While it did not come as a complete surprise, yesterday's appointment of Peter Chiarelli as the Edmonton Oilers new President of Hockey Operations and General Manger, it still managed to send shock waves throughout Oilers Nation. With Connor McDavid already firmly in this organization's back pocket, Bob Nicholson wasted little time in changing his management team and Craig MacTavish has no one but himself to blame for no longer being in the position he has held for the last two years.
Edmonton - April 25, 2015 - While it would be next to impossible to view the removal of Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish from their positions within the Edmonton Oilers organization as a questionable decision, Friday’s announcement that both would be relieved of their duties effective immediately was still rather shocking.
After unveiling Bob Nicholson as the club’s s new CEO of Hockey Operations on Monday, a move which could have hardly been deemed a surprise, seeing Lowe shift over to the business operations side of the equation was rather predictable. While that decision ultimately cost Patrick LaForge his job, it was move one could see coming from a mile away.
Same goes for the rumoured addition of former Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli into the front office equation. While having him come in as Nicholson’s right-hand man as President of Hockey Operations was hardly shocking, the fact he was also was handed the role of general manager during yesterday’s press conference sent shock waves throughout Oilers Nation.
After watching this team regress badly over the past two seasons, Daryl Katz finally came to the conclusion that the time had arrived to cut the cord with what many an Oilers fan like to refer to as the “old boys club”. Add that to the fact Chiarelli had just been let go by the Bruins, his past relationship with Nicholson through Hockey Canada and it was apparently an opportunity this once storied National Hockey League franchise felt was simply too good to pass up on.
On the surface it looked as though bringing on the Ontario native in the aforementioned role would give MacT one more lifeline to correct what has truly been a disastrous couple of years for the organization. While the former Oilers bench boss talked a rather big game upon taking over from Steve Tambellini, in all honesty, the fifty-six year old has been every bit as ineffective as his heavily criticized predecessor.
When it comes to an expectation and performance standpoint, one can very easily make the argument it has actually been much worse. While this organization made losing games a priority under Tambo’s watch, apparently that was no longer going to be the case with MacTavish guiding the ship. Unfortunately for him, that is not how things played out and that is what cost him his job.
During his time as general manager, this group posted what was frankly an embarrassing 53-94-17 mark. The only team who has been worse over that same time period have been the Buffalo Sabres, 44-102-18, but they are in the midst of essentially doing exactly what the Oilers under Tambellini. While seeing the Sabres at the bottom of the overall standings was no surprise, the fact Edmonton was right there with them, is frankly mind-boggling…especially after a decent showing during the lockout shortened 2013 campaign.
In fact, it was the general manager’s decision to replace Ralph Krueger with Dallas Eakins that played the biggest part in yesterday’s decision. Instead of allowing his young core to continue to develop and helping them down that path by surrounding it with a veteran presence who were not only capable of playing major minutes but also contribute in those roles, the GM did the complete opposite. By making yet another coaching change, this management team put their players behind the eight-ball and did so for no good reason.
It was no secret the players wanted Krueger to stay and considering they were coming off a season in which they actually took a step forward in the standings for the first time in ages, he should have been given the 2013-14 campaign to see what he could do with this group. He was not given that opportunity, as MacTavish felt he had found “his guy” to lead this collection of players and yet here we are. Can you say miscalculation?
While he certainly failed miserably on the veteran presence front by bringing in the likes of Andrew Ference and Ryan Smyth to take on far bigger roles than they were capable of handling at this stage of their careers, it was very apparent from early on that Eakins was the wrong coach for this group and yet management refused to deal with it. As bad as year one of the MacTavish- Eakins regime was, 2014-15 was even worse and whispers of unrest inside that dressing room started to pick up steam when it came to the head coach, the losses continued to mount and not surprisingly, it led to the former Toronto Marlies bench boss being given his walking papers in mid-December.
Unlike his two predecessors, Eakins was unable to have a single player take a real step forward in their overall game under his watch and actually had many go in the other direction. While some will point to improved metrics in certain areas by those in the advanced stats world, it clearly was having the complete opposite effect when it came to wins and losses. Add to that the Oilers continued struggles on the power play and the puzzling decision to give kids like Nail Yakupov and Leon Draisaitl either limited or no time whatsoever on the man advantage, and it was just a matter of when and not if the shoe was going to drop.
There is no question that Nicholson sat back and watched this mess unfold and was clearly not overly excited with what he was seeing. To his credit, the sixty-one year old let his owner know exactly what he thought and he essentially forced Katz’ hand. While he may not have wanted to fire his buddies, after handing over the reins to Nicholson to do what he saw fit earlier in the week, that decision was taking out of his hands and to be perfectly honest…it was likely his master plan.
Now does the hiring of Peter Chiarelli and promotion of Bob Nicholson guarantee the Edmonton Oilers will return to the top of the hockey world? Of course not but there is no question what was going on was not working and it had also made the Alberta capital an even less desirable spot for the better players in this league to consider coming too. While that likely changed a little last Saturday, as this organization was gifted the right to call out the name of Connor McDavid at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, that was only going to go so far.
That all changed with yesterday’s announcement and for the first time in what truly feels like an eternity, the vast majority of the hockey world are looking at this franchise in a positive light and as someone who has lived his entire life in this city and followed this team from day one and it is a breath of fresh air. Now let’s hope we finally start seeing an improvement in the standings because at the end of the day…that is all that truly matters.
Rob Soria is the Edmonton Oilers' correspondent for OurHometown.ca. Rob was born and raised in Edmonton and is the author of the Edmonton Oilers blog - OilDrop.ca. He has been a dedicated follower of the game and its history for years but his focus remains on his hometown Edmonton Oilers. If you have questions or wish to contact Rob, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org