Peter Chiarelli (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Winning the draft lottery and landing Connor McDavid was huge for the Edmonton Oilers, but so was nabbing GM Peter Chiarelli to build the franchise. Under Chiarelli’s guidance, the Oilers can be strong again.
Winning the draft lottery and getting Connor McDavid did not guarantee the Edmonton Oilers a playoff spot in 2015-16.
That’s okay, though.
Because Peter Chiarelli is now running the show and since he was not a part of this underachieving franchise’s recent past, he has no emotional attachment to the high draft picks that have not yet delivered. Thus, the chances are much greater Chiarelli will feel free to trade away some of the players previous management considered untouchables if it means addressing some of the Oilers most obvious needs.
The Oilers have missed the playoffs nine years in a row and 11 of the past 13 seasons. You might think a team that drafted first overall three straight years between 2010 and 2012 (choosing Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov) might be a little further down the road toward Stanley Cup contention, but that is not the case.
In each instance, the Oilers played it safe drafting the top-rated player – all forwards – even though they needed help in goal and on defence. That in itself is not unusual. Most teams pick the best available player regardless of team needs.
And it certainly made sense in the Hall and Nugent-Hopkins drafts, but in 2012 when the Oilers chose Yakupov, it could be argued they blew an opportunity to trade the first overall pick to address more pressing needs. The Oilers have clung to their top picks like they were precious gems despite finishing dead last twice, 29th, 28th twice and 24th in the past six seasons.
Chiarelli can change that.
At his previous stop with the Boston Bruins, Chiarelli demonstrated a willingness to take a risk and make the big deal when he felt it was appropriate. Chiarelli was the mastermind behind the trade of 2006 first round draft choice Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs and later dealt 2010 first round pick Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. The Kessel deal, which netted the Bruins two first round picks and a second round draft choice played a hand in the organization winning the Stanley Cup in 2010-11.
Those blockbuster trades illustrate Chiarelli’s inclination to do what he feels is necessary to fix his team rather than be crippled by the fear of making a mistake.
If you scratch below the surface, though, there are some obvious concerns. There is not a power forward among this group. Also, Hall, one of Edmonton's four alternate captains, plays a kamikaze style that has caused him to miss long stretches of games due to injury. Yakupov seems to be coming around as a two-way player, but has been awfully slow to develop.
The hope is the arrival of McDavid, 18, who is considered a generational player along the likes of Sidney Crosby, could spark a climb up the standings. However, even with all this talent, there is no guarantee the Oilers have what it takes to make the playoffs.
That much was evident Thursday when the Oilers kicked off the season with a 3-1 loss to the superior St. Louis Blues. Things certainly didn’t go the way McDavid likely had them worked out in his head leading up to his much anticipated NHL debut.
The teenage center had no points on 22 shifts (18:07 ice time) and was 3-for-13 (23 per cent) in the faceoff circle. Better days lie ahead for the budding star.
There are certain realities facing the Oilers. The best teams in the NHL generally have a stud on defence. The Oilers don’t. Also, if you don’t have a proven winner between the pipes, you’d better have a proven blue line with depth. The Oilers have neither.
The hope is 28-year-old Cam Talbot is the answer in goal, but the reality is the Caledonia, Ont., native has yet to play 60 NHL games. He is as much a question mark as Ben Scrivens was before him. Add to that the Oilers backup goalie, Anders Nilsson, 25, has played a grand total of 23 NHL games and it becomes clear all the stars in the sky must align for the Oilers to have a shot at making it to the post-season.
Even with McDavid, the Oilers are very much a team in transition.
At the end of the day if I am a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, I am every bit as excited to have a gambler like Chiarelli sitting in the general manager’s seat as I am about the arrival of the game’s next star in McDavid.