It’s getting to the point where you have to pack it in, right?
Peter Chiarelli said as much a few weeks ago: that the Oilers were “losing runway” when it came to turning the season around. At this point, they’d have to play at a pace of well over 100 points for their remaining 58 games to even have the playoffs be a possibility.
And it’s not that it’s outside the realm of possibility in certain ways. This remains one of the best possession teams in the league, but they’ve gotten worse goaltending from Cam Talbot than could have reasonably been expected to this point and the offense has been understandably muted given all the trades Chiarelli has made in search of the more stable defense he never actually obtained.
If we want to start blaming Talbot’s workload last season for his save percentage being 21 points below his career average, the line forms to the left, but it’s tough the pin the entire discrepancy on that; the Oilers are a top-notch team in possession but give up a lot more high-quality chances per 60 than that great CF% number would suggest. In terms of pure quality they deserve better results than they’ve gotten — it’s a roughly 15-goal swing between actual and expected goals, worth about five points in the standings — but clearly there are big issues with this team that go beyond their PDO.
This has all been litigated and re-litigated many times over, of course. Chiarelli blew up what could have been one of the great forward groups in the cap era in pursuit of being hard to play against, which is never advisable because of how overvalued things like “grit” and “leadership” are in the marketplace. Dom Luszczyszyn did a good job breaking down the actual cost the Oilers have suffered in terms of their overall quality, but what’s not discussed as much is that Chiarelli actually made the current team more expensive than it would have been had he not made the Hall/Eberle trades and the Lucic/Russell signings.
Another thing that doesn’t seem to get a lot of play these days is that if the Oilers are indeed Going For It this season — and frankly, they should have been — then why on earth do they have almost $8.7 million in unused cap space right now? Now, the obvious answer is they needed that cushion because of the size of the McDavid contract that kicks in next season, but there weren’t some guys on expiring contracts the Oilers could have scooped up? It’s perfectly valid if the answer to that question is “no,” obviously, and there’s nothing wrong with not using cap space if you don’t need to, but if we all agree the Oilers have problems, and they also have this much cap space, that seems like a big disconnect.
And again, no one is talking about that issue. Maybe there just weren’t a lot of options out there, but you’re going to tell me they couldn’t be doing better with some of the guys on the free agent market who could have been signed cheap than their current fourth line? It’s a little hard to believe.
Meanwhile, the trade the team makes this season is Mike Cammalleri, who’s not very good, for Jussi Jokinen, who’s also not great but is better than Cammalleri. The reason why the trade happened isn’t too hard to figure out. Cammalleri had three goals and seven points in 15 games for LA while Jokinen had a single assist in 14 appearances for Edmonton. But it’s a classic Chiarelli move; Jokinen’s possession numbers were 15 points higher than Cammalleri’s at the time of the trade, and moreover four of Cammalleri’s seven points came in a single game against the Canadiens. It’s a classic shortsighted trade by a guy famous for them, and boy if you haven’t heard the end of that story: “… and in the end, a Chiarelli trade made the Oilers worse.”
But all that aside, there’s a question that really needs to be asked in all this, and it’s right in the headline: What comes next for this team? They have a handful of expiring UFA contracts they can turn over (Mark Letestu, Patrick Maroon, and Cammalleri) and only $61 million in cap obligations for 13 players, meaning they might have as much as $19 million to spend on 10 guys. Not a terrible position to be in, and the UFA class this summer is pretty good, as summer UFA classes go.
Yeah there are still almost 60 games left in this season, but Chiarelli absolutely has to resist the temptation to continue tinkering in pursuit of this rapidly fading goal of making the playoffs. Sorry, because the Oilers won’t be mathematically eliminated for another three or four months, but the postseason is all but unattainable unless the PDO flips around right now and stays there for the entire rest of the year.
The idea, of course, is that the Oilers are reportedly shopping Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, potentially in a trade with Boston or Florida if the latest Hockey Night in Canada rumors end up being true. And for Chiarelli to even be considering that — who knows if he actually is? — shows a fundamental flaw in the guy’s thinking. You’re not going to get equal value for Nugent-Hopkins, who has been one of the Oilers’ better players this season, no matter what the Edmonton media would have you believe. So why make the trade for this season or next?
If you trade Nugent-Hopkins, you might as well trade everybody. Not because he’s so, so central to the team’s future success — he’s just a pretty good No. 2 center or elite No. 3 if you keep McDavid and Draisaitl apart — but because Peter Cehlarik or Nick Bjugstad isn’t gonna turn anything around for you either, and it’s just spinning tires and trading whipping boys for the sake of looking like you’re not just fiddling while the city burns thanks to the fire you set yourself.
Simply put, there’s no trade or series of trades that could be made to dig this team out of its situation in-season, and probably not in the offseason either, to be honest. What’s amazing is that in trying to build the team up, Chiarelli exposed it to a central rot that will only persist in making the roster worse as guys like Lucic and Russell age.
The Oilers don’t have answers here, and you can tell they don’t because their most recent solution was to practice with Connor McDavid as a right wing for Mike Cammalleri. That’s flailing for answers to an extent that is legitimately shocking and pathetic. If Todd McLellan — who by the way feels like he’s about two days away from getting canned — were a doctor, that’s worthy of a malpractice suit. And you could have reasonably seen this coming if you were paying even a little attention.
I hate to be making the same point about the Oilers in this column two weeks in a row, but this is a Chiarelli problem first and foremost, and everything else wrong extends from that (and again, if we’re blaming Talbot’s workload for his problems this year, who’s the guy who was supposed to get a backup goalie the team could trust even a little bit?). Fire McLellan, trade any fall guy on the roster you want, and this is still a team that’s fundamentally flawed and probably set up to waste most, if not all, of Connor McDavid’s prime.
This was perhaps the freest lunch in the history of hockey, and it’s not going to work out because he actively made the team around a generational talent worse. It’s amazing anyone will stand for the Chiarelli era, but here we are.
How the guy who put all the pieces in place for that failure still has a job is beyond comprehension, but whatever Chiarelli’s next move is to try to fix the problems he himself created, it should be his last as GM of this team.
What We Learned
New York Rangers: No he’s only the SNL skit guy. That’s it. Nothing else. He’s like Mr. Peepers.
Play of the weekend
What a pass from Taylor Hall. Man oh man.
Gold Star Award
Yeah tough break with Ovechkin’s politics but he really does seem like a generally nice guy.
Minus of the Weekend
Pretty amazing how media types who say all the time that they’re not allowed to be criticized by fans or other media types, but then criticize players, say players aren’t allowed to be affected by that criticism.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year
User “coachwithoutahead” definitely has this one figured out.
EDM gets: David Savard, Alexander Wennberg
CBJ gets: Leon Draisaitl
Ah, Superintendent Chalmers, welcome. I hope you’re prepared for an unforgettable luncheon.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)