By: Joseph Yanarella
The NHL is a tough league. A bad decision can have long-lasting and far-reaching implications for a franchise and its fans. Those decisions are made all the time, and we can only sit back in agony and watch. That’s why we’ve created a new NHL, the Never Happened League. In our new league, your teams’ GM always makes the right trade or draft pick, your coach always knows the right lineups to put in, and the lottery balls always fall your way.
Today, we take a look at what could have been if the Edmonton Oilers spent their Peter Chiarelli days in the Never Happened League.
We received news early Wednesday morning that Peter Chiarelli had been relieved of his duties as Edmonton Oiler’s general manager. It was a move that many saw coming, and that many more hoped would have come sooner. The timing may not have been as swift as some desired, but it still allows for this team to conduct a thorough search and not have their trade deadline mired by panic moves.
Disconcerting is a very kind way of describing his handling of trades and the salary cap. Very few moves he made outside of drafting Connor McDavid have panned out and made a positive difference for his team. He paid with his job, and rightfully so.
It made me think: with seemingly every move he made being the wrong one, what would things be like if we simply flipped the switch? Things are never so black and white (at least not in the real NHL), with position changes, personality fits, and numerous other factors coming into play. But still, it never seems as though a GM has made so many wrong decisions consecutively. For all the flack they get, even guys like Marc Bergevin – whose team is playing surprisingly well this year – and Doug Armstrong – whose trade record is actually pretty darn good – have some notches in their respective belts. But Chiarelli has one surefire draft pick to his credit, that’s really it.
Before we see how the team is constructed, let’s look at the fixes:
At the 2015 draft, Chiarelli doesn’t trade the Oilers’ 16th and 33rd overall picks to the New York Islanders for defenseman Griffin Reinhart. He instead hangs on to the picks and drafts forward Mathew Barzal 16th overall.
On July 1, 2015, Chiarelli doesn’t sign defenseman Andrej Sekera to a 6-year, $33 million contract. Sekera has posted solid point totals in Edmonton, but below-average possession and shot suppression numbers that certainly don’t fit his contract. The Oilers instead go with a shorter-term option, like Johnny Oduya, with less cap implications.
At the 2016 draft, Chiarelli passes on Finnish winger Jesse Puljujarvi and opts for Mathew Tkachuk.
On June 29, Chiarelli doesn’t compete with the Subban/Weber headlines and the deal that would send Taylor Hall to New Jersey in exchange for Adam Larson falls through because he realizes how freaking stupid it is. In a sudden epiphany he sits on his All-Star winger and salivates over the havoc he and Connor McDavid can wreak together.
On July 1, Chiarelli doesn’t sign winger Milan Lucic to a 6-year, $42 million contract in the hopes that he can be an all-in-one finisher and protector for his generational center. He has no need to fill the position, because he didn’t trade Taylor Hall and Tkachuk gives his team the edge it lacked before.
On June 22, Chiarelli doesn’t make what he sees as a lateral trade and send Jordan Eberle to the Islanders. He realizes Ryan Strome’s production won’t match Eberle’s, and he won’t fit as well in the lineup either.
On June 23, Chiarelli doesn’t sign defenseman Kris Russell to a 4-year, $16 million contract extension and instead lets him walk into free agency. With a big hole on the blue line, he swings and misses at the big fish – Kevin Shattenkirk, who wants to play close to home – and signs Karl Alzner instead, who may have said something about wanting to win a Stanley Cup.
The resulting lineup (via capfriendly.com) looks like this:
Totally cap compliant, with over $5 million to spare that can be used in the future for guys like Barzal and Eberle, or in the present to address the admittedly thin defense. But dear lord, that forward group. Does anyone think the Oilers would be a collective minus-53 without Connor McDavid on the ice while fielding this team? Does anything think they’d need him to put up Hart and Art Ross numbers every year just to get to .500? I sure as hell don’t. The shear wow-factor of that lineup with three legit top-line centers and wingers who can actually score is plain impressive.
In the not-so-impressive category, it paints a damning picture of just how badly Chiarelli mismanaged this roster and how much talent he let escape under his watch.
The “Decade of Darkness” ended in Edmonton, and now the “Reign of Terror” – okay, I’m the only person I know who calls it that but it’s definitely accurate- has as well. Only bright days lie ahead for teams in our league, but with this move Oilers fans can have the same hope with the real deal.