To the surprise (or not) of many fans, the Edmonton Oilers made it all the way to Round Three before being swept by the Colorado Avalanche. Unsurprisingly, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (on one good ankle) were the focal points of the team. Also unsurprisingly, their issues as a team were exploited dramatically by the Avalanche. So, where now? There’s a long offseason ahead for the Edmonton Oilers, and if they want to stay competitive, they will have to make some bold moves. But management will have some hard decisions to make.
Edmonton Oilers Offseason Will Be Extremely Busy
First Things First
The best move, in this writer’s opinion, has nothing to do with the players on the ice. The best move the Oilers could make is to fire Ken Holland immediately. Holland has been letting down the team for multiple years now. Sure, bringing in Evander Kane midway through the season was a hidden gem, but there is a small list of successes. Most notably, his failures to fully build a competitive team around McDavid and Draisaitl. While the Oilers have always relied on those two for a good chunk of their offence, there need to be some other players that produce as well. This season, it was Kane. However, there is a severe lack of depth scoring, which has been a persistent problem. In addition, their defence was passable this season, but nothing special. And this isn’t even mentioning the goaltending issue, which was the most glaring out of these.
Holland has done nothing to address these concerns over multiple years. He made two moves at the trade deadline this year: acquiring former Montreal Canadiens player Brett Kulak and bringing in Derick Brassard over from the Philadelphia Flyers. While Kulak was a welcome addition, Brassard was absolutely terrible for the Oilers. Every year, Holland hopes that McDavid and Draisatil, along with a few other forwards can will them to victory. Not once has he gone out and made a move that has dramatically and positively impacted the team. It’s time for the Oilers to move on and start making some real progress.
Start From The Crease
It’s no secret goaltending is the most important part of the team. It is nearly impossible to win when you give up five goals a night. And the 39-year-old starting goaltender was not the right answer for the Oilers this season. Mike Smith was, at his best, an elite goaltender who was nearly impossible to sneak a puck through. At his worst, however, he would let in weak shots, make poor decisions leading to goals, and would be a burden on the team. In the regular season, Smith averaged nearly three goals against per game. In the playoffs, it was nearly 3.5 goals against per game. And Mikko Koskinen only saw three games of playoff action.
When your starter is that inconsistent, it is an absolute momentum killer to see him let in a weak goal. It swings the crowd against you, encourages the other team, but most importantly, adds another tick mark to the opponent’s scoreboard. Especially against stronger teams, a goalie needs to be better than usual to give his team a chance to win the game.
So, What To Do?
While there are many good young goaltenders, the Oilers want to win now. So they need a starting goaltender who can win games and stay consistently good. Koskinen is a free agent, so they will likely let him walk. Smith is contemplating retirement, but he should not be in the starter’s crease next season anyway. With the lack of excellent free agent goaltenders, the Oilers will likely need to make a trade. It is too nuanced to cover in this article, but it could involve Koskinen and maybe some picks. The underlying issue can be solved through trade, but the new general manager will have to be willing to take some risks.
Get McDavid and Draisaitl Some Help
This one seems pretty obvious. With some of the most insane postseason numbers seen in quite some time, the dynamic duo did all they could to try to win games. However, it clearly wasn’t enough. There were only three other players with more than 10 points in the 16 games the Oilers played. Of players playing in 10 or more games, there were six with five or fewer points. While it is understood third and fourth line players will not score a lot, it is still imperative they offensively contribute. Those six players make up a majority of the bottom two lines, who rarely scored. An extremely top-heavy scoring team cannot and will never win a Stanely Cup.
So, in the Edmonton Oilers’ offseason, they need to go out and get some depth scoring. Or, really, any additional offensive help so it doesn’t fall on the shoulders of a few players. Trying to get a big name like Claude Giroux or Johnny Gaudreau doesn’t quite help the issue of depth scoring. So, the Oilers need to do their homework and find solid, offensively talented second and third line players to improve their offensive firepower.
Bolster The Blueline
While the best defence may be a good offence, having a good defence never hurt anyone. The Oilers’ defence isn’t awful, but it can be improved. Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard, Brett Kulak, and Tyson Barrie are a solid top four. They aren’t breaking any records, but they’ll be good enough for an offensively oriented team. The team needs a way to trade or do something to get Duncan Keith off the ice. He’s too old and the veteran presence he brings doesn’t offset his mistakes. He’s a free agent in the 2023-24 season, but it’s up in the air if the Oilers can wait that long. Cody Ceci may also be shown the door, however, it may be difficult to move his contract given his poor play.
The Oilers have some up-and-coming prospects (see Philip Broberg), but it may be worthwhile to find another top-four defenceman to help out their newly acquired goaltender. The problem is that they don’t have too much cap space, so this may be an issue that gets pushed down the line.
Perfect vs Realistic
The Oilers have a projected $7 million and change in cap space this upcoming offseason. They have three expiring RFA contracts and eight expiring UFA contracts. It is likely some, if not most, of these players will not be re-signed. However, there will need to be some money allotted to the returning players, and that will limit the free-agent spending money.
Whatever the Edmonton Oilers decide to do in the offseason, it will need to be dramatic. Because when their star players are playing this well, the organization needs to take advantage of it. Once-in-a-lifetime talents need to be supported if they want to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.