Technically, this first-round North Division series with the Winnipeg Jets isn’t over. The Edmonton Oilers have one more shot on Monday night to continue playing playoff hockey in a back-to-back elimination contest. That said, the reality is, the Oilers are facing near insurmountable odds, as few teams have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
The Oilers have actually outplayed the Jets for much of this series. Some terribly-timed plays and some consecutive lapses in poor coverage in short spurts have cost the team. Josh Archibald’s bad clipping penalty is just the latest example. He has been suspended for one game as a result.
Credit where it’s due as the Jets were able to contain the two best players in the NHL for two games. But, even when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl started to contribute offensively, other holes crept into the Oilers overall team game. This team has not been good enough for 60 minutes (more in two cases now) of any of the hockey games they’ve played thus far in the series and it appears that when the most pressure is on, this hockey club is faltering.
Oilers general manager Ken Holland might have warned this was coming.
Holland’s All-In Every Year Comments
On April 12th, during a media interview where he was talking about the NHL Trade Deadline, Holland said, “I don’t think that you can be all-in every year. I think you pick and choose.” And, despite a strong season by the Oilers — one in which the team finished second in the North Division — Holland chose for this not to be the year.
While some might suggest he was hinting that he didn’t think his team needed the boost, one could argue these words were a sign that Holland didn’t think his team was strong enough to really be a Stanley Cup contender. The previous season he’d added pieces that didn’t pay off. Holland wasn’t about to sacrifice draft picks and prospects again if he thought this year’s team was actually less likely to win than the 2019-20 roster.
Case in point, choosing only to add defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, Holland did virtually nothing at this year’s deadline.
What Holland Could Have Done
There were potential opportunities to add pieces. Taylor Hall went to the Boston Bruins for a second-round pick and he’s been gangbusters for that team since his arrival — the Bruins just eliminated the Washington Capitals Sunday evening. Hall was likely really only looking at the Bruins, so it’s probably fair to suggest the Oilers didn’t really had a shot here, but that’s not entirely the point. Holland hinted that there was never even consideration for Hall as the Oilers were trying to determine which actions to take.
That’s just one example, as Holland could have added a top-six forward. It would have cost the team a prospect and potentially one that has a brighter future with the organization than a rental would have, but Holland didn’t see that as a good asset management. Frankly, there wasn’t much buzz the Oilers were close on anything in that regard.
He chose not to add knowing what most insiders and fans did; which is that the Oilers are superstar heavy and not very deep.
Is This a Good Or Bad Look on the GM?
If the Oilers do get eliminated by a team they went 7-2 against in the regular season, it won’t be a good look. If Edmonton gets swept by the Jets in four games, fans will call for heads to roll. But, is this on the GM? Or, is this on the players? Moreover, was doing little at the deadline the right call if this team isn’t ready?
It’s fair to argue Holland should have done a lot more than add minor pieces. At the same time, it’s fair to argue his hands were tied with the money he did have available this past offseason and that he’s waiting for this offseason to really put his fingerprints on this team.
Where has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins been during this series? Where has Alex Chiasson and James Neal — the two most playoff experienced Oilers — gone? Why has Kailer Yamamoto not been the same player this season as he was last season? It’s becoming clear this team needs to either step up or Holland was right in his assessment.
Considering he’s about to make big changes this coming summer, let’s hope this is less about the GM and more about the players.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”