With less than two weeks before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 21, fans are wondering what Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland will do to improve his team. This could be a make-or-break time for Holland as he desperately needs a win in terms of bringing in the right assets to improve the Oilers. Based on Holland’s questionable trade history while with the Oilers, and his recent move on March 10 demoting goalie Stuart Skinner to the minors in favour of activating Mike Smith off of injured reserve, I’m wondering if Holland can pull off a significant deal.
I’ve lost faith in Holland and his pro scouts. I’m not sure what’s been more disappointing for Oilers fans: not advancing far in the playoffs since 2006 or having general managers such as Holland and Peter Chiarelli at the controls of this proud franchise on trade deadline day.
Hope In Their General Manager is In Short Supply with Oilers Fans
Oilers fans used to get excited around the trade deadline. They used to think their general manager was going to make some sweet deals to make the team better, build momentum and not only get into the playoffs but go far. It happened when Kevin Lowe pulled off a couple of game breaking deals when he got Dwayne Roloson and Sergei Samsonov at the 2006 Trade Deadline.
Lowe had also traded for Jaroslav Špaček earlier on in the 2005-06 season to complement his offseason acquisitions of Chris Pronger and Mike Peca. That seems like a lifetime ago — this season, confidence that Holland can make magic happen like Lowe did 16 years ago seems to be in short supply in Oil Country.
Questionable Deals Have Oilers Fighting to Stay in Contention
Remember when Holland brought in Andreas Athanasiou? He gave up Oilers fan favourite Sam Gagner and two second-round picks for Athanasiou and Ryan Kuffner. Athanasiou lasted nine games, and is now helping the Los Angeles Kings stay ahead of the Oilers in the competitive Pacific Division race while Kuffner is down in the ECHL. There was also the deal that sent Ethan Bear to the Carolina Hurricanes for Warren Foegele. The jury is still out on this one as Bear has been a healthy scratch quite often this season for the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes, while the Oilers are hoping for more scoring from “McLovin.”
Another questionable deal Holland made was trading for Duncan Keith in the offseason and retaining his full salary of $5.5 million per season. The Oilers acquired Keith and forward Tim Soderlund from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Caleb Jones and a conditional pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. That pick could turn out to be a second- or third-rounder depending on the Oilers’ playoff success. Keith has been a good pick up for the Oilers this season, but many feel that Holland could’ve had him for less than his $5.5 cap hit.
Holland’s Inability to Solidify Oilers Goaltending May Seal His Fate
One would think that a former NHL goaltender such as Holland would understand the importance of having a true No. 1 goalie. In the two-plus years that he has been the general manager of the Oilers, his inability to land a consistent starter has been perplexing. He rolled the dice on Mike Smith this offseason, and signed the soon-to-be 40 year old to a two-year, $2.2 million contract. The often injured Smith has had a rough season, and his recent play has had Oilers fans screaming for Stuart Skinner to replace the veteran and platoon with Mikko Koskinen, who is currently playing some of the best hockey of his career with the team.
With fewer than 30 games to go until the playoffs, the Oilers can ill afford to continue to gamble on Smith returning to form from last season. They’re in the thick of the race in the Pacific Division, and close to the Western Conference wild card position and need to play close to .600 hockey in order to get into the playoffs. Another demoralizing loss because of bad goaltending is something the team and their fan base clearly don’t need right now, and this seems lost on the Oilers brass. The only explanation for sending Skinner back to Bakersfield again might be that Smith is respected in the room and the players are pulling for him. It could also be for cap purposes, otherwise there are no other explanations other than Holland might be too proud to admit Smith can’t be counted on for this stretch drive.
Holland Can Win Back Oilers Fans’ Trust With A Trade Deadline Win… or Two
The 2021-22 Oilers season feels like one of the longest in team history. With COVID-19 and canceled games, as well as injuries to key players, such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Tyson Barrie, the Oilers have had their share of adversity. However, the running narrative all season has been about the goaltending and its inconsistency. If Holland is unable to land a goalie such as Marc-Andre Fleury, Braden Holtby, or even MacKenzie Blackwood at the deadline, he better hope that the tandem of Smith and Koskinen can come through.
Holland seems like a genuinely good guy who cares about the well being of his players. Unfortunately, that doesn’t win championships. Holland has already fired former head coach Dave Tippett this season and the pressure is now squarely on his shoulders. In order for Holland to keep his job as one of the highest-paid general managers in the NHL, he’s going to need the Oilers to not only make the playoffs, but win at least one or two rounds. Anything less is unacceptable with a team that boasts Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the prime of their careers.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.