In this edition, Under Further Review chronicles the sorry state of the Oilers, plus the fall of the Western Conference and the Battle between Woods & Mickelson.
Edmonchuk Stew – Needless to say, the early part of the NHL season has been hard on NHL coaches and the carnage may not be over yet.
In Edmonton, a wholesale regime change is sure to take place this summer because someone is going to have to clean up Peter Chiarelli’s mess. Hiring Ken Hitchcock is certainly not the answer to a roster that has been entirely mismanaged. The Oilers are paying the price for years of poor drafting and a trade tree that has left the organization in a shambles.
If you take a close look at what ‘could-have-been’ in Edmonton from the time Peter Chiarelli took over the Oilers, it’s hard not to think what they could have in place right now.
When Chiarelli arrived from Boston in 2015, he was handed a young team with some fantastic pieces, lots of cap space and every opportunity to re-shape the team into a perennial power. It was, in large part, the result of having 4 first overall draft picks in a 6-year period.
When he arrived in Edmonton, the 2015 roster included Draisaitl, Eberle, Hall, Klefbom, Nugent-Hopkins, Nurse, Yakupov, David Perron and Jeff Petry. He then had the luxury of selecting Connor McDavid first overall in the 2015 draft.
What would follow? Chiarelli would undo all the good with one mistake after another. He traded Perron to the Penguins for Rob Klinkhammer and a first round pick but instead of using the pick, he sent it to the Islanders along with his own second round selection to acquire lead-footed Griffin Reinhart. In his infinite wisdom, Chiarelli thought he needed a big defenseman to contend with heavy teams like the Kings, Sharks and Ducks in the Pacific Division. Reinhart was a complete bust who was let go for nothing to Vegas two years later in the expansion draft. Meanwhile, with the pick, the Islanders selected last year’s NHL rookie of the year Matthew Barzal. It was also misguided not to find a taker right away for Yakupov whose value was diminishing rapidly. In the summer of 2015, you might have actually been able to get something for him.
Not to be outdone, Chiarelli foolishly paid big money in free agency to sign Andrej Sekera so he then determined it would be OK to deal defenseman Jeff Petry to the Canadiens for second and fourth round picks. Petry is a coveted right-shot defenseman and has become the Habs best blueliner. Instead of keeping the picks, Chiarelli dealt second and third round picks to the Rangers for goaltender Cam Talbot. After one decent year, Talbot has regressed big time and has played himself out of the number one job.
The following year Chiarelli traded defenseman Justin Schultz to the Pens for a third round pick and watched as Schultz helped Pittsburgh win two Cups. But the worst was yet to come. Chiarelli overpaid to sign Kris Russell as a free agent and then, still needing help on defense, he traded former first overall pick Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson. Yes, straight up! Hall would become the NHL’s Hart Trophy winner as most valuable player in his second year with New Jersey. Can you imagine how it felt for Oiler fans to watch the NHL Awards last year as Hall won the Hart and Barzal won the Calder?
Now sitting with a hole on left-wing thanks to the trade of Hall, Chiarelli panicked and signed Milan Lucic to a massive 7-year, 42 million dollar free agent contract. Trouble is, if Chia Pet thought Lucic could ride shotgun with Connor McDavid, he was sadly mistaken. Lucic couldn’t keep up with Moose Vasko and is now playing on a plodding third line with Kyle Brodziak and Zack Kassian.
Chiarelli figured he was now all set and could afford to flip Jordan Eberle to the Islanders for Ryan Strome. I’m not sure who was the pro scout sent to watch Strome but he should have his eyes checked. Eberle has been his usual clutch self for the Islanders while Strome just got flipped to the Rangers for Ryan Spooner. Perhaps the Oilers figured they had the wrong Ryan. Brutal!
Had Chiarelli left well enough alone and just hung onto his draft picks and built the team organically, he would have been in much better shape today. Had he held onto the second rounder in 2015, he could have selected Travis Dermott, Sebastian Aho, Brandon Carlo or Jordan Greenway among others. In 2016, the Oilers thought it was safe to trade Eberle because they had selected Jesse Puljujarvi fourth overall in the draft. That’s also not looking so good in retrospect. They could have selected Clayton Keller, Matthew Tkachuk or Mikhail Sergachev and would be in much better shape now.
In 2017, Chiarelli drafted Kailer Yamamoto in the first round and passed on Kristian Vesalainen, Eeli Tolvanen and Connor Timmons who all stand to have better careers. He also traded away his second rounder in 2017 in what was an excellent and deep draft.
Of course, it’s easy to look back and point out the mistakes and say it’s just revisionist history. But don’t forget, this was the guy who was sent packing in Boston because he traded away Tyler Seguin. You can’t deny the Oilers would be better off had they just left well enough alone including the ill-advised signings in free agency that has hurt their cap space.
