Rumors began to surface on Wednesday morning that former Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was in Edmonton, and would be meeting this week with members of the Oilers front office.
As of Wednesday, neither Chiarelli nor the Oilers’ camp have confirmed what he could be interviewing for. It seems unlikely that he’d be brought on as the head coach — after nearly a decade as general manager, it seems logical to assume the recently dismissed Bruins mainstay would be interested in another front office position — but what positions the Oilers may be offering remain in question.
It’s important to note, as ‘Chiarelli in Edmonton’ speculations are made, that the team’s ownership group recently appointed a new Chief Executive Officer — former Team Canada president Bob Nicholson. Contrary to popular assumption, Nicholson is not the CEO of the Edmonton Oilers — rather, he’s the CEO of the Oilers Entertainment Group, the ownership entity that oversees the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, and Rogers Place, the projected entertainment plaza and arena that would become the new home of the Oilers in future seasons.
The positions that Chiarelli could likely hold in Edmonton are numerous, but one has to assume that he won’t want to take a position either on a scouting or coaching staff, nor would he be interested (in all likelihood) in an assistant general manager position. With the Toronto Maple Leafs currently offering a GM vacancy — and both the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins likely following suit before long — Chiarelli has options; after seven successful seasons fronting the Bruins’ management division (including two Stanley Cup Finals, a President’s Trophy, and a Stanley Cup Championship), he’s in high enough demand not to settle for a secondary position.
That leaves a few different options.
The current general manager of the Edmonton Oilers is Craig MacTavish. Highly controversial for his management style both regarding asset management and coaching personnel decisions, MacTavish is considered another GM that could be in the hot seat this off-season; after flipping the Bruins from a cellar team to a perennial cup contender, Chiarelli’s resumé overshadows MacT’s by a landslide. Although MacTavish is a four-time Stanley Cup Champion and former captain of the Oilers, his decisions over the last two seasons have been questionable at best. He also holds questionable power over Scott Howson, the team’s current VP of Hockey Operations (the position MacTavish held with the club prior to being appointed general manager), although Howson hasn’t been regarded with as much criticism as MacTavish himself.
The team’s President of Hockey Operations, another position that Chiarelli could potentially take over, is Kevin Lowe. A five time Stanley Cup Champion with the Edmonton Oilers and one time champion with the New York Rangers (where he played in 1994 with MacTavish himself), Lowe was the general manager of the Oilers until 2009.
Although Lowe is considered another Achilles heel in the management structure for the Oilers, it’s unclear precisely what it is that he does. When the Oilers announced Nicholson’s appointment as CEO of OEG, they described his duties as “an expanded set of responsibilities, including authority over all aspects of Oilers business and hockey ops.” As President of Hockey Operations, one would assume that Lowe would be in charge of all aspects of Oilers hockey ops — but it’s clear that OEG has given Nicholson some level of autonomous control over what Lowe does. As a former manager for multiple Team Canada World Championship and Olympic rosters under Nicholson, as well, it’s unlikely that Chiarelli would be a front-runner to completely take over the President position.
That leaves the team’s business department; considering that Lowe has been indirectly assigned a position answering to Nicholson, Chiarelli could be a candidate the team is looking at bringing in to work with Lowe and MacTavish under the new OEG management structure. Patrick LaForge serves as the President and Chief Operating Officer of OEG, but that extends his influence to the Oilers, the Oil Kings, and Rogers Place. Bob Green, the Director of Player Personnel, works most closely with MacTavish and the team’s scouting department — if Chiarelli isn’t being brought on board as a replacement for the current general manager, he could be a candidate to succeed Green. That would put him and Lowe directly underneath Nicholson (who would be given executive power to prevent the team from tripping over themselves regarding personnel changes), but serving as a balance for Lowe when in negotiations with MacTavish.
Chiarelli’s recent dismissal, of course, was largely the consequence of a few impossible-to-win trade scenarios. His most infamous deal, the blockbuster in July of 2013 that sent centers Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Dallas Stars with prospect Ryan Button in exchange for wingers Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith (along with prospects Joe Morrow and Matt Fraser), has been widely regarded as the deal that hammered the nail into his own coffin. Seguin’s offense was never fully matched by Eriksson and Smith — particularly in light of Eriksson’s concussions and Smith’s hesitancy at the top six level — and the deal was considered the piece de resistance of all asset management blunders in the current NHL era. Once he dealt defenseman Johnny Boychuk for draft picks to fit under the salary cap, his job was essentially gone without a deep playoff run.
Arguments about the Seguin trade aside, though, Chiarelli has been known — by and large — as one of the league’s best when it comes to finding the right pieces for a winning roster. The Oilers have a number of gaping holes that need addressing, and hopefully — should he come on board — Chiarelli could bring what it takes to fix that.