Ryan Spooner.  Pete trades a struggling former 35 point player for a struggling former 40 point player.  Sometimes these trades jumpstart players and they get back on track.  And this one did just that….for Strome.  Spooner on the other hand has continue to struggle and last week was placed on waivers for send down to the AHL.  Jordan Eberle > Ryan Strome > Ryan Spooner > AHL.

Free Agency
That chain of events above is definitely the biggest reason for Chiarelli’s demise, but he made some free agent signings that compounded his issues.  Andrej Sekera was signed to solve the defensive problem.  Chiarelli was forced to overpay him in free agency and gave him a 6 year, 33 million dollar deal.  The first 2 years of that deal weren’t terrible, but Sekera was limited to 36 games in 2017-2018 and hasn’t played a game this season.  The bigger albatross contract is the Milan Lucic deal.  It was obvious why the Oilers signed Lucic.  The Western Conference had seen a resurgence of “tough’ teams.  The Oilers, feeling the need to protect their young, skilled forwards made the moves to bring in Zack Kassian, Pat Maroon and Milan Lucic.  For the 2016-17 season it worked.  The Oilers made the second round of the playoffs and the big boys played well.  The three tough guys for the Oilers combined for 116 points, with Lucic carrying the bulk at 50.

The Ultimate Culprit
It’s hard to pin down 1 thing that really led to the demise of Chiarelli.  It’s really a compounding of factors, but the trigger for all of it, oddly enough, seems to be the Eberle trade.  It’s hard to say that trading Eberle led to Sekera’s career ending injury and Lucic’s rapid deterioration, but that trade seems to be the turning point where the Oilers went from a team on the rise, to crashing back to earth.

The tragedy is that for the most part, Chiarelli and his scouting team drafted well.  In a few years players drafted during this chapter of Oilers management are going to make their way into the NHL and the new GM will reap the benefits of the groundwork laid out by the man before him.  The other tragedy is that Adam Larsson may never be able to shake the mantle of having been the “other guy” in an infamous trade.  That’s tragic because Larsson is the kind of player that EVERY SINGLE NHL TEAM is always seeking.  He’s a big, strong, smooth-skating, smart, defensively sound, right-handed defender whom quietly soldiers on, night after night never taking a shift off.  Peter Chiarelli will always be remembered as the man who traded an MVP for a less-than-flashy defender, and as the man who couldn’t build a winner with the best player in the world on his roster.

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