The symmetry between the condition in which Chiarelli left the Bruins and the condition in which he left the Oilers is both striking and repellent.
However, studying the journey the Bruins have taken from that wreckage all the way to two strong chances at the Stanley Cup Final in back to back years is always informing and at times downright educational. Certainly it is for us as observers - and hopefully it will be for both those who are searching now for his replacement as well as whoever that replacement ends up being.
One of the reasons this comparison is often easily made is that, counter to a popular opinion, Chiarelli is said - by all sources that have spoken on the issue - to have had autonomy and trust from upper management in both cities. Trust to expend futures (with seemingly nothing off limits) and trust to build a team in his vision.
The league landscape took more kindly to what Chiarelli thought the ideal hockey team would be in 2008-2014, and he was supplied with more pieces of his liking through the pipeline in Boston than he was in Edmonton.
Via Sportrac, This is Boston going into the summer of 2013 versus Boston going into the summer of 2015. The difference in roster size is a function of one being at the end of a playoff tournament, and the other being a team that didn't enter the tournament, where obviously the some of the roster limit rules being lifted is used to full effect.
When you look at this, think of what the decisions about who was kept, who was disposed of (and the price attached in each decision) tells you about the disposition of the decision-maker. Seem familiar?
How about the end result, do you recognise that?
Let's start with that result and work our way back. The 2014-15 Bruins were over two million USD over the cap pre-adjustment, and the Oilers today are too. Boston shelled that (3rd highest in the NHL) value out for the 17th highest point total that year - and Edmonton pays the highest total in the league for their spot at 24th in points this year.
- 19.24% on non-ELC replacement-level (or close), bottom-half players;
- 10.59% on a pair of 33-year-old bottom-half players with trade protection;
- 31.43% on three core players (Bergeron, Chara, Rask) with full no-movement clauses;
- 2.63% on buyouts.
- 19.82% on non-ELC replacement-level (or close), bottom-half players;
- 12.29% on a pair of 30+ year-old bottom-half players with trade protection;
- 33.18% on three core players (McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins);
- 2.01% on buyouts.
Yet again via Sportrac, this is end of 2015-16 and 2017-18 for the Oilers. The degradation in skill is profound, especially since there is just one real addition positionally in roster spots that matter, and it was obtained at a nauseating cost.
Via an Edmonton Journal transcription of an Oilers Now interview with Peter Chiarelli in October 2016; author David Staples.
Remember as well, that this summer was highly, highly controversial in Boston and around the league when it came to Bruins fans and hockey fans in general. Don Sweeney was instantly ordained as one of the wilder general managers, and it wasn't just because of the draft selections. Lucic was a fan favourite. Hamilton was given the hatchet job by media while also being meaningful to the fanbase as the other major piece of the Kessel return.
The reason I make this point is to distance the understanding of Boston's 2015 summer from it being a stroke of genius that turned the team around, or aligning of the stars otherwise. This is super important; it makes my whole point that major roster surgery isn't just possible, but plausible. It's not to be understood as a terrifically difficult undertaking or an unspeakable risk but a modest and open-ended template.
That's not a commentary on the personalities or managerial styles of those that sit up high in Edmonton, by the way. Another thing I'll repeatedly stress is that this is not what I think the Oilers are going to do, if anything I'm getting out in front of a possible narrative that'll hit the airwaves and online spaces this fall if the 2019-20 season starts off poorly.
It'll go like this: Big Bad Man Chiarelli boxed them in (true) and so there were no good answers to return to competitiveness in sight this summer and New Guy can't be held accountable yet (false).
Dougie Hamilton - 8.05%
Milan Lucic - 4.55%
Martin Jones - 4.20%
Marc Savard - 5.63%
Zack Kassian - 2.29%
Kyle Brodziak - 1.39%
Andrej Sekera - 6.63%
Kris Russell - 4.82%
Brandon Manning - 2.71%
Matt Benning - 2.29%
Total - 23.93%
Zack Kassian - 1.61%
Kyle Brodziak - 1.39%
Andrej Sekera - 3.61% / /
Kris Russell - 3.71%
Brandon Manning - 1.61% / / 1.42%
(Notice how Milan Lucic is missing? That's because there's no use in bringing him up as an asset-out in a broad view of what can be removed. It's empty fantasy unless you narrow down the conversation, which I'll do in a bit.
For inquisitive minds, his contract is 7.23% of the cap, and his buyout would save 2.36% of the cap. The percentage of total cap that would be moved if his contract was moved along with the rest of the list above is 31.16% - just past the amount that the Bruins were able to shed.)
The point is to combine all the different types of deals and strategies in recent NHL history with the amount cap space that has been opened up in our historical example in order to model the possibilities a retooling summer could have in a way that's realistic and valid.
A player with (some) positive value, for picks, with much lesser value than the players' actual impact on the ice. It's difficult to exactly gauge who fits where here on the pay scale of Edmonton's asset list: Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell are closest to taking up Söderberg's cap-space percentage (Sekera a near-perfect match) but there's trade protection available to each individual and an age/health concern with the much better player. Zack Kassian and Matt Benning are both permissible logically, Kassian almost certainly had a price-tag set at the deadline. Those two together represent a possible 3.62% of cap space instantly available - though unlike at defence, there's not enough forwards (realistically) coming for Kassian to be automatically replaced.
