Go back and read almost any analysis about the NHL 2017-2018 season and the Edmonton Oilers were supposed to be going for a Stanley Cup. Sportsnet’s Mark Spector wrote “Anything less than the third round in 2018 will be viewed a disappointment.” Now, they won’t make the playoffs. What do you do? As an organization, a coaching staff, and management group: what do you do when you are the biggest disappointment of the NHL season? Inconsistency is the end of most staff members and often a lot of players. What moves will the Oilers make to save their face? I can venture a guess but that’s all I’ve got, caus they really could do anything right now.
Who Do You Fire: Chiarelli or McLellan?
I vote Peter Chiarelli. The Oilers were floundering long before the trade deadline. The trade deadline should have been their moment to save themselves. Instead, Chiarelli, made minimal moves and some that were downright confusing, to say the least. Yes, he dumped Brandon Davidson who was not turning up his stride at for their defensive core. He was falling to the back of the pack so negotiating anyone to take him away was a miracle by some standards. But then there are the rest of the moves: the other two to speak of. First was the Mark Letestu move. Yes, Letestu was not gonna be back to the Oilers the next year. But in what world do you take on the virtually unknown Pontus Aberg? Aberg turned out less than 20 points all season. Letestu has not exactly thrived in Columbus but his numbers in Edmonton before the trade show that he would have remained a larger contributor than most of the team has and certainly more than Arberg.
The two big affronts were the trade of Patrick Maroon for just one draft pick and the lack of a goalie acquisition. Maroon was not having a good season; no one is gonna say that he should have been kept but a third draft pick is nothing in this trade season. Similar forwards were coming from far worse teams for twice what Chiarelli got for him. In that moment, I’d argue the devil you know is better than the devil who doesn’t show up til next season. And now for what I will say the rest of this article: Cam Talbot is not the goalie they want him to be and he is not a goalie to build a franchise championship around. More on why I think that in a moment but in my mind, if you’re losing games, you need to bring in a different goalie. If for no other reason than to put some fire under Talbot’s ass and see if he’s made of anything real, you have to bring in another competitor for the top spot. Chiarelli failed to do that and that alone is firing worthy with the season Talbot has had.
Todd McLellan is not doing great work. In my mind, he has twenty, twenty-five games to get a winning record started for next season or he is fired. For right now though, all indications show us that he has a team of players that want to play for him. They believe they have some of the key pieces and whatever they can do to keep their top players happy and in Edmonton, the better.
How Do They Start Winning Again?
Connor McDavid needs help. A lot of help. He can’t carry a team alone. He’s a player built on smart hockey and smart systems. He isn’t a solo show. He needs someone to pass to and get the puck from. First order of business is a reforming of the skating core. There are a few highlights to keep: Milan Lucic, the young but promising Jesse Puljujarvi and of course Leon Draisaitl. A couple others may stay but the big question for skaters is defense as well. They are suffering from a desperately slow backcheck. Darnell Nurse and Kris Russell are both carrying dreadful turnover differentials, both -40 or worse. Without someone holding the blue line, you can’t run an offensive game and that defensive core is going to be the biggest change for them in the offseason.
And, once again, Cam Talbot is a hoax as of right now. If they had a decent backup goalie, he would not have played 65 games this season and he may have had a reason to win. Look at any season. He’s consistently winning only two-thirds of the games he plays professionally. Even last year, his record was 42-22-8. That’s 30 losses to 42 wins. Who said, “oh, but he’s a winner.” That is not solid goaltending and he fails to make smart decisions on a regular basis. He talks a big game but if he were anywhere but Edmonton, he’d be riding the bench behind them all. Cam Ward may be free. I think he’d be a guy who could force Talbot’s hand. He’s had some good seasons and hasn’t been at his top, but both men want to keep playing hockey and it is a competition to be a starting goalie in the NHL. Talbot could step up to win some real games when the rest of the team is in a position under McDavid to win on the other side of the puck. And if he doesn’t, they at least have a choice between the two.
Edmonton needs to wake up. This is their chance to do that. But between Chiarelli’s sheepish management and their marriage to Talbot for some reason is an Achilles heel.