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Oilers in no rush to hire GM after firing Chiarelli

Edmonton must 'get the right one' after decade of instability

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers will try to thread the needle in the days ahead, focused on change although unwilling to trade away the future after firing president of hockey operations and general manager Peter Chiarelli on Tuesday night.

"We have to look at all parts of this organization," Oilers Entertainment Group CEO and vice chair Bob Nicholson said at Rogers Place on Wednesday. "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." 

Heading into the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend and their League-mandated five-day break that follows, the Oilers (23-24-3) are in seventh place in the Pacific Division with 49 points, three behind the Colorado Avalanche, who hold the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.


[RELATED: Chiarelli fired as general manager of Oilers]


"I want to clearly give the message, I know there's people out there that believe this team can't make the playoffs," Nicholson said. "We believe in the organization, we believe in the dressing room that we can.

"I think the other key is that we're not going to trade any of our assets away for a quick fix. We'll make some trades at the deadline (Feb. 25) if they're the right trades to get us in the playoffs but (we're) not giving away the future."

Nicholson said assistant general manager Keith Gretzky will take on some of the GM duties but that any transactions will be decided upon by a wider group, including himself, in the hockey department.

He also said his main task is finding a new general manager.

It will be a critical decision, given that one of the new general manager's first duties could be to hire a coach. Ken Hitchcock was hired Nov. 20, 2018, to replace Todd McLellan, but is under contract only for the rest of this season. 

It will be just as urgent to get the GM hire right, given that captain Connor McDavid, who has won the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champion the past two seasons, is entering his prime at 22.

Video: Reacting to Connor McDavid's comments about his team

Nicholson said that Edmonton's track record of changing management and coaches must end. The Oilers have had four general managers (Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish, Chiarelli) and eight coaches (MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, Todd Nelson, McLellan, Hitchcock) since the start of the 2006-07 season, including four coaches in the past five seasons.

Edmonton has made the playoffs once during that span (2016-17).

"The point about changing and changing is dead on," Nicholson said. "That's why we're not going to be in a real rush to get a general manager, we have to get the right one." 

The Oilers are in desperate need of some scoring from their wings to help their quality centers. McDavid has 73 points (29 goals, 44 assists) in 49 games this season, tied for second in the NHL, five points behind Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Leon Draisaitl has 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) in 50 games and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) in 50 games.

After Alex Chiasson (17 goals), Edmonton has no other wing with more than five goals (Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian).

Video: EDM@VAN: Chiasson wires puck home for shootout win

However, Nicholson ruled out the Oilers trading their first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and sounded reluctant to consider trading any of their blue-chip prospects including forwards Kailer Yamamoto, the No. 22 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Jesse Puljujarvi (No. 4, 2016 NHL Draft), and defensemen Caleb Jones (No. 117, 2015 NHL Draft), Ethan Bear (No. 124, 2015) and Evan Bouchard (No. 10, 2018 NHL Draft)

"We'll look to try to bolster the offense and the defense, but we're not trading away our first pick," he said. "When you look at some of our other top prospects, we're not giving them away unless we get some really good pieces back."

Development will be an increased priority for the Oilers.

"We want to our younger players to develop more in the American Hockey League," Nicholson said. "We have some real good players and I think that we bring them up a little bit too early and hope they're going to be ready when they're really, really close.

"I think leaving (players) down there until they are over ripe ... that is a change that we have to make here. We sent [Yamamoto] down today. He's on the verge, but he has to play a lot of minutes. We really believe in this player and we have to do that with more of our assets going forward."

Oilers management, present and future, also could have limited maneuvering room with contracts.

Video: Peter Chiarelli dismissed as Edmonton Oilers GM

McDavid is in the first year of an eight-year, $100 million contract; Draisaitl is in the second year of an eight-year, $68 million contract; Lucic is in the third year of a seven-year, $42 million contract; Nugent-Hopkins is in the fifth year of a seven-year, $42 million contract, and defenseman Andrej Sekera, who has missed the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon, is in the fourth year of a six-year, $33 million contract.

Veteran goalie Cam Talbot could be available before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline. He can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the Oilers signed goalie Mikko Koskinen to a three-year, $13.5 million contract Monday. Koskinen would have become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

As he tries to direct change, Nicholson wanted Oilers fans to know there is not a complete overhaul taking place.

"I truly believe we're not into a rebuild," he said. "We have the best player in the world (McDavid), we have other really good players in that dressing room. It's going to be great to have Oscar (Klefbom) back (from a broken finger, expected to return after the break), we need his depth on defense. 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."

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