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Chiarelli fired as general manager of Oilers

No replacement named by Edmonton, which is seventh in Pacific Division

by Derek Van Diest / Correspondent

EDMONTON -- Peter Chiarelli was fired as president of hockey operations and general manager of the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

"It was really felt that the way the team was trending that we had to make this change," Oilers Entertainment Group CEO and vice chair Bob Nicholson said Wednesday at Rogers Place. "And I want to clearly give the message: I know there's people out there that believe this team can't make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. We believe in the organization, we believe in the dressing room, that we can."

The Oilers (23-24-2) are seventh in the Pacific Division with 52 points but three points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. They lost their third straight game, 3-2 to the Detroit Red Wings, on Tuesday. They are 6-12-1 since Dec. 13. They will have their mandatory five-day break after 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend, and next play at the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 2 (1 p.m. ET; SN, NBCSP, NHL.TV).

"[Tuesday] night, we made the decision [to tell] Peter Chiarelli after the second period," Nicholson said. "We'd made that decision before the game started. I thought it was necessary to do it with the team having the break. After the game, I had the opportunity to meet with the leadership group. I wish it would have been longer but had a good conversation and there has to be more conversations with this group because we have good leaders and good players on this team. I also met with the overall staff and with the players.

"We have to look at all parts of this organization. I want to emphasize again that we have some really good players. We have some really good staff. But there's something in the water here in Edmonton that we don't have right and we have to get that figured out."

Chiarelli was hired to replace Craig MacTavish as general manager April 24, 2015, nine days after being fired as GM of the Boston Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and reached the Cup Final in 2013 during his nine seasons there. 

A replacement for the 54-year-old has not been named, although assistant general manager Keith Gretzky will take on many of the GM's duties. Nicholson will oversee hockey operations and the search for a new general manager. Gretzky is the younger brother of Wayne Gretzky, the NHL all-time leading scorer and vice chair of Oilers Entertainment Group.

"We are not in a rush, but as soon as we find a GM that we feel is right for the culture of the Oilers, we'll name that person," Nicholson said. "When that will be, there is no deadline on that. ... We have to get the right one."

Under Chiarelli, the Oilers went 137-133-25, including 47-26-9 in 2016-17, when they reached the playoffs for the only time during his tenure. Edmonton was defeated in the Western Conference Second Round by the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.

"We're not into a rebuild, I truly believe we're not into a rebuild," Nicholson said. "We have the best player in the world (Connor McDavid), and we have other really good players in that dressing room. We have real good pieces. We have to supplement that better, yes. I believe a lot of those solutions are right inside that dressing room. I believe our fans have seen it and they want us to be much more consistent."

Todd McLellan, who was hired as coach May 19, 2015, was fired Nov. 20 after Edmonton got off to a 9-10-1 start this season and was replaced by Ken Hitchcock. The Oilers are 5-12-0 in their past 17 games after going 9-2-2 in their first 13 under Hitchcock.

The NHL Trade Deadline is Feb. 25.

"We won't trade any of our assets away for a quick fix," Nicholson said. "We'll make some trades at the deadline if there's the right trades to get us in the playoffs, but not giving away the future." 

Chiarelli was GM when the Oilers selected McDavid with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. McDavid has 329 points (116 goals, 213 assists) in 258 games and won the Art Ross Trophy, given to the top scorer in the regular season, and the Ted Lindsay Award, given to the most outstanding player as voted upon by fellow members of the NHL Players' Association, in 2016-17 and 2017-18. He won the Hart Trophy, awarded to the MVP of the League, in 2016-17.

Following last season, when Edmonton went 36-40-6, Nicholson said he believed Chiarelli could turn things around. 

"I am here today to tell you the president and general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, Peter Chiarelli, will be the general manager next year," Nicholson said April 13. "We had a down year, but I talked to Peter and he has a plan to get us back in the playoffs next season, and we'll unveil that plan once we go through this evaluation."

Keith Gretzky was hired by the Oilers as assistant GM on July 2, 2016. 

"[Gretzky] is going to be the key person going forward," Nicholson said Wednesday. "We're going to use all of our assets before we make any types of deals. Keith will lead that in conjunction with myself, and we'll talk to all of our pro scouts and amateur people before we make any types of decision."

The Oilers have struggled to find players to help McDavid. No player other than McDavid scored 30 goals in a season during Chiarelli's tenure, although forward Leon Draisaitl has 27 goals this season and had an NHL career-high 29 in 2016-17.

Notable transactions by the Oilers during Chiarelli's time as GM include trading forward Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29, 2016. Hall, who had 328 points (132 goals, 196 assists) in 381 games in six seasons with the Oilers, won the Hart Trophy last season with New Jersey, scoring 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in 76 games. Larsson was plus-31 in 142 games in his first two seasons with Edmonton but is minus-12 with 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 50 games this season.

The Oilers acquired goalie Cam Talbot in a trade from the New York Rangers for three draft picks on June 27, 2015. In 2016-17, his second season with the Oilers, Talbot was 42-22-8 with a 2.39 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and seven shutouts, setting an Edmonton record for wins in a season and tying for the NHL lead in victories and leading goalies in games played (73).

This season, Talbot is 9-13-2 with a 3.27 GAA and .894 save percentage in 27 games, splitting time with Mikko Koskinen, who the Oilers signed to a three-year, $13.5 million contract on Tuesday that runs through the 2021-22 season. The 30-year-old, who spent the previous five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, is 14-11-1 with a 2.79 GAA, a .910 save percentage and three shutouts in 28 games this season but has allowed three goals or more in nine of his past 12 games.

The Oilers signed forward Milan Lucic to a seven-year contract July 1, 2016, and traded forward Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for forward Ryan Strome on June 22, 2017. Lucic had 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists) in his first season with the Oilers but has 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 132 games since. Strome was traded to the Rangers for forward Ryan Spooner on Nov. 16. Spooner has three points (two goals, one assist) in 25 games with the Oilers and was placed on waivers this week.

"Peter came in here and wanted to get a heavier team and wanted to be a place where teams came into this building that we owned this building," Nicholson said. "I thought he did a good job in that. The game has changed, speed and skill is a big part of the game today. But as I first go inside and look at this, character is going to be one thing that we're going to look at. We want to look at the character of the players inside. They have to play for each other. If they don't want to play for each other, we don't want them here."

The Oilers are 22nd in the NHL in scoring this season, averaging 2.82 goals per game, and have allowed 3.26 goals per game, eighth most in in the League. Their power play is ranked 11th (21.1 percent) and their penalty kill is 25th (77.3 percent). 

Edmonton has three former NHL general managers working in its front office. Oilers vice chair and alternate governor Kevin Lowe was GM from June 9, 2000, to July 31, 2008; MacTavish, the senior vice president of hockey operations, was GM from April 15, 2013, to April 24, 2015; and Scott Howson, the vice president of player development, was GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets from June 15, 2007, to Feb. 12, 2013.

"I would like to thank the Edmonton Oilers organization, owner Daryl Katz and his family, Bob Nicholson and the OEG executive group for the opportunity to be GM for the Edmonton Oilers," Chiarelli said in a statement. "I wish the Oilers and the players good luck for the remainder of the season and in the future."

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