Ken Holland finds himself in a bit of a dilemma this month as he tries to come up with the Edmonton Oilers Trade Deadline strategy. Should he go all-in for a deep playoff run this season? The case for it simply boils down to having yet another year of prime Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl wasted away on middling to mediocre results and early playoff exits. But the argument against it, and the difficulty he faces actually doing it, revolves around a self-created cap crunch limiting options for worthwhile trades.
Even Holland himself is not sure what the team should do, as he is still a bit wishy-washy on committing to being a buyer or seller. He is more worried about seeing how the team performs in the last handful of games leading up to the deadline. This is a fair position to take at this point as the Edmonton Oilers are basically a bubble team. They hover between the third divisional seed, either wild card seed, and on the outside of the playoff picture on any given night.
So, that leaves the main question. What will be the Edmonton Oilers Trade Deadline strategy?
The Oilers Should Go All-in at the Trade Deadline
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are not getting any younger. McDavid is 25 and in his seventh season, while Draisaitl is 26 and in his eighth season. These are prime years for forwards and sooner rather than later, these two will stop getting better every season. It is an absolute blessing to have two of the best players in the world on the same team at once.
The struggle yet again is that the organization cannot surround these two talents with a strong enough supporting cast to dominate the league. So, this season, with the team being close but not quite there yet, is it a good enough position to leverage some prospects and future picks to bring in some scoring depth or the much-needed goaltender??
The acquisition with the biggest impact would likely be a goalie. As has been well-documented, the Oilers do not have a top-tier goaltending tandem. In fact, they’re quite below average. Mikko Koskinen has been strong at times but ultimately streaky. His .904 SV% and -4.4 GSAA at the time of writing indicate he is slightly below average overall. Not a reliable game changer. Mike Smith, in between injuries, has been wildly inconsistent and nowhere near as impactful as he was in 2020-21. He, with his .891 SV% and -7.8 GSAA at the time of writing, is not stealing any games for the team.
Stuart Skinner has been the only goalie with above-average stats so far, but as the third-stringer, he is spending most of the season in the AHL.
What this says to me is that Holland should not miss a second opportunity to give the Oilers a fighting chance in net. One has to wonder where the team would be if they had even perfectly average goaltending over the course of the season.
However, the time to make this move was the last offseason when there were more and better goalies available. Now, the goalies on the trade bait board are not much better than what the team currently has. And, the price has gone way up.
Once again, the Oilers’ offence is incredibly top-heavy. McDavid and Draisaitl have 79 points each. The third highest scorer for the team? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman with 37 points at the time of writing. We see yet another season where the team could benefit from finding some actual depth scoring to make the third and fourth lines more of a threat.
After listening to Derek Ryan’s comments after the recent coaching change about the role of the, well, role players in the forward depth, I began to wonder whether anyone would be able to come in and produce anyways. But with a new coach, maybe there is a new opportunity to finally get a good mid-line forward to help bridge the gap between McDavid/Draisaitl and the rest of the team. Warren Foegele seems to enjoy the way the team is coached now, maybe other depth players will too.
The importance of this come playoff time cannot be understated as teams go into physical, shutdown mode in the postseason. If they are to compete, Edmonton needs scoring threats throughout the lineup. If the Oilers can only manage 8 goals in a 4-game playoff series with Draisaitl recording five points and McDavid getting four, they aren’t going to go on a deep run anytime soon.
However, if the Oilers could acquire a scoring forward or two, it could increase their chances of grinding out a win in the playoffs.
All of this comes back to the common criticism that has been levied at the Oilers organization over the past ten years. The inability to build a proper team around their star players. McDavid and Draisaitl are not getting any younger, the time to win is now. The team should be comfortably within their Cup window at this point, but they are still a bubble team due to the holes on the roster. Holland preaches patience, but maybe now is the time for a bold play.
The Oilers Should Not Go All-in at the Trade Deadline
Look, obviously we all want our teams to be in on all the big-name free agent and trade targets. We want to see our team competitive and making a splash in the playoffs. But only one team can win the Stanley Cup each season and sometimes that means setting ego aside and sitting this one out.
The Edmonton Oilers are still a bubble team, and I don’t think their window is open yet. The Ken Holland era is only in its third season and we have to remember that with a new GM comes to a new direction and plan for the team. He preaches patience, we saw it in how his Detroit teams developed. And maybe we just need a little bit more of that patience as we wait for the same to happen in Edmonton.
The Oilers teams of the past were largely a patchwork-style quilt with a couple of high draft picks and the rest of the roster filled with free agent signings and trade acquisitions plugged in everywhere. This is not a recipe for success. The team’s core of homegrown talent was non-existent so the organization had little to no chemistry or cohesion. Players come in, play a season or two, have some of the worst years of their career, and move on.
A properly built team will have a good portion of the roster constructed from within. Draft picks and prospects developed within the team’s farm system who graduate up to the NHL. The Oilers are at this point right now where they are mostly waiting for their suddenly solid prospect pool to develop into regular NHL’ers.
In my view, it would be unwise to overpay and deplete the prospect pool or draft pick pool to acquire players who may help a bit now with a playoff run in a year the team doesn’t have a great chance of going deep. Especially when some of these players are so close to breaking into the NHL roster.
I mentioned earlier the Oilers need goaltending help. Well, the guy they seem to be grooming for the NHL starter’s role is almost ready. Skinner has been the best Oilers goalie this season so far, though he remains developing in the AHL for the time being. I imagine with Koskinen’s contract up this offseason, Skinner has an opening to be on the Oilers roster full-time next season. No sense in wasting prospects and draft picks to fill a hole that the team can fill internally very soon.
The same goes for depth forwards and scoring. We are starting to see players like Ryan McLeod and Tyler Benson get more of a chance. Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi are carving their own niches on the roster. And in the AHL, players like Cooper Marody, Raphael Lavoie, and Dylan Holloway are developing, playing well, and could start getting chances in the NHL as early as next season. Again, no sense in wasting prospects and draft picks to fill a hole that there is a plan to fill from within.
Seeing that the team has the internal options to flesh out the roster better nearly developed, the team is not confidently in its Cup window yet, and a season with Florida, Colorado, Carolina, and Tampa Bay all playing out-of-this-world level hockey, it seems like a futile effort to go all-in this season.
Patience, as difficult as it can be, seems the smarter decision. Then the team can fill out the roster internally, get a sense of where they are at, and fill the remaining holes (which will be fewer and farther between). And by not sending out prospects and picks unnecessarily, the Oilers can extend their competitive window by a couple of seasons with a steady supply of replacement players on entry-level deals.
The Final Say on the Edmonton Oilers Trade Deadline Strategy
As hard as it is for this Oilers fan to surrender yet another season, I see no reason for Holland to go all-in this time around. All he is going to do is compromise the final stages of the rebuild when they are oh-so-close to finally pulling through. It is smarter, in the long run, to wait until the internal options are starting to fill out the roster, the team hits a point where they are comfortably competing for the division title, and they can fill fewer and very specific holes (which won’t cost as much as the ones Holland would have to fill right now via trades).
Preaching patience can only last for so long though, and that is starting to run out. If the internal options do not begin to work out by next season, the Oilers may have to start entering desperation mode to fix it while they have the chance.
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