Over the last year and a half, Peter Chiarelli hasn’t built up a strong fan base amongst Oilers fans. Whether it be from the team’s lack of success or the trades that have seen some of the big-name players leave, fans in Oil Country have been asking for answers since October of last year.
It seemed like the problem was rectified a month ago with the firing of Head Coach Todd McLellan. Or was it? I thought McLellan had lost the locker room with the team’s overall energy and drive looking diminished. But I’m not sure that was the only problem.
The question that needs to be raised: Will Peter Chiarelli be let off the hook, should Ken Hitchcock find extended success with a possible playoff birth? In an interview with Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic, Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson confirmed last week that Chiarelli’s job is safe should the team make the playoffs.
For me I think regardless of the outcome of this season, it should not be forgotten what Hitchcock is working with.
The problem with the Oilers is one we’ve seen before. Inconsistency. But if this team can find continuity and put together a playoff run, is that because of the roster, or because Hitchcock is a miracle worker and has found a way to make it work? A major part of this team’s success under Hitch has been from the defence.
Since Hitchcock took over the reins of the Orange and Blue, there has been some improvement seen. Hitchcock is sporting a 9-4-2 record so far with the team’s defence looking much better and the team putting up a couple of games where they scored six or more goals.
Obviously, there are offensive contributions from some prominent forwards, but I see Hitch making the best out of what he has. The Oilers have had 8 of the 15 games since he took over end within one goal, win or lose. They’ve also given up 39 goals in that time compared to the 66 they gave up in 19 games prior. So, it’s clear the defence has stepped up under new direction.
Sure, there are significant injuries right now with guys like Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell out for an extended period, but that shouldn’t excuse the team from putting together a consistent showing night in and night out.
But here’s what else Hitch is covering up. Since taking over, the Oilers have had seven goals scored by a defenceman. That’s 15% of the team’s goals since he took over. I believe that Hitchcock knows he doesn’t have much scoring depth behind the few superstars forwards on the team and his style is finding offence where he can. Some of the secondary scoring has gone up as well amongst the forward group, but it’s clear he’s utilizing the back end as much as possible.
The point behind this is should Chiarelli be praised for Hitchcock making the best out of the thin roster he has? I believe the answer to that is no. Chiarelli could be praised as a genius for all of this should the team turn things around. Building the roster then hiring the coach that made it work. But who hired the wrong coach, to begin with?
And beyond that, I don’t think a GM should be praised for a coach pulling the best out the roster he’s been given when he must dig deep to find it. Bottom line is the Oilers roster isn’t good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup and in the fourth year of Connor McDavid that just isn’t good enough, regardless of what the current Head Coach can or cannot do with this roster.
The reason this team has struggled the last year and a half wasn’t just bad coaching. The talent on the ice surrounding the superstars plainly is not good enough. That begins and ends with one man. And he isn’t standing behind the bench.