2 Losses to Blue Jackets Prove Oilers Must Act Before Deadline

We are in the final approach towards the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. With just five days to go, one of the biggest questions out there is what will the Edmonton Oilers do?

As of this writing, they haven’t done anything yet. They don’t seem to be in on the bigger names as once thought. Timo Meier appears poised to go east. They don’t have the means from a cap perspective to make an Erik Karlsson deal work unless the Sharks retain a lot of the cap hit.

There had been even some talk that the Oilers might stand pat or make a small move or two for depth by the trade deadline. However after Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, throw away the small talk. The Oilers must act now and make at least one significant move.

Oilers Embarrassing Effort

While we always need to use caution when evaluating individual games, Saturday’s loss exposed the biggest weaknesses of the Oilers. Jack Campbell started the game but allowed four goals on 14 shots before being pulled in favor of Stuart Skinner.

Let’s remember the Oilers are an elite offensive unit. They have the best player in the world in Connor McDavid. In the span of eight minutes after Campbell was pulled, McDavid helped pull the game even by scoring two goals and adding an assist. The celebration on the 4-4 goal showed just how much that moment meant to him.

But this is why we are having this discussion today. The Oilers have the best player in the world who can take over any game at will when he wants to. He single-handedly stunned the Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena to tie the game. In the end, it wasn’t good enough for the Oilers.

Despite having all the momentum to end the second period, it was the Blue Jackets who won the third. Jack Roslovic took advantage of two mistakes and beat Skinner twice. Joonas Korpisalo was outstanding again with 42 saves. A late Zach Hyman goal was not enough. Blue Jackets 6, Oilers 5.

Any time McDavid utters the word embarrassing when talking about a game in which he scored four points, you take note. Postgame Saturday, he said it was an embarrassing start. He also said it was an embarrassing finish. It’s few words. But it’s also powerful words too.

Ken Holland Edmonton Oilers
Saturday’s loss to the Blue Jackets should have sent a loud message to Ken Holland. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If that doesn’t reach the desk of Oilers’ GM Ken Holland, then perhaps we need to be having a different discussion about who should be leading the Oilers. For now though, the goaltending was not good enough. The defense was not good enough. When those elements can neutralize two of the best players in the world, it says everything we need to know about the team. They need help.

Oilers Can’t Stand Pat

What’s troubling for the Oilers is Campbell’s season to date. While he escaped having to take the loss Saturday (that fell on Skinner), his goals-against is 3.48 and save percentage is .884. That is nowhere near good enough. He still has four more seasons left at $5 million per season too.

Skinner has clearly been the better goaltender of the two. He has a 2.90 goals-against and a .912 save percentage. It seems clear he will get the majority of the starts down the stretch. At times, he too has had shaky moments. What if something were to happen to Skinner? What is the trust level towards Campbell? Do they need to look at a depth move in net?

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Then what about on defense? The Oilers 3.28 goals-against per team is 20th in the NHL. Good teams in the playoffs have a way of exposing this. They allowed six to the worst team in hockey, a team in the Blue Jackets that average just 2.56 per game. Can the Oilers enter the playoffs as is?

The Oilers got swept by the worst team in hockey this season. Granted both games had Evander Kane missing. The Oilers are clearly better with him than without him. But Kane isn’t going to solve the defensive or goaltending issues they currently face.

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This is why the Oilers cannot stand pat. McDavid is having a season for the ages. Yet they’re still not considered among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. They need help. They can’t let this deadline go by and not give their best players a boost. What message does that send if they do nothing?

Possible Options

Where do the Oilers go from here? With them utilizing LTIR, they would need to somehow clear space to make a more significant move. The fact that they’ve been linked to Karlsson suggests they’ve at least kept tabs on the situation. It shows a willingness to move if conditions are right.

Why not look at the Blue Jackets at this point? The Vladislav Gavrikov situation could be back in play for them after a potential trade with the Boston Bruins didn’t connect. The price of acquisition could be lower than once thought.

Here’s my thought. Why not look at both Gavrikov and Korpisalo? Their combined cap hit is just $4.1 million. Each could come off the books. The Blue Jackets could retain salary if needed. These teams have the ability to help each other if they chose to go down this road. The question would be how willing are the Oilers to look at rentals?

Vladislav Gavrikov Columbus Blue Jackets
Vladislav Gavrikov could become an option for the Oilers. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If these teams don’t match, the Predators suddenly are open for business. How would Mattias Ekholm look on the blue line? The Oilers have to try something here. They cannot under any circumstances waste another season of McDavid like this. Holland is feeling immense pressure to make the right moves.

Oilers Fascinating to Watch

Given the level of expectations that surround the Oilers, they will be one of the most fascinating teams to watch at the deadline. Truth be told, the Western Conference is wild open. The East is an arms race. No one in the West has separated themselves.

Now is the perfect time for the Oilers to do just that, separate themselves. They have the motive. They have the best player in the world. They might not have a better chance than right now to take a big swing.

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Whatever the Oilers decide to do, nothing is not an option, not after Saturday. Their weaknesses were exposed. It’s now on them to try to address those weaknesses.

The time is now for the Oilers. Not next week or next season. But right now. Holland at least owes that to McDavid, his teammates and the fanbase.

Holland, the floor is yours.

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