The Edmonton Oilers are in dire need of a backup goalie now that intended backup Mike Smith, is out of action. Smith is expected to miss a minimum of 10 games, or 18 percent of the season. With that in mind, if general manager Ken Holland wants his team to compete in the close North Division, he needs some relief in net, and on the blueline.
Edmonton Oilers Injuries Are an Issue
The Oilers have sustained detrimental injuries to both their defence when Oscar Klefbom went down for the season, and now with Smith being out a substantial amount of time. Granted the Oilers can score with the best of them, but not having some depth on defence and goaltending can hurt any team’s chances to succeed. The team is just 2-4 this new season while splitting their first two games against the Vancouver Canucks and then losing two straight to the Montreal Canadiens. They followed that up by splitting with the tough Toronto Maple Leafs.
The injury to backup goalie Mike Smith is a key here since the Oilers don’t want to overuse their starter, Mikko Koskinen. He has not been that sharp starting in all six games. He has a 2-4 record with a .905 save percentage and a 3.21 goals-against-average. His backup, with Smith out, is Stuart Skinner who has no NHL experience. If Koskinen goes down with an injury, the Oilers will be hurting in more ways than one.
Oilers Are Struggling
It is early in the season, yet the Oilers are not showing impressive statistics. They are ranked 25th with a 2.5 goals-per-game average. With the offensive firepower they have, that must improve and with the short season that is a priority. They are having difficulty on defence as well ranking 24th giving up 3.33 goals against per game. The power play is not clicking either with just a 13 percent success rate, ranking them 24th. The penalty kill is decent with a 77.8 percent kill rate. That puts them 18th in that category. Plenty of room for improvement and the close North Division won’t make things easy.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Still Not Re-signed
Another frustrating issue is that the Oilers still haven’t signed centre/winger Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Negotiations have stalled with the team wanting to offer him a contract closer to what he’s earning, and his camp is looking for a potential $7 million (or more) starting range.
Nugent-Hopkins carries a $6 million cap hit, and seeing that Nugent-Hopkins has good statistics, that seems to be the sticking point of him remaining in Edmonton. He has 610 NHL games played with 171 goals and 277 assists to his credit. He also has 17 playoff games with two goals and 10 assists.
A Proposed Solution
The Oilers can entertain trade options for Nugent-Hopkins but considering he averaged 0.73 points per game in his career, they’d love to keep him. Of course, general manager Ken Holland is not going to come out and say he can’t afford to re-sign RNH, but it’s curious where he can find the money when he has huge contracts like McDavid’s $12.5 million and Draisaitl’s $8.5 million deals staring him in the face. Those two players’ deals amount to 25.8 percent of the entire team’s salary cap.
The Oilers, like many NHL teams, are cap-strapped since the salary cap stayed stagnant due to pandemic caused financial reasons. They are about $4 million over the cap limit but with Klefbom’s $4.167 million salary coming under the long-term injured reserve category, they just about break even.
They will have about $24.7 million in cap space next season. The problem is they will also have 12 unrestricted free agents and a half dozen restricted free agents to work into the budget. Losing Nugent-Hopkins’ potential $7 million (or more) salary will certainly allow them some breathing room.
What Edmonton Oilers Injuries May Mean
There’s someone like Antti Raanta whose contract expires after this season. He does have a history of injury issues so they may want to pass on him. Raanta, when healthy, does provide a very good option in net, though.
As far as attempting to stay strong on the blueline, the Oilers signed Slater Koekkoek on December 26th to add to their defensive depth. They are carrying eight D-men on the roster, so hopefully, the loss of Klefbom won’t be too crucial to their success going forward. Still, if Holland has a chance to upgrade his blueline, he should look into it.
The way things are going thus far, the Oilers may be on the outside looking in for postseason play.