Oilers’ Rot Begins At The Top
Something that really pisses me off as a hockey fan is watching a once-proud franchise being run into the ground by mismanagement or ownership indifference. So you can imagine my disgust over what the Edmonton Oilers have become under Daryl Katz’s ownership.
To be fair, the Oilers’ glory days were already well behind them before Katz took over. But in his decade of ownership, they’ve jumped the track, crashed over an embankment and exploded into a fireball of blunders.
In the days following last week’s firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli last week, pundits were already speculating about his full-time replacement while offering suggestions on how to improve the roster.
None of that will matter, however, if instability persists in the front office and behind the bench.
In 11 seasons under Katz, the Oilers went through eight head coaches and four general managers.
Among the coaches were respected bench bosses like Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, and Todd McLellan. They did their best with the rosters provided to them. Management impatience and incompetence, however, did in most of them before they had a reasonable chance to make any sort of positive imprint.
Following their sputtering start to this season, Ken Hitchcock was lured out of retirement in November to replace McLellan as a stopgap measure to get them back on track. For while, it worked, until their roster weaknesses caught up with them despite Hitchcock’s efforts.
Fortunately for Hitchcock, his reputation among the league’s greatest coaches won’t be too badly tarnished by what could be his brief tenure with the Oilers.
The widely-hailed hirings of former Hockey Canada honcho Bob Nicholson as team CEO and Peter Chiarelli as GM was supposed to end the Oilers’ culture of losing while removing the supposed influence of an old boys network of former Oilers.
Chiarelli, who built the Boston Bruins into a Stanley Cup champions, failed to do the same for the Oilers. He deserves the criticism he received for his lousy trades but those deals also had the stamp of approval by his employers.
In a press conference following Chiarelli’s firing, Nicholson was trying to be optimistic over the Oilers’ playoff hopes. Most observers instead saw an executive trying to sell hope in a season where little can be found.
Something is definitely wrong when respected hockey men end up chewed up and spat out, some with their reputations in tatters, while the team remains mired in mediocrity.
The Oilers’ ongoing follies could soon take its toll upon the long-suffering fanbase. Perhaps a drop in season-ticket sales might spur Katz into reconsidering how he and his staff are running this franchise.
There’s also dark mutterings among some fans and pundits suggesting the Oilers are wasting the best years of McDavid’s career.
McDavid is currently in the first season of a new contract that runs through 2025-26. So far, the young Oilers captain is expressing defiance of his team’s critics. He’s defended his teammates, believes they can still make the playoffs and wants to be part of the solution.
But if the Oilers fail to turn things around it could eventually take its toll on McDavid, perhaps to the point where he reconsiders his long-term future in Edmonton.
The Oilers are expected to announce a long-term replacement for Chiarelli in the offseason. They could also end up replacing Hitchcock if the new GM wants his own guy behind the bench.
With the fans growing restless and questions being raised over the future of their franchise player, the Oilers better get it right this time.
If they don’t, they will remain the graveyard of careers for coaches, general managers, and perhaps, even the NHL’s best player.