With their current roster being as underwhelming as it is, the Edmonton Oilers were never going to be major players during this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. However, for an organization that is going to have to do a ton of heavy lifting over the summer, yesterday was a perfect opportunity to get a head start on things. Unfortunately, interim general manager Keith Gretzky and the rest of the organization’s higher-ups saw it differently.
— Oilers Report (@oilers_fanly) February 25, 2019
Though we continue to hear rumblings’ surrounding the Oilers still being a legit playoff contender in what has been an underwhelming Western Conference, reality suggests something different. And that, in turn, is where the problem is. Yes, the chance for Edmonton to squeak into the playoffs still exists but they are actually closer to the basement in the west than they are to the eighth and final playoff spot.
Oilers Playoff Chances Aren’t Real
In other words, there was no reason for the Oilers to not be focused on moving out pending unrestricted free agents and players with term deemed not to be part of the solution moving forward. Try and get as much value as possible but at the end of the day, moving out contracts needed to be priority one. And yet, after listening to Gretzky during his post-deadline press conference, you get the feeling that wasn’t the case.
“I look back and the two big things we wanted to do were add character, and we did that with Sam (Gagner), getting him last week. We also wanted to get rid of a goaltender’s contract and we did that,” Gretzky said. “We were happy with that and thought anything else would be a bonus.”
Sorry but that isn’t good enough. This is an organization that has major decisions to make over the coming months and is currently handcuffed due to their salary cap. Neither one of the moves mentioned by the general manager helped ease that strain. Now, in his defence, Gretzky may have been trying to do just that but wasn’t able to find a dance partner. A fair point to be sure but the words used suggests the here and now was their first priority.
Oilers Looked to Improve Today
“For us, we think that the players we have can still win some games here, and we’re close and we’ve played well as of late and that played a bit of a factor in it too. We’ve played well lately. I think in the last eight games we’ve had one real bad game at home and we’re still in the hunt. I talked to a couple of players and I told them I wasn’t going to move them just to make a move. It’s got to help us in the future. That played a big part in it and we just felt that there wasn’t anything there to make that move.”
As staggering as those words were to hear, it tells us quite a bit about where this organization’s mindset is. If we are to take Gretzky at his word, and we have no reason not to, adding instead of subtracting was the Oilers plan leading up to the deadline and that says a lot. Whether one wants to believe it or not, it is obvious the marching orders delivered from Daryl Katz revolved around securing playoff dates. End of story.
If one takes the time to read between the lines, it’s fairly cut and dry. Try and improve the current roster but you are not getting any extra money to do it and by the way, get my team to the playoffs. There is no other way to take it and it’s the only viable reason for not seriously looking at moving any or all of Kyle Brodziak, Zack Kassian and Kris Russell, not to mention acquiring any asset for pending UFA’s Alex Chiasson, Alex Petrovic and Tobias Rieder.
Tomorrow Should Be Oilers Focus
Don’t get me wrong, it is completely understandable for an owner of a sports franchise to expect certain things from those running his or her club. But in this case, the finger can certainly be pointed squarely at Katz for a good chunk of this mess. So one would think chasing the almighty dollar for short term gain would be put onto the backburner, in hopes of fixing the current state of affairs sooner rather than later.
With due respect to the likes of Brodziak, Kassian and Russell, all still capable NHLers, removing all or part of their combined $7.1 million off the books for the 2019-20 campaign greatly outweighs anything they can do for this team over the next six weeks. The end game can’t be about today and what will ultimately be another wasted campaign. Even if the Oilers somehow manage to get into the playoffs, the season is still a write-off.
Whenever you're out of the playoff race – which the Oilers are, polite denials be damned – going through the trade deadline with multiple UFAs you probably aren't re-signing is a disappointment.
It wouldn't shock me if there was basically no market, but it's unfortunate for EDM.
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) February 25, 2019
Again, perhaps there were serious efforts made to move contracts out to help lighten the financial burden on the Edmonton Oilers cap in 2019-20 and it couldn’t get done. If that was the case, so be it but everything points to that not being the direction Keith Gretzky and company were looking heading into the NHL Trade Deadline. Disappointing to say the least.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.