Oilers’ March Schedule Will Determine Team’s Trade Deadline Strategy

The Edmonton Oilers are in a tight battle for a playoff spot with several teams vying for a berth in the Pacific Division. The Oilers kicked off the month of March on a positive note with a win against the lowly Philadelphia Flyers. Through 54 games, they own a 30-21-3 record but remain two points up on the Dallas Stars for the second wild-card position, although the Stars have two games in hand.

There is still a good chance that Edmonton makes the postseason, but the uncertainty will make it difficult for general manager Ken Holland to decide his approach ahead of the trade deadline. The team’s games leading up to the March 21 deadline will be crucial indicators of whether the team will be buyers or sellers.

Oilers’ Tough February Schedule

Edmonton’s February schedule was tough enough considering the strength of the competition they played and the fact that they played four sets of back-to-back games. On top of that, they were adjusting to a new coach and system after Dave Tippett’s firing while playing seven of the 12 games on the road. The Oilers finished February playing against teams in the upper echelon of the league standings and failed to get the results they wanted. They ended the month after the third game of a five-game road trip while also playing six of their last eight games on the road. Aside from only coming away with two points in their last three games in February, they did get a big win against the Florida Panthers, who are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

On another positive note, the team played a very strong game against the top team in the Eastern Conference in the Carolina Hurricanes on the second day of a back-to-back before taking a tough 2-1 loss. The last few games have been a good measuring stick, and despite the injuries, the Oilers were able to put together a strong effort. This is the type of play the Oilers can build off of and use as momentum as they transition into some easier matchups over the next few weeks.

Oilers Begin March With Easy Schedule

The Oilers head into March with a laundry list of injuries. However, six of the teams’ next nine games will be against teams that are not in a playoff spot — and likely won’t make the postseason — which is a reason for optimism. This is a silver lining, considering the team will be missing some key players from the lineup, including Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, and Zack Kassian.

The best of the six non-playoff teams they will play is the Detroit Red Wings, who are 23rd in the overall standings, with the remaining five teams being ranked 25th or worse. These teams also have trouble scoring and keeping the puck out of their net, with no team owning a goal differential better than minus-29.

Date of GameOpponentOverall NHL Standings Rank (As of March 2, 2022)
March 1, 2022@ Philadelphia Flyers (3-0 Win)28th
March 3, 2022@ Chicago Blackhawks25th
March 5, 2022vs. Montreal Canadiens31st
Mach 7, 2022@ Calgary Flames9th
March 9, 2022vs. Washington Capitals13th
March 12, 2022vs. Tampa Bay Lightning3rd
March 15, 2022vs. Detroit Red Wings23rd
March 17, 2022vs. Buffalo Sabres29th
March 19, 2022vs. New Jersey Devils27th

Despite having some tough matchups, the majority of the games are against weaker competition that the Oilers are expected to beat. Taking advantage of the easier opponents on their March schedule in order to make up ground in the Pacific Division will be important for the team and hopefully create some separation in the standings. This will allow Holland to get a clearer picture to ensure that he does not mortgage the future to acquire assets at the deadline and then finish the season outside of a playoff spot.

Related: 4 Oilers Players Benefiting Most From Jay Woodcroft Hiring

The Oilers are also finishing up a road trip to begin the month and will have six of their nine games on home ice before the deadline. Their travel schedule will be fairly easy, with only a visit to Calgary after they return home from their current road trip. The rest of being at home should help the players reset as they enter a crucial stretch of the season.

Upcoming Battle of Alberta

Circle your calendar for March 7, because that is when the Oilers take on their longtime provincial rival Calgary Flames. These two teams don’t disappoint when they go head to head, usually providing a very entertaining game in all aspects, but the implications in the standings make their next matchup even juicier. The Oilers will get a chance to close in on the division-leading Flames in a potential four-point swing if they can win that game.

Mikko Koskinen , Logan Day, Andrew Mangiapane
Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen and Calgary Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

The Oilers bested Calgary in both meetings earlier this season, winning 5-2 and 5-3, with both meetings on home ice. The Flames will have home-ice advantage in the remaining two games, and with the Flames playing much better than they were earlier in the season, the Oilers will have their work cut out for them. If they can get a win, they move up in the standings while ensuring the Flames don’t get two precious points of their own but also prove to themselves and Holland that they can compete against top teams in the division.

Tough Schedules for Teams Fighting for a Playoff Spot

The Oilers will benefit from the teams they’re battling in the standings having a more difficult schedule this month. The Vegas Golden Knights continue to hold the third spot in the division, leaving Edmonton with less room for error as the deadline creeps closer.

The Golden Knights are a little busier, with 11 games prior to the deadline that includes a five-game road trip. They got starting goaltender Robin Lehner back from injury to begin the month, and he managed to grab a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in his return to action. The Golden Knights will play six of their eleven games against playoff teams or teams battling for a playoff spot and begin the month on a two-game losing streak.

Robin Lehner Vegas Golden Knights
Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Similar to Vegas, the Dallas Stars, who are another team the Oilers are battling for a wild-card spot also, have a tough March schedule ahead. The Stars play seven road games and only two home games leading up to the deadline and own a below .500 away record at 10-13-2 as they begin March. Their schedule also features a lot of travel, and their two games against the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders are the only ones against teams in the bottom half of the standings. The grind of being on the road for extended periods could put the Stars into a position where fatigue leads them to lose more games than they expect, which would be a positive thing for the Oilers.

Oilers’ Trade Deadline Strategy

If the Oilers can put together a good stretch of games where they can get wins against all of the non-playoff bound opponents, they will put themselves in a good enough situation for Holland to warrant making deadline acquisitions. If this happens, there is still a chance that they find themselves in a battle for a playoff spot, but as long as they are in the mix, they should be still looking to add pieces to help them down the stretch. This scenario makes it more likely that the Oilers could add depth pieces at the forward position and potentially add a significant goaltender to the mix to help improve the position.

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland
Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Of course, there is also the instance where the team struggles to get wins against the easier teams, and if that happens, they may not be sellers at the deadline but likely see out the season with the roster they currently have. This is a very likely option considering they can expect to get some reinforcements back in terms of their injured players who will act as deadline acquisitions once they return to the lineup. If this is the outcome from their play leading up to the deadline, the idea of making a bigger splash and trading away valuable future assets will not be something the Oilers entertain, no matter how big the need may be.

Shuffling in the Standings

The Oilers need to capitalize on their light schedule this month and hope that the tougher schedules for teams like the Stars and Golden Knights will hold them back. If the Oilers don’t play as well as they need to in the stretch leading up to the deadline, they risk falling too far out of a playoff spot to warrant Holland making trades to improve the team.

Related: Oilers Should Pursue Anton Forsberg as Low-Cost Upgrade in Net

If they can get a firm grip on a position in the standings by the time the deadline rolls along, then Holland will feel much better about pulling the trigger on a deal that will bolster the team for a playoff run. If the standings remain as tight as they are, the decision for Holland becomes a much tougher one to make and could lead to a more reserved approach that will likely lead to the same old mediocre results.

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