I don't know why, but to me it seems like it's been a lot longer than 100 days. I checked a calendar though and it hasn't been, yesterday was Peter Chiarelli's 100th day in charge of the Edmonton Oilers. Those 100 days have been pretty exciting for Oilers fans, some of that has been his doing but a lot is the result of nothing more than a lottery win that happened before he was even hired as the team's General Manger. Whatever the reason, after nine years of losing, I'll take the excitement.
And so, with his 100th day now in the rearview mirror, I thought I'd take a look back at how he has reshaped the Oilers so far.
The Coaching Staff
Chiarelli's first big splash was the hiring of ex-Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan to replace Todd Nelson, who had been given the interim tag when Dallas Eakins was fired. Nelson was, by all accounts, popular with the players, but McLennan is a proven winner at the NHL level. It's not impossible that someday Todd Nelson will be spoken of in much the same way that McLellan is today, but that day is most certainly not today, and when an opportunity to acquire an elite level coach presents itself, looking the other way would be unwise.
Chiarelli didn't just hire a new coach though, he also let that coach bring in a new staff. First it was Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson, both of whom had coached with him in San Jose, and then Ian Herbers, the former University of Alberta Golden Bears head coach. One of Eakins' first mistakes was keeping members of the previous staff around to maintain some sort of continuity. Perhaps not a bad idea but not necessarily a wise decision either, and one that hasn't been repeated under McLellan.
Was the freedom to hire his own staff part of the deal when McLellan agreed to come to Edmonton? It probably was, and so Chiarelli doesn't deserve much credit for who McLellan hired, but he does deserve credit for knowing when to get out of the way and let the person that he hired do the job that he hired him to do. In terms of the coaching staff, Chiarelli did a fine job.
Another area where Chiarelli's early work has been quite solid is between the pipes. Trading three picks - numbers 57, 79, and 184 - to the New York Rangers to acquire Cam Talbot, a goalie who has a lot of arrows pointing in the right direction, is nice days work. And the good news for Talbot is that after the AHL level performances Oilers fans were treated to last season there is almost no chance that he won't be an improvement.
Is Talbot a lock to give the Oilers all-star calibre goaltending next season? Not even close. But he's a very good bet to give them better than average goaltending, and he cost the Oilers next to nothing to acquire. If he flames out then so be it, Chiarelli goes looking for another netminder next season when both Talbot and Scrivens' contracts are off the books. Low risk, high reward, it's tough not to like a move like that.
The most important thing Chiarelli has done with the forwards so far is step to the podium at the draft and call out Connor McDavid's name. But as much as I enjoyed that, I'm not going to give him a lot of credit for it either. Outside of McDavid, Chiarelli hasn't done a lot with the forwards, limiting his moves to the bottom six, first trading Boyd Gordon for Lauri Korpikoski, and then signing Mark Letestu as a free agent on July 1.
I'm on the fence with these moves; I don't dislike them, but I don't love them either. Korpikoski is younger, cheaper, and brings more scoring scoring to the lineup than Gordon did. He's also signed for an extra season and has possession metrics have been heading in the wrong direction for a couple of seasons. With Gordon gone, Letestu then get's brought in as a replacement on a much more reasonable deal, making $1.8M compared to the $3.0M that Gordon was making. Not a bad deal if Letestu is a lot like Gordon over the life of the deal, a very bad deal if Letestu turns out to be more like Eric Belanger.
I wonder though if the Oilers couldn't have kept Gordon, who although overpaid was very good at what he did, and found a free agent winger similar to Korpikosi for Letestu-like money. The end result on the ice might be more or less the same, but the team would be taking on less risk by having one year of Gordon compared to two of Korpikoski. They might have also been able to avoid giving a 30 year old, bottom six player, a three-year deal. Like I said I'm on the fence here.
As far as I'm concerned no part of the Oilers needed more help this offseason than the defence. So what has Chiarelli done so far? First, picks 16 and 33 went to Long Island for Griffin Reinhart. Then Eric Gryba joined the team after Martin Marincin was sent packing. And lastly, Andrej Sekera was brought in shortly after free agency began. If the goal was to build a defence that could help push the Oilers into a playoff spot, this isn't it. That said, it is better than what Chiarelli inherited. In the end, how you view Chiarelli's work with the defence probably has a lot to do with what you think of the two draft day deals. And on that front, I'm not a fan.
I think the team paid too steep a price to acquire Reinhart. He's an intriguing prospect, one that many of us in Edmonton watched when he was an Oil King, but I'm not sold on his speed translating well to the NHL, and as a result I have some questions about his high end in the NHL. At best I see him as a top-four defender in this league, and that's still a few years away; Martin Marincin on the other hand, was more or less already there. Making neither of these trades likely leaves the Oilers in a better position for the 2015/16 season, and quite possibly beyond as well. I just don't get it. Perhaps if Gryba wasn't another 6/7 defender, something that the Oilers have an abundance of, I could wrap my head around these moves but that's not the case.
Adding Sekera on a completely reasonable contract is certainly nice, he fills the hole created when Jeff Petry was traded, but with the other moves adding very little in the short term, that really just gets the Oilers back to where they were last year. And that wasn't very good. Maybe Nikita Nikitin can bounce back. Maybe Justin Schultz can learn to play defence. Maybe Andrew Ference will just be a big defensive liability instead of a huge one. If a couple of those things happen the results should be decent. I'm not sure I'd bet on that though, and right now that looks like what we're going to have to do.
All in all, I think Chiarelli has done more good than bad in his first 100 days. I like the coaching hires and the improved goaltending, both should pay dividends this season. But I'm not so sure about the moves made with the forwards and the handling of the defence leaves me puzzled. The good news is that the season is still a couple months away so there is still time to do more with the defence. And in the meantime, more good than bad is actually an improvement over previous regimes.