Oilers Already “All-In” On 2021-22 Season After Quick Start

A line from the latest column in The Athletic by Allan Mitchell is interesting. He writes, “This team is very close to balance, and Holland has moved all-in on the season so deadline improvement will happen if the Oilers are heading to the playoffs.” It’s an intriguing statement because the Oilers are off to a tremendous start at 9-1, have banked a ton of points, and look to not only be a playoff team but a contender for the Western Conference Title.

If it turns out the Oilers know they’re headed to the postseason without much worry, one has to wonder what the team is looking at in terms of additions. The right additions will allow the organization to finally do what it hasn’t done in some time — win multiple playoff series’ and make a statement to the rest of the NHL that this is a team worth watching out for over the next few seasons.

The recent buzz surrounding the goaltending market also suggests the Oilers have already identified themselves as buyers. Again, the questions will be, when do they buy, what do they buy and what will it cost?

Mitchell explains:

For Edmonton, a No. 3 centre, a left defenceman and perhaps a veteran goalie whose health is certain may be required by the deadline. The 9-1-0 start is impressive, and the Oilers ran a little luck in those games that won’t be available during the next 10 games and beyond.

source – ‘Lowetide: How close to balanced are the 2021-22 Oilers?’ – Allan Mitchell – The Athletic – 11/08/2021

What the Oilers Need: The Defense

Assuming injuries don’t change things, a left-shot defenseman and a goaltender are rumored to be near the top of Edmonton’s list in terms of needs. Currently, the Oilers are deep on the right side of their blue with Evan Bouchard, Cody Ceci, and Tyson Barrie in the top six. On the left, it’s Darnell Nurse, Duncan Keith, and a combination of Slater Koekkoek, Kris Russell, or youngsters William Laggesson and Philip Broberg. Edmonton likely won’t feel confident in sticking with one of those aforementioned mentioned players as the bottom-pair left-shot defenseman.

Related: Oilers’ Tyson Barrie Rebounding From Slow Start

By the time the trade deadline rolls around, there should be some viable options, all of whom are on expiring contracts. There are expensive players who are veterans with experience, but the cost might be too much for the Oilers. Included in that mix are Mark Giordano ($6.75 million), Nick Leddy ($5.5 million), and Hampus Lindholm ($5.25 million). Lindholm would be the best of those three in terms of fit.

Brayden McNabb Vegas Golden Knights
Brayden McNabb, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The less costly options could include Ben Chiarot of the Montreal Canadiens ($3.5 million) and Brayden McNabb of the Vegas Golden Knights ($2.5 million). Both are good options and can play suitable minutes. Chiarot is averaging over 22 minutes per game, while McNabb comes in around 17 minutes per. Both have incredible playoff experience.

The Canadiens aren’t having a good season and Chiarot may be on the move. The Golden Knights will need to make room for a healthy Jack Eichel and McNabb could be a salary dump in a few months. If these two players become trade options, the Oilers should make a call.

What the Oilers Need: The Goaltender

The questions continue to be there when it comes to the Oilers’ goaltending situation. Is Mike Smith going to stay healthy? Is Mikko Koskinen truly a good enough starter to play well down the stretch and into the postseason? Can Stuart Skinner actually help, or is it too soon?

Because of those questions, the belief is that the Oilers will search the market for a goalie. Names like Joonas Korpisalo, Alexandar Georgiev, Anton Khudobin, and Marc-Andre Fleury are out there. Only Fleury is a clear upgrade over what the Oilers already have. And, when it comes to Fleury, it’s certainly not a slam dunk.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks
Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Should the Blackhawks continue to plunge down the standings (can’t get much lower than second-last), the belief is they will look at moving Fleury who is in the final year of his deal. More than one insider has made a link between the Oilers and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. That said, Fleury needs to be ok with moving to the Oilers to finish the season, the Blackhawks will need to retain some of his $7 million salary and the Oilers will need to pony up to acquire him.

What the Oilers Need: The Depth

Already a much deeper team than they’ve been in years, the questions will be about the depth should injuries, COVID, or other unforeseen circumstances take their toll. Edmonton has done pretty well by avoiding disaster early, but the Smith injury has raised some concerns and the recent news that Devin Shore is out for some time has to be a reminder that things can change in a hurry.

If Skinner and Ryan McLeod can step in, the Oilers will be fine. If they can’t, GM Ken Holland will need to plan out his moves accordingly.

The Oilers are headed out on their longest road trip of the season starting Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. This road trip will answer a lot in terms of what comes next for the team this season. If Edmonton goes 5-0 or 4-1 over the next five games, a stellar record over the first 15 games will say a ton about what may happen around the trade deadline. If the team happens to hit a bit of a slump, Holland may look at what the issues are and try to address those first.