The Edmonton Oilers’ future success can no longer rely solely on McDavid and Draisaitl. For far too long the franchise has ridden its stars and it’s shown in their current era of mediocrity. It’s time for some big improvements while they have the chance. Luckily, this coming off-season is the best opportunity they will get for a long time. Here is what the Edmonton Oilers need to improve, and who they should acquire. Edmonton needs help to push the team through this era of mediocrity and return to the promised land.
Why Edmonton Needs to Improve now
McDavid and Draisaitl Primes Expiring
The two superstars of Edmonton have dragged this team along for years now. Since Leon Draisaitl debuted in 2015 and Connor McDavid in 2016, the Oilers have made the playoffs a slim two times, making it no further than the second round. Both have won a Hart trophy, an Art Ross Trophy (McDavid has two) and a Ted Lindsay Award (Draisaitl has two). But yet Edmonton as a whole has very little success to speak of. They are also on their second head coach and GM in the same amount of time.
The more pressing issue is the current contract status of both stars. Draisaitl’s $8.5 million deal is up in four years and McDavid’s $12.5 million is up in five. Draisaitl is due for a huge pay raise. He has a 50-goal campaign and two straight 100 point seasons since he signed his second deal. He could easily make as much as McDavid currently does as there is no other legit comparable between the two so far. For McDavid, there is no way to put an appropriate number on his worth to the Oilers. If he made $15 million a season, it wouldn’t be enough. If he is still at the helm, GM Ken Holland will have the honour of negotiating the biggest contract in history for the NHL’s best player.
Now four and five years may sound like a long time to improve the team while both are under contract. Injuries and unforeseen circumstances like pandemics and lockouts could limit the Oilers’ success while their best players are at their lowest point. Edmonton needs to jump at the chance to greatly improve around the two of them this off-season.
NHL Points Leaders since start of 2018-19 season:
Connor McDavid: 273
Leon Draisaitl: 265
Patrick Kane: 236
Nathan Mackinnon: 223
Brad Marchand: 221 pic.twitter.com/CjMc7TOPtN
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) March 22, 2021
What the Oilers Need to Acquire
For a long time, the Oilers have played at a deficit in net and on both wings. Much like the problem that plagued Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby for multiple seasons, the Oilers’ star centremen have not had reliable wingers that they can play alongside. They have had guys who can fill the role for a couple of games like Alex Chiasson, Pat Maroon and Zach Kassian. But over time, they simply can not keep up the production and the reliability of playing on the team’s top line. The Oilers need to find their version of Chris Kunitz, who excelled alongside Crosby and improved the Cole Harbour native’s game.
They also need to address the depth at both the forward positions. They have a large number of players on expiring deals. Nine players will become UFA’s including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyson Barrie, as well as four players will become RFA’s. These include Kailer Yamamoto, Jujhar Khaira, Dominik Kahun and Devin Shore.
Probably the biggest need, however, is between the pipes. The Oilers have not had a steady goaltender since Dwayne Roloson anchored them to a 2005-06 Stanley Cup loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The current duo of 39-year-old Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen are both not built for the long haul or steady enough to help them succeed now. In this free-agent market and the calibre of players available, this has to be the Oilers’ first and most important priority.
Who Edmonton Should Acquire in Net
The Oilers are projected to have a little over $25 million to work with this off-season. They’ll obviously have to make decisions on their RFA’s and choose which UFA’s they want to keep. But the goalie market, which they so desperately need a reliable upgrade in, is absolutely loaded.The Oilers could target the likes of: Tuukka Rask, Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, Phillip Grubauer and David Rittich. (Jordan Binnington was a part of this list before he signed his six-year, $6 million extension in early March.)
These options all vary in what they would bring to the Oilers and ultimately, how much they would cost. The likes of Rask and Andersen are proven 1A starters. They will command at least $5-6 million on longer terms deals. This may be too much for Edmonton as they still have Koskinen under contract for one more year at $4.5 million. The better option would be to adapt the platoon style of goaltending. They need to find a guy who can give them 35-40 starts for $3-5 million. This is where the likes of Raanta, Grubauer and Rittich come into play. They are almost all proven platoon starters who would excel alongside Koskinen. It would give Edmonton the ability to ride the hot glove come playoff time. If they wanted younger platoon options, the star of the Florida Panthers Chris Driedger and Buffalo Sabres scapegoat Linus Ullmark can fill a role and potentially grow into the starter of the future.
How Edmonton Can Fill Other Roles
As deep as the free-agent goalie market is, there is as much of a supply of defence and forwards. Star d-man like Dougie Hamilton and David Savard will be available and would be an improvement over the expiring contract of Adam Larsson. Hamilton provides a strong two-way game while Savard is better in his own end. But both would boost the Oilers backend exponentially. Both would also draw large deals that could reach upwards of $6-$8 million and with a long term. Edmonton does have a decent young core already, with the injured Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear and prospect Evan Bouchard.
As attractive as both options would be, it would be better to find more bang for your buck. Guys like Jamie Oleksiak, Sami Vatanen, Niklas Hjalmarsson or Ian Cole would supplement their core already, provide some cheaper stability and provide that un-measurable veteran presence. They should look at keeping Tyson Barrie as he’s had a coming-to-age season following his stunted campaign in Toronto last year. He is the QB on the first power play and is excelling as the first offensive option on the Oil’s backend.
On the front end, flashy options like Alex Ovechkin and Gabriel Landeskog are likely only window dressing and won’t last long on the open market. They’re also above what the Oilers would likely want to spend on wingers to supplement McDavid and Draisaitl. What would fit best in Edmonton are wingers capable of playing alongside elite players. This would allow the Oilers to keep Draisaitl on his own line. Making this move only gives them a stronger, more balanced offence.
Guys like Blake Coleman, Tanner Pearson, Conor Sheary can (and have) play(ed) alongside some of the games best and perform well in the playoffs. But, the best talent that almost excels alongside elite talent but would cost a little more than the previous names, is Zach Hyman. He is a critical part of the Maple Leafs’ success ever since he debuted in the league. He bounces around between both Auston Matthews and John Tavares’ lines as he helps get them to retrieve the puck and perform at their highest level. Hyman will be hard to pry away from the Maple Leafs simply because of the value he brings Toronto. If the Oilers could get him and any other forward flanking McDavid or Draisaitl it would be the best line in hockey.
Third Line Centre
The one last spot they need to address is the third line centre position. They currently have their 2011 first overall pick in Nugent-Hopkins flipping back and forth between that line and Draisaitl’s wing. If he would be willing to stay at close to or less than his current $6 million deal, it would save a lot of searching. If not, there is a lot of good third-line talent available and the best options are within the country. Phillip Danault in Montreal has been one of the best defensive centremen in the league, but he lacks offensively. What he lacks on offence can be supplemented by the Oilers stars because his defensive abilities are that good.
The other more attractive option is Adam Lowry, who is having one hell of a season in Winnipeg. He is going to be looking to capitalize on his sudden point surge. Edmonton has to be careful here as to not overpay for a good season. He already makes a little under three million. Anything more than $4-5 million would be an overpay for a guy who is not yet a proven commodity offensively.
No matter how this season ends, cup or no cup, The Edmonton Oilers’ future success will depend on if they improve their roster right now, while they can still afford to do so. This is the greatest opportunity they’ve had to immediately improve their roster since they drafted a smooth-skating kid out of Erie in 2015. And he isn’t getting any younger.