Peter Chiarelli is in a position of weakness this off-season.
Having missed the playoffs, there’s going to be a lot of pressure for the Oilers to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that what happened last season doesn’t happen again in 2018/2019. Pressure will be felt from the fans and sponsors, but also the league which would desperately want Connor McDavid, one of the league’s premier players, playing meaningful games in the spring.
After finishing 23rd in the league, posting a -29 goal differential, and ranking near the bottom when it comes to the powerplay and penalty kill – there’s just so many issues that can’t be ignored. And every other team knows it.
This is also going to be an important year for Chiarelli and his career as a general manager. If for whatever reasons the team misses the playoffs again, Chiarelli would most likely be out as general manager of the Oilers, and I think would have a tougher time finding another GM position elsewhere. As much as hockey men get recycled in this league, there are only 31 general manager positions. And it would be hard for an owner or executive group to justify bringing in an individual who could only make the playoffs once in four seasons, with Connor McDavid on an entry-level contract, and bled considerable talent along the way.
It’s for these reasons that I think the Oilers are going to force themselves to make changes to their roster – and in doing so will not keep a long-term perspective in mind.
The team was obviously bad last season, but it’s important to keep in mind that Klefbom was playing hurt, Larsson missed time and Sekera missed training camp and wasn’t 100% healthy when he returned. Those were the Oilers top three defencemen the previous season but neither played more than 66 games. Keeping this in mind, I don’t think the team should feel pressured to overhaul the defence core. If anything, the club could potentially look for a cheaper, specialist-type option that could quarterback the powerplay. But to move out, say, the 10th overall pick and roster players for a bigger ticket defencemen would be short-sighted and negatively impact the long-term goal of winning championships.
This is where I hope someone above the general manager has a long-term strategy or plan that requires any decisions made by the general manager to align with it. We’ve seen the role and aura of general managers gradually decline with nearly every team having a level of executive(s) above it. But it’ll be interesting to see how things will shake out: will they make decisions for short-term gain, or will they be smart enough to keep the long-term objectives in mind?
In my opinion, you can let Chiarelli have a plan to build a roster, negotiate contracts and develop prospects. But a higher-level plan or strategy would cover a wider spectrum of hockey operations, including the fundamental values of the organization, the shared mission/vision and a proper structure that includes the supporting departments around the general manager. In my mind, this would include the scouting department, player development, information analysis/innovation group, and a research and development team. [Should note, this is just based on my own experience working in the corporate world and from the research I did in school.] You win games by finding good players and keeping good players – so have the people, process and tools in your organization to do this.
Without a long-term, overarching plan or model for a general manager to make decisions within, you can expect more of the same short-sighted decisions that the Oilers have already made to continue. And that’s with or without Chiarelli in the general manager’s chair.
It’s about time the Oilers start to operate like a real business, one that has a well defined long-term strategy, and a structure that supports strong decision-making and execution. The Oilers sit in a position of weakness at a time when they should be chasing championships. And it’s disturbing that at such a critical point in their franchise’s history, they lack the structure and mentality to become a real contender in the league.