Oilers 2021-22 Second Half Predictions

The second half of the Edmonton Oilers‘ season is ramping up to be an exciting and tight race with lots of storylines and moves waiting to be made. The Oilers are coming out of the All-Star break having gone 5-0-1 in their past six games and turned their season around.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe

A trade is bound to happen and something has to be done to the weakest area of the team, goaltending. The Oilers have a number of upcoming restricted free agents who will have to step up their game if they want longer and more lucrative deals in Edmonton. Meanwhile, the team is within striking distance of a playoff spot and the roster needs to do some damage down the stretch.

Oilers Trade Both Koskinen & Kassian

Zack Kassian has found himself on the right wing of every Oilers’ line this season. With Evander Kane playing on the top line with Connor McDavid, there is no need for Kassian that high in the lineup. Dave Tippett and his coaching staff are still trying to figure out the best line combinations that the Oilers can run with for more than a game at a time.

Related: Oilers Must Decide to Trade or Keep Warren Foegele

Kassian hasn’t been the player he was with the Oilers back when he first arrived, throwing his body around and fighting. Injuries have definitely taken a toll on him, and with two more seasons under contract at $3.2 million and there becoming less room, minimal cap space, and less room for mediocre play, the Oilers may find a trade partner willing to take him. Among players who are seemingly taking up cap space and not playing up to par, Kassian is at the top of the list on the Oilers.

Zack Kassian Edmonton Oilers
Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

That brings us to the other at the top of that list, Mikko Koskinen. If he was in a position where he played once every four to five games and the Oilers had a reliable starter, they’d be fine. The problem comes with him being forced into a starter role all season and being overpaid for what he is supposed to be.

The Oilers are tight against the cap and can’t rely on the tandem of Koskinen and Mike Smith between inconsistent play and injuries. Koskinen is going to have to be moved somehow in order to upgrade in goal.

Oilers Acquire a Short-Term Upgrade in Net

Ken Holland made it clear he isn’t going to trade the Oilers’ first-round pick or a top prospect for a rental. That being said, he isn’t against acquiring a goaltender that will be around beyond this season. The issue comes with Smith being under contract for next season and Stuart Skinner on the brink of breaking into the NHL full time.

The Oilers can’t bank on the Koskinen and Smith combo to get them very far this season. Koskinen’s deal is done after this year, but the Oilers can deal with the situation regarding the final year of Smith’s deal in the offseason. Right now, especially going out and getting Kane for very cheap, they need to make strides and contend for the Stanley Cup. That will only come if they acquire a goaltender who will be able to make the big saves, post an above-average stat line, and be under contract for at least next season.

Semyon Varlamov fits that bill perfectly, while a number of other younger names could be on the radar of the Oilers. It will be tough to acquire a goaltender with more than one year remaining on his deal mid-season. But if the Oilers manage to get someone who can help this year and possibly next, there are options in free agency that they can make a big push for such as Darcy Kuemper or Jack Campbell.

Puljujarvi or Yamamoto Stand Out From the Other

Jesse Puljujarvi spent much of the start of the season on the top line beside McDavid and got off to a very hot start, scoring 10 goals and 23 points in the first 28 games. The lines have since been shuffled and he got playing time next to Leon Draisaitl where he still couldn’t find his scoring touch. Puljujarvi has just two assists in his past 12 games, both coming in the same game. (from ‘OILERS NOTES: Puljujarvi has been around net but pucks not finding ways in,’ Edmonton Sun, 2/1/22)

It has been a tale of two seasons for him, and just like the Oilers, he may not be as good as what his point totals indicated at the beginning of the season, but he definitely isn’t as bad as this recent cold streak shows.

Kailer Yamamoto on the other hand has been able to find the score sheet more consistently than Puljujarvi as of late and has been contributing while in the top six. There may be a recency bias, but with both players on contract years, that will become a factor in negotiations.

Kailer Yamamoto Edmonton Oilers
Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Yamamoto went pointless in the Oilers’ first seven games of the season, six of which were wins with big scores put up. But in the last 14 games, where goals were hard to come by for the team, he contributed three goals and seven assists. Though he has only 16 points on the season, he has been a solid addition to the top line and has been kept there while he provides much-needed offence.

The separation between the two players may come if one or the other get more playing time and opportunity because they show they deserve it. Puljujarvi had the advantage over Yamamoto while he was on the top line producing, but now it seems like Yamamoto’s to lose.

Oilers Finish a Close Second in Pacific Division & Win a Playoff Round

The Oilers were first in the NHL on Dec. 1 after their win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. That’s when they proceeded to go 2-11-2 over the following 15 games. Everything seems to be back to normal, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returned from his injury that proved to be more impactful to the team than many may have realized. Zach Hyman is back and on a line with Nugent-Hopkins doing damage at even strength and shorthanded, while Smith is back again. Add Kane to the mix and Dylan Holloway at some point, and the forward unit looks like one of the best in the NHL.

The Oilers are competing against their own division first and foremost. They have the advantage there because they are 10-2-0 vs. other Pacific Division teams and have 14 games remaining against them. Right now, they sit fifth in points but have games in hand on every other team except the Calgary Flames. They are eight points back of the Vegas Golden Knights for the top spot in the Pacific with four games in hand, six points behind the Los Angeles Kings with five games in hand, and six points back of the Anaheim Ducks with six fewer games.

With 40 games remaining on their schedule, 27 of them come vs. the Western Conference where their record is 17-6-0. It seems as though when the more important games are played, the team steps up and plays better. This trend will have to continue if they intend on being a top team in the West.

I’m confident the Oilers will finish in the top three in the division, but with Jack Eichel returning soon for the Golden Knights, it may give them that edge to hold their top spot in the division and win the Pacific for the third time. The Flames should make it competitive as well, rounding out the top three teams. But once playoffs come, the Oilers should finally be able to face a divisional opponent for the first time in the postseason since 2016-17 when they defeated the San Jose Sharks and then lost to the Ducks in seven games.

It will be an entertaining 81 days, as the Oilers play their 40 remaining games in that time. With such a crammed schedule, they will need to have two competent goaltenders, players stepping up, and continued success in their division and conference.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe