The Edmonton Oilers managed to stem the bleeding slightly with a win Wednesday night, but the team still has a lot of work left to be done.
The Oilers put the brakes on a six-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes, which prompted this question to be put to Darren Dreger during a Thursday afternoon Leafs Lunch appearance on Toronto’s TSN 1050.
“At what point does the seat cool off a little bit on Peter Chiarelli?”
“Um, maybe never,” Dreger replied candidly. “Or I’ll tell you what: It subsides a little bit when they officially nail down a playoff spot. And that’s a tall order, that’s a big ask, there’s no doubt of that.
“Mikko Koskinen was under seige in that game last night in the first period against the Arizona Coyotes. And look at who generated their offense - Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid - surprise, surprise, surprise. What they’ve got, for the most part, is a collection of forwards who do not contribute, haven’t been contributing players, and when they do it’s inconsistent.
“It’s interesting - it was of note - that they had Zack Kassian playing on that top line, and he played 20 minutes, and he didn’t look bad. Again, you have to remember where these players come from. Zack Kassian is a first-round draft pick, so it’s not like he’s a one-dimensional hockey player. Maybe Ken Hitchcock is just trying to get more guys invested, and that’s how you do it - you give them a taste of playing with better players. But they can’t survive this way.
“Realistically, in a perfect world, and it’s an imperfect world in the regular season because of the salary cap and cap teams like Edmonton - if it were a perfect world, Peter Chiarelli would wave wave his magic wand and he’d probably out swap two, three, maybe as many as four or five of his forwards. He can’t do that.
“And it’s almost impossible to make significant, impactful trades this time of year or in the regular season prior to the trade deadline. So they’re just going to have to continue to muck it out.
“As Ken Hitchcock said after the game, they’re in survival mode, and they’re going to be that way until they bolster their blueline with good health with guys coming back, or Chiarelli is able to pull a rabbit out of his you-know-what and bring in a forward or two that’s going to help. But I’m not predicting that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
Fellow TSN Insider Pierre LeBrun was co-hosting Leafs Lunch this particular day.
“Yeah, I think they need help up front Dregs, but I also think probably their No. 1 need would be a Top-4 defenseman, which has been the case for awhile,” noted LeBrun. “But it’s just that it’s so hard to fill that hole that you almost stop talking about it after awhile.
“But again, there’s a few places there where if Peter Chiarelli is able to swing it before February 25, there’s some pretty obvious needs there.”
“Well, I don’t know if you guys watched that media availability,” asked Dreger. “I just watched it online after the fact. And I was prompted to watch it online because a number of people reached out and said, ‘Man, Peter looks tired. He looks haggard.’
“And maybe he had an overactive holiday break, I don’t know. But he did look like he was a bit worn out. Anybody who has spent any time on any bench in pro hockey or otherwise, or in the office of the general manager, knows the highs and knows the lows, and the lows can be very, very taxing, both mentally and physically.”
“I made this comparison this week in one of my pieces in The Athletic,” indicated LeBrun. “But it reminds me of a year ago. Every single thing Marc Bergevin did, Habs fans were just going right down his throat. There was no 50-50, it was always, ‘Wrong, wrong, wrong.’ Even the Domi-Galchenyuk deal was accepted that way by Habs fans.
“Now, of course, he’s back in the good graces after a tremendous offseason. I don’t know if Peter Chiarelli can dig his way out the same way Marc Bergevin did. But that’s what it would take. He would need a couple of home runs here.”
“Yeah, and I said that last night on NBC,” reflected Dreger. “It’s not like we’re picking at a carcass here. I mean, let’s just face facts and the reality. Understandably and appreciably, Daryl Katz, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers, hasn’t been even remotely happy with another disappointing year. At the end of it all as an owner, all you can do is analyze what you’ve got and who you’ve got managing and running your hockey operations department.
“Chiarelli did what no general manager wants to do, and he replaced his coach in bringing in Hitchcock and sending Todd McLellan out. Chiarelli is a realist. He’s a man with great integrity, and he will accept his role and responsibility if they don’t qualify for the playoffs.
“But I think it’s pretty easy, not a bold prediction, to suggest that there probably would be a management change if they don’t quality for the playoffs.”
The Oilers hold the sixth position in the Pacific Division with a 19-18-3 record, which leaves them four points out of a Wild Card spot.