I sit down to write this after having just spent the night inside Rogers Place, watching the Oilers get absolutely embarrassed by their provincial rivals on home ice.
It was ugly. It’s as simple as that. The Oilers were coming off a bye week, on home ice, and playing in a massive four-point game. There was more than just a playoff spot on the line as well. Considering the number of former players on each side of the Battle of Alberta and that this is the first of four meetings between these two clubs in the next 37 days, this seemed like a great opportunity for the Oilers to generate some serious momentum.
They came out and allowed a goal just eleven seconds into the game and never fully recovered. Mikko Koskinen looked rusty, but so did the entire club with the exception of Gaetan Haas, Joakim Nygard, Connor McDavid, and Alex Chiasson, who was also the only one who felt like trying to pump some sort of emotion into the clubs biggest rivalry game of the season.
Two of their three best players had never played in the NHL before September, one was on a PTO exactly 15 months ago, and the other one is the best player on the planet. I should even say that those three were their ‘best’ players. They were the only players who contributed anything positive on Friday night.
What the Edmonton Oilers put forth on December 27th was shameful. So now where do they go?
The team currently occupies the final playoff spot in the Western Conference but that’s a facade. The Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, and Vancouver Canucks will all pass the Oilers in the standings if they grab half of the points available to them in the games they have in hand over Edmonton.
Another interesting note: the Oilers have the fourth-worst goals for percentage at even strength this season. They are a bad hockey team at five-one-five.
Still, a killer powerplay, a lights out goaltender, and elite high-end skill can be enough to get a team into the playoffs. So I am not willing to sit here today and tell you that there is no chance that the Edmonton Oilers make it to the postseason in 2019-20. It’s not impossible, just unlikely, and it’s never felt more unlikely than it does right now.
I consider myself an eternal optimist when it comes to the Oilers. I will never stop believing that they’re capable of making the playoffs until the little ‘e’ appears next to there name in the standings. But right now, things are looking bleak. So my big question is this: now what?
Does Ken Holland go make a big trade? Does he healthy scratch a big name player? Is there anything he could do? Or better yet, is there anything he should do?
This team desperately needs both a legitimate third-line centre and a top-six winger. They will not be Stanley Cup contenders until they get those two things. Some will say that Ken Holland would be a fool for wasting another year of Connor McDavid and demand that he goes out and gets this team some serious help.
I understand the logic behind that. It pains me to think that Connor McDavid could play six full seasons in the NHL and have just 13 playoff games under his belt.
At the same time, what do you think the Oiler’s chances of making the playoffs are? Right now, and remember that I consider myself very optimistic when it comes to the Oilers, I would say they have a 35% chance of making the playoffs.
Let’s say that Ken Holland goes out and adds JG Pageau or Chris Kreider and the cost is a 2021 second-round pick and Caleb Jones (that might not even be enough). How much does that change the Oiler’s chances of making the playoffs? Would you be okay with giving up two significant future assets if it meant bumping the Oilers’ chances of making the playoffs from 35% to 55%?
Again, it would kill me to see the Oilers waste another year of Connor McDavid, but I wouldn’t blame Ken Holland for being cautious with his assets in his first year with the organization.
Now, maybe he could make a smaller add. Maybe Tyler Toffoli or Mike Hoffman are available for less than a premium rental like Pageau or Kreider. Or maybe, there is a player on the market who is under team control into next season, like Andreas Athanasiou. Then the conversation changes a little. If Holland can go out and get an impact player who can contribute this season and in 2020-21, then I think he should jump all over it. Still, I could understand if Holland was nervous about dealing off serious future assets to marginally improve a team that is not a Stanley Cup contender.
There is one thing he could do though. He could call up one of Kailer Yamamoto or Tyler Benson.
These two have been developing in the minors for over a year now and considering that fact and the state the team is currently in, I see no reason to not bring one of them up.
Neither one is going to save their season, but maybe they could provide a spark. If they come up and contribute positively to this team’s top six for a couple of weeks and help them win a few games, maybe that gives the Oilers some confidence and lets them get on a bit of a roll.
Right now, I’m not convinced that this team is good enough to make the playoffs. At the same time, I’m not willing to write off a team that was within spitting distance of the top spot in the division just a few weeks ago.
I wouldn’t risk significant future assets on this team right now, but maybe a call up from Bakersfield could spark this team and keep them in the hunt, or in a playoff spot until the trade deadline. Then things could change and maybe spending assets on a rental would make more sense.
For now, though, I think the Oilers need to search for answers within their own organization.