Over a span of 32 days, the Edmonton Oilers won the right to draft Connor McDavid, put former Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson in charge, hired Peter Chiarelli as general manager and Todd McLellan as coach.
It’s hard to imagine an NHL team enjoying a better off-ice month than that.
But the work is just beginning for the new-look Oilers organization that’s trying to not only end a playoff drought dating to 2006, but build a perennial contender. With winning management and coaching in place, the next moves belong to Chiarelli at and around the NHL draft and into free agency.
Chiarelli talked about new ideas and philosophies and said he didn’t feel the need to tear down the roster and rebuild.
“There are a lot of good foundation blocks here, which is one of the reasons I chose to work here and it’s one of the reasons Todd chose to work here,” Chiarelli told reporters in Edmonton on Tuesday after introducing McLellan. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to completely flip your roster. It’s about philosophically how you play.”
McLellan’s philosophy, which comes from the Detroit Red Wings’ school, should help. Still, the Oilers will have some different key pieces when they open the 2015-16 season.
The most likely place is in goal, where Viktor Fasth, Ben Scrivens and Richard Bachman combined for a league-worst .888 save percentage. Former GM Craig MacTavish’s moves to acquire Fasth, an unrestricted free agent July 1, and Scrivens, who has a year left, failed.
Even if Scrivens returns as the back-up, the Oilers could use their extra first-round pick, 16th overall from the Pittsburgh Penguins from the David Perron trade, to get a starter.
The Ottawa Senators could deal either Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner, the Vancouver Canucks have three goalies for two spots and the Minnesota Wild may have a surplus, too, if they bring back Devan Dubnyk. Veterans like Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes and Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings might also be available.
The unrestricted-free-agent market is shallow, with Jhonas Enroth and Antti Niemi, who McLellan knows well from San Jose, as the top options. The Oilers have some salary-cap space, but Chiarelli showed in Boston that he picks his spots in free agency and avoided throwing too much bad money around in July.
Edmonton will get an infusion of young talent with McDavid up front and fellow Canadian world-junior teammate Darnell Nurse on the blue-line, and the defence has a keeper in 21-year-old Oscar Klefbom. Chiarelli wants the Oilers to play faster and harder, and shoring up a group led by Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz should be a priority.
No. 1 and No. 2 defencemen don’t come cheap or easy, so even with the talented Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid there’s a reason McLellan hushed the talk about getting to the playoffs immediately.
“There will be painful days ahead for all of us,” McLellan said. “We know that.”
Having Chiarelli and McLellan in place makes it more likely that those painful days won’t last much longer. How much longer depends more on the next two months than the last one.
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press