The key signifier here is that the asset earns a return that is obviously negatively influenced by their cap-hit to contribution ratio or constrained bargaining position of the selling team.
I'll note that the list I perused on Capfriendly of simple, two-asset cap-altering deals depopulates significantly the closer you get from seven years ago to today. The richness of contracts being dumped in this way has also been reduced in terms of dollars of cap itself and not just cap percentage, making the case for an argument that teams have become hyper cap-sensitive profound. Consider some of those older deals against a 2017 example of retention being needed for a much less weighty cap burden.
There's off-ice strata to this, with the slide rule, waiver eligibility and signing status itself as significant factors. For example if you have a signed player that's outperformed their draft position, but has already signed their ELC at a lesser price-point than they would have if they signed after their uptick in production or otherwise perceived production, that's a value modifier. Waiver eligibility is a massive value modifier.
These deals are more complicated than straight 1A types are. There's also a kind of stylistic slant to them; I've noticed they're favoured by two types of management teams. Those led by former pro/ama scouts/scouting directors - Jim Benning loves trading for prospects instead of picks - and those led by timeline-conscious actors, like Peter Chiarelli circa February 2018 when he pivoted one return into another to turn Pat Maroon into Cooper Marody and Mark Letestu into Pontus Aberg through player-to-pick-to-player transactions.
This protocol was used in the Lucic-for-Jones, Miller, and a 1st trade.
In practice, most 'package' returns are bad. A good way to avoid suffering the typical fate of selling player for package is to move on from the out-player at the right time; scout another organisation's assets well; achieve a cap-related objective; or all of the above.
This is a an optically uneven example outside of illustrating the basic design for that reason. Miller wasn't an NHLer at this time and was coming from a long way back, and Jones wasn't a starter. You could theoretically get this package for a player of Lucic's former prestige in the form of a young, capable defenceman and a matured and talented backup with starter potential, but that doesn't mean they're going to turn into Colin Miller and Martin Jones. And that's without the 1st. It's important to understand that this trade isn't being used as a template because it was a winning one.
Anyways, one part that is good about using this couple of deals as a practical example is that the cap objective wasn't meant to be achieved in the first deal. Most of the time it won't, if only by virtue of the shallowing pool of cap-imbalanced trades year-by-year as of late. In the modern NHL, every team is in on cap-neutral hockey trades, but salary-shifting ones have a much smaller market. The cap-neutral trade with Los Angeles involves most of the moving pieces in the sequence, and then the simpler sale of Jones is the one that results in relief of 3M.
You're probably wondering what heavy-cap asset the Oilers can afford to deconstruct this way. I'd argue there isn't one - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins qualifies especially as a player on a career year, but he's not only inner-circle in effectiveness on the team, but he's also a rare (on this roster) proven skill forward. You would essentially have to trade him for a wing that can score and a secondary asset, and then pacir that secondary asset with picks and prospects for another wing who can score in order to end up with a net gain in forward scoring. Possible, but requires some dexterity and for those inclined to care the optics would be awful.
Here's the real answer for modelling this trade to fit the needs of the current Oilers cap situation-
Invert the values of the assets.
We can even use the same initial player. The current Lucic contract is probably the same distance in value from replacement level as the version the Kings traded for, except in the opposite direction.
So in this model, instead of trading a major positive value asset for a group of them, we're trading a major negative value asset for a group of them
You then play the minorly overpaid player in the former's roster spot, and buy out the junk contract or trade it again. Nobody's taking Lucic's contract straight up, not even if Puljujärvi is attached. You could be trading with a budget team, so you could also be trading for a LTIR version of the same dead cap, or a player that the trading partner would like to bury in the minors but the ownership won't let them, there are tons of possibilities here.
The general idea is to replace the frontloaded, massive values required in order to get teams to take a larger contract with several smaller taxes.
3. Asset and Anchor
Let's add some context quickly to our Post-Chiarelli Boston example: Jimmy Hayes was coming off of a 19-goal, 35-point performance in a 72-game 2014-15 season. He was (and is) also a six-foot-five BC-alum born in Dorchester, MA. The Bruins weren't trading for a warm body here, or they didn't think they were, which is all that matters when we're learning trade values from history. It's about what GM's think players' 'true' value is.
Plenty has been written about who the Oilers need to hire - general manager and otherwise. Brainstorming about who should be hired, what kind of departments inside the organisation need to be built or bolstered - fans and media combing through interviews and press availabilities of different candidates.
These things change on a whim (with possible candidates being confirmed or denied) and it's hard to really say who unequivocally should take these positions with just an everyman, spectator's amount of information on these executives.
In addition, regardless of who Edmonton hires, their goals and objectives should be the same, in a broad sense.
On one hand, yes, the Oilers need to do some Toronto-style front-office house-cleaning.
On the other hand, they would also be served well by a Boston-style book-cleaning.