While the Edmonton Oilers technically have until March 21 to make a decision on their goaltender(s) for the rest of the season, the real and most important decision should come much earlier than that. The Oilers play a stretch of eight games in 13 days starting on Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights. By the time that stretch of games is over, they’ll need to know if they’re committed to their tandem or if the tandem needs to change.
This is a massive opportunity for the Oilers to gain ground in the standings. If Edmonton can win six-of-eight or better, there’s a chance they’ll leapfrog a handful of contenders in the Western Conference. That would put them in an ideal spot, feeling good about their overall game and confident in their 1A and 1B in goal. They’d be deadline buyers from a position of strength.
That said, should they go on another losing streak, the Oilers could find themselves in a hole that becomes difficult to dig themselves out of. Other teams will be looking at them knowing they’ve got all the leverage in any potential deal.
Crunch Time For Holland and Koskinen
This stretch of eight games might not make or break the season, but they are important. GM Ken Holland needs to know confidently what to do about the one weakness that seems to continually plague the roster. And, with this much action, his goalies will either be firing on all cylinders and playing their best hockey or they won’t and a change needs to happen.
Over the All-Star weekend, Connor McDavid called Mikko Koskinen the unsung hero of the team because he takes so much heat when things are going poorly, but doesn’t get much credit when they’re going well. He said the team goes as Koskinen goes and if he’s not going, that could be a problem. By February 21, Holland should have absolutely no doubts about Koskinen’s game down the stretch. He’s either the man or he isn’t; it’s that simple.
This is also a stretch where Mike Smith needs to remain 100 percent healthy. Any blips or suggestions of further absences because of a nagging issue and Holland needs to make other plans. Smith has essentially already worked himself into more of a backup role than that of a starter. Edmonton has to know definitively what’s going on with the guy they signed as their 1A, a guy they expected to play in all of these important games. If he’s not, at the very least, a reliable backup, the Oilers really can’t rely on him at all.
Over the next two weeks, barring an injury that changes the equation entirely, Stuart Skinner’s role on this team should also be clear. He’ll either be part of the playoff push or he won’t.
Oilers Should Be Out Ahead of the Deadline
There has been talk Holland has kicked tires on a number of goaltenders. That’s smart. Pulling the trigger on a trade well ahead of the deadline (if he’s going to make one) is also smart. Rentals typically get more expensive the closer the deadline gets and the Oilers will have a smaller pool from which to choose if other teams strike first.
By the time this stretch of games is done for Edmonton, there should be a much clearer picture of which teams are definitively sellers and which teams aren’t. Holland’s big issue is that he seems unwilling to give up a lot to get a goaltender that might be marginally better than what he already has. If he’s going to move an important piece, he needs to do so for the goaltender he absolutely wants, not just the goaltender he can get because he waited too long.
A .500 Record Could Be a Disaster
It sounds outrageous to say, but the two best-case scenarios over the next eight games are that the Oilers either go on a strong run or they struggle: being a .500 hockey team might hurt the most. Should the Oilers win one then lose one, — and do so over an eight-game stretch — there could be a sense of false confidence their goalies are getting the job done and keeping the team in it when they probably aren’t. Losing is not ideal, but it forces Holland’s hand and with 36 games still left in the season, it gives the Oilers time to catch up.
Status quo if the Oilers stay a mediocre team is asking for a problem down the line. The best thing that could happen to the Oilers is that the next two weeks make it crystal clear what needs to happen. Frankly, when it comes to the goaltending issues, the next two weeks might be the most important of the Oilers’ 2021-22 regular season.
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