The Edmonton Oilers made dramatic improvements during free agency and one could argue general manager Ken Holland did the best he could after unexpected news of Adam Larsson’s departure was shared with him. There will be doubts that Tyson Barrie is the right fit (even with a team-friendly contract) or questions about Ethan Bear being traded. There will probably be concerns about the term on Zach Hyman’s deal, or whether or not Duncan Keith still has the goods, but the two biggest questions in Edmonton right now revolve around Cody Ceci and the goaltending tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith.
These are two very different situations: one where the GM didn’t make a change, the other where the change he made is being questioned.
The Koskinen and Smith Tandem
Holland undoubtedly tried to improve the Oilers overall goaltending situation. He wasn’t able to. It was rumored he was close to acquiring Darcy Kuemper out of Arizona before the Colorado Avalanche jumped in and offered a big return. There was chatter about Joonas Korpisalo before that was quickly shot down. There might even be talk the Oilers are looking at a netminder like Anton Khduobin out of Dallas. As of now, Holland has yet to make a change.
If something isn’t done, it will be because the organization decided that Koskinen is a better option for one more year than what’s available and there’s confidence Smith can have another strong season. If that’s true, the Oilers should be fine. At worst, they’ll have a chance to add a netminder at the NHL Trade Deadline. If these two can’t carry the load, there will be critics who will suggest the Oilers struggles have a lot to do with the two starters between the pipes and real panic if the Oilers aren’t in the playoff conversation early.
The Cody Ceci Signing
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not up to speed on how much Ceci has progressed as a well-rounded defenseman since joining the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. What seems clear is that he signed a one-year, low-cost deal with the Penguins to show he still had something to offer. It must have worked as his season caught the attention of the Oilers pro scouting staff.
Ceci is a player who has seemingly had to reinvent where he fits on an NHL roster. He was an offensive defenseman who was prone to gaffes defensively and his tenures in Ottawa and Toronto didn’t seem to leave a strong taste in the mouth of the each respective fan base. The reviews coming out of Pittsburgh are much better.
Still, can Ceci give the Oilers what Larsson did? He’s not as physical, but he’s being asked to, in part, fill that role. He may not see as many minutes and he might be more of a 5/6 blueliner than a regular top-four, but he’s been inked to a four-year deal at $3.25 million per season. It’s a signing that signals the Oilers have confidence in his ability to bring them something Tyson Barrie and Evan Bouchard can’t.
The Rest of the Roster Is Strong
This may be the deepest Oilers forward group in ages. With three lines and an assortment of speed, skill, strength, and grit, there are a number of players in the Oilers top nine who can play in a variety of situations. The team may not be done yet either as there’s room to sign a depth piece or two.
The defense is arguably more well-rounded, leaving room for high-end prospects to grow into roles and be shadowed by some incredibly savvy veterans. And, if for some reason, Oscar Klefbom is able to make a return, it will be a big add on the left side (a Klefbom return is doubtful).
The big questions now are, did Holland effectively fill the hole left by Larsson and will the GM’s failed attempt to improve the goaltending be a differncemaker?
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.”