Blues, Oilers coaching changes all about GMs saving their own jobs

Yahoo Sports

Just like in Los Angeles and Chicago, the latest round of NHL coach firings have little to do with job performance.

At least, not the job performance of the coaches themselves.

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Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were always going to fail unless they got some very good luck, because the GMs who put their teams together — and ultimately made the decision to fire them in about an 11-hour window on Tuesday — built incomplete teams around high-end talent.

Todd McLellan fell on the sword. (Getty).
Todd McLellan fell on the sword. (Getty).

In theory, a team with Colton Parayko, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, and Ryan O’Reilly among others should be pretty good, especially as the Blues addressed a lot of their forward depth issues this summer. In theory, a team with Connor McDavid and almost no one else should also be pretty good, but when you throw in Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom and a few other above-average Oilers, the case becomes a little more academic.

But in both cases, foreseeable problems in goal, on the wings, and on the blue line were what got these coaches fired. I don’t think either of them did a particularly good job overall; I’m on the record as never having been enamoured of Mike Yeo’s Whole Thing, and McLellan often mismanaged what little talent he had. but both Doug Armstrong and Peter Chiarelli haven’t done enough to reasonably be allowed to keep their jobs.

Of course, because they’re the guys who make the decisions, just like Rob Blake and Stan Bowman, they also get to decide that it’s actually someone else’s fault the team stinks. These were both predictable turns of events for underperforming teams, and like I said the coaches didn’t do themselves any favors.

To that end, it’s telling that neither team is installing a permanent head coach. Much like LA, it seems they’re gonna play out the string, (probably) miss the playoffs, and evaluate their options. Getting Ken Hitchcock out of retirement is a cute move for Edmonton, because his whole thing is Team Defense and he’s good at it. The Oilers definitely need to tighten it up, but with that crew, one imagines you’re gonna see a lot more of Kris Russell, as if that weren’t symptomatic of the whole problem to begin with.

Unless he just totally lets McDavid off the leash and gives him like 28 minutes a night, this team is going to score even less than it already does, in pursuit of a bunch of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 wins that probably aren’t going to come.

It really feels like repainting the walls of a house that’s in the process of falling into a sinkhole. Chiarelli, as the architect, is probably falling in this summer, so one supposes the plan is to try to make the playoffs in a crap division so McDavid doesn’t demand a trade. The Oilers are three points behind Vancouver for the eighth playoff spot, but have Chicago and Anaheim between them and it.

Hitchcock might make the system a little more responsible, but he’s not gonna be able to add legitimate top-six wingers to this group — unless there’s a call-up and he makes proper use of Jesse Puljujarvi, which McLellan refused to — and he can’t change the fact that there are probably at least five guys on this roster who are sub-replacement-level. I’ve got Brodziak, Lucic, Kassian, Russell, and Talbot there. I guess I think Talbot can turn it around, but I’m not holding my breath.

Tobias Rieder didn’t help. Ryan Spooner… might? But overall this looks like another season of wasting McDavid’s pre-prime years.

Stranger things have happened, I guess, but what’s even the point anymore? The Athletic figured the Oilers have a 28 percent chance of making the postseason at the time McLellan got canned. That was 24th in the league. And it feels about right at this point.

As for Craig Berube in St. Louis, well, the Armstrong statement that he has the organization’s “full support” while it looks for a longer-term replacement is kinda funny. The Blues clock in at a 33 percent chance to make the postseason at the time of the firing. And that also feels about right.

What’s Berube gonna do? Make Jake Allen an actual NHL goalie? Get someone who’s not O’Reilly or Tarasenko to start scoring? Get Jay Bouwmeester to retire?

Because of Allen specifically — and he’s signed for three more seasons including this one, at a $4.35-million AAV — this is a team that flat-out cannot be competitive. Over the last two seasons, he has a .904 save percentage, and cost his team 20 goals more than a league-average goalie would have. Somehow, though, he’s one of only 14 goaltenders to play at least 4,000 minutes over the last 100 games. Armstrong, somehow, has not planned for this eventuality. Or the fact that besides Parayko and Pietrangelo, this team doesn’t have someone I would even consider a second-pair defenseman.

The litany of offenses Chiarelli committed in running the McDavid Oilers into the ground has been well-discussed. This is a team with SIX top-four picks since 2010, including four No. 1s, and only three of them are on the current roster. Not all of that is on Chiarelli, but to not maximize those assets — i.e. “It’s one-for-one” — is in itself a fireable offense. Everything else he’s done from the Lucic and Russell deals to the lack of talent development (apart from McDavid, Draisatil, and Darnell Nurse no one from the Oilers’ last six drafts, out of 43 picks, is on an NHL roster today), is self-evidently piling on the “fire Chiarelli” bandwagon.

And look, I get it. GMs aren’t gonna fire themselves. So someone else gets fired instead, though no one should be weeping for McLellan or Yeo as they understandably did for Joel Quenneville.

But both these teams fired the wrong guys. Pretty much everyone except the teams themselves seem to realize it.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.

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