The Oilers top six could now include Hall-McDavid-Keller and Draisaitl-Barzal-Eberle plus you would still have Nugent-Hopkins. All the extra draft picks that you didn’t piss away would be coming through the pipeline right about now. On defense, they could be building around Petry, Klefbom, Nurse and Schultz. Goaltending, of course, would still be a big issue but it wouldn’t be hard to find someone as good as Talbot.
The bottom line? The Oilers had a chance to develop something really special and they messed it all up – and that’s on Chiarelli. He handed Todd McLellan 6 scoops of horse manure and asked him to make a birthday cake!
Fall of the West – Not sure if you have noticed, but the Western Conference is no longer looking like the NHL’s powerhouse. It wasn’t long ago that the top 5 or 6 teams in the NHL all resided in the West. Hold on – that’s no longer the case. Perennial powers like the Black Hawks, Kings, Ducks, Sharks and Blues are all in some state of steep decline. Other teams that were rebuilding and hoping to rise again like the Flames, Oilers and Stars have just not found any significant traction. We won’t mention Arizona because we know they don’t count. I will be in a nursing home eating through a straw the day they contend.
The Pacific Division is now the weakest in the NHL. The four lowest scoring teams in the NHL now all reside in the Pacific. The Anaheim Ducks are almost unrecognizable. In their game against the Canucks this week, they iced a fourth line comprised of Brian Gibbons, Kalle Kossila and Keifer Sherwood. Thanks to injuries, their defense corps included Jacob Larsson, Josh Mahura, Marcus Pettersson and Andy Welinski. Who are these guys? The Ducks are sliding down the same path as the Kings.
If you look ahead a couple of years, there are two teams in the West that stand out and have a chance to really separate themselves from the pack and that’s the Avalanche and the Canucks. Both teams are flush with impact-type youngsters and if they stay on course, they have a chance to be very competitive for years to come.
You will remember that Colorado holds Ottawa’s first pick in the next year’s NHL draft which is certain to be a high lottery pick in a very good draft year. That’s one more massive piece for the Avs as they continue their rise in the West. Both the Avs and Canucks are sitting in pretty good salary cap positions as well so they have a chance to get it right. Remember, it’s about building a sustainable winner that can contend for the Cup every year during a 5-6 year window. It’s not about reaching the playoffs one year and missing the next.
The Match – Woods vs. Mickelson
For only $19.95, you too can have the luxury of watching two fading golf stars go head to head. Both are such likeable sorts. Phil should be in jail for insider trading but managed to avoid prison by ratting out the ringleader who ended up behind bars himself.
Of course, we know all about Eldrick who had a penchant for hustling waitresses from the local Pancake House not to mention the teenaged daughter of his next door neighbour. Tremendous role models!
Let’s get this straight – they want me to watch them play for nine million and toss around $100,000 side bets and that’s supposed to interest me? Sorry, I am busy ironing some pants for work! If the whole contrived affair was to benefit charity, I would be a little more sympathetic. The last thing these two bozos need is more money.
Mickelson and Woods are apparently going to donate the money from the ‘side bets’ to charity. Mickelson is donating to his own foundation, the Children of the 58 Fund and the Shriners.
Instead of posing behind pallets of stacked bills to promote the event, as native Californians, they should have thought about donating the money to victims of the massive fires burning in their home state. But that would make too much sense.
The big winner in the whole fiasco was the golf course – Shadow Creek – built by Steve Wynn back in 1990. It’s now owned by MGM and apparently they only allow 24 golfers per day to play the course. Needless to day, it’s always in pristine condition. It’s the first time Shadow Creek has been showcased on television and the course looked amazing.
Yankee Dollars – The arms race has started in major league baseball with contending teams falling all over each other in their pursuit for pitching. Leave it to the Yankees to land the first punch, acquiring Ladner’s James Paxson from the Mariners for 3 prospects. The big leftie immediately becomes the Yankees best pitcher. And you can be sure the Yankees are not done yet. Look for them to sign free agent leftie Patrick Corbin from the Diamondbacks as well.
The Mariners are probably not done cleaning house. Teams will be lining up at their door if they decide to trade Edwin Diaz, arguably the game’s best closer. The Red Sox would want in on Diaz because they plan to walk away from Craig Kimbrel whose busy auditioning for Duck Dynasty.
Pitching rules so you can expect a robust market for other pitchers that are being shopped including Noah Syndergaard of the Mets and Nolan Baumgartner of the Giants. There’s a bunch of contending teams looking for pitching including the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros, Cubs, Braves and Brewers so the bidding could get crazy.
Post Script – Well, I managed to make it through an entire blog without blathering on about the Canucks. I guess that’s what happens when the team is mired in a 7-game losing streak. Should we start the ‘Lose for Hughes’ chant again? However, the division is so bad the Canucks are still just outside a playoff spot despite the November swoon. That’s Gary Bettman’s dream of parity where every team is mediocre and somehow can magically stay in playoff contention!
A reminder that if you are in the Vancouver area, tune in to the Bro Jake Show on TSN 1040. I will be joining Jake and Gene Valaitis on the air at 2:30 on Saturday afternoon for our regular weekly tongue-wag!