Oilers Have More Questions Than Answers Midway Through 2021-22

We are close to the halfway point of the 2021-22 Edmonton Oilers season, and it feels like it’s been two seasons rolled into one. The Oilers started the 21-22 campaign on fire, were on top of the Pacific Division, and led the Western Conference standings on Dec. 1 with a 16-5-0 record. All the talk around the team, at least early in the season, was about how far they would go in the playoffs. Fast forward two months, after two lengthy losing streaks in December and January, and fans are wondering if the Oilers will even qualify for the postseason.

Edmonton Oilers Celebrate
Jesse Puljujarvi #13 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Vancouver Canucks with teammates Darnell Nurse #25, Connor McDavid #97, Leon Draisaitl #29 and Tyson Barrie #22 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Are the Oilers bound for the postseason for the second year in a row, (or third if you consider the 2020 qualifying series against the Chicago Blackhawks?), or are the Oilers a deeply flawed hockey club that is being carried by their two generational superstars, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? It doesn’t seem like anyone has the answers, including the Oilers leadership team, led by general manager Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett.

The Addition of Evander Kane Could Help The Oilers On the Ice

When the news broke that the Oilers had signed forward Evander Kane for the final three months of the regular season, some fans were elated because of the grit and scoring ability that Kane will bring to the team. Others were disappointed that the Oilers signed a player with a questionable past.

Related: Kane Excited to Join Oilers, But Is Negative Narrative Already Written?

Kane’s signing has caused a division among Oilers fans, and only a strong performance on the ice as well as signs of remorse on his part will help heal what appear to be fresh wounds among the Oilers faithful. If Kane, who led the San Jose Sharks in scoring last season, continues his strong on ice play, he could really help an Oilers squad often criticized for being soft.

Dylan Holloway Could Bolster the Oilers, if He Gets Called Up

The early reviews for Dylan Holloway’s performance down in Bakersfield have been very positive. In fact, many are saying that Holloway looks NHL ready less than ten games into his American Hockey League (AHL) career. The addition of Holloway with the big club up in Edmonton could help the Oilers bolster their third line, and provide the flexibility to move Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down to centre, giving the Oilers three solid forward lines that are all capable of scoring.

If Holloway gets off to a fast start in the NHL he could possibly find himself on one of the top two lines playing with McDavid or Draisaitl. The fact that Holloway is on a rookie contract helps Holland in terms of the cap hit, however based on Holland’s history, you have to wonder if the Oilers’ GM will keep Holloway down on the farm to ripen.

Will the Oilers Bring in a Goalie and a D-Man by the Trade Deadline?

This season is looking a bit like the 2005-06 campaign, where the team was struggling to stay in contention, only to have Oilers GM Kevin Lowe bring in Jaroslav Spacek, Sergei Samsonov and unproven goaltender Dwayne Roloson to bolster the team for the stretch run. These three deals added to Lowe’s work earlier in the season where he signed Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger and Olympian Micheal Peca. Lowe’s trades close to the deadline seemed to galvanize the team at the right time as the Oilers marched all the way to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

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Will history repeat itself in 2021-22? Or will the Oilers be handcuffed by the salary cap and unable to address these pressing needs. In terms of goaltenders, the combination of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen offer more questions than answers at this point. Goaltenders Stuart Skinner and Alex Stalock-who is back between the pipes in Bakersfield, might provide a solution. But will Oilers brass be willing to give either Skinner or Stalock a shot at becoming the number one netminder in Oil Country?

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The only silver lining could be that Mike Smith will be well rested after spending so much time on the injured reserve list this season, and could be fresh for the playoffs. It would be extremely difficult to bring in a proven goalie, such as Marc-André Fleury without having the Chicago Blackhawks retain salary or take on salary such as Koskinen’s in return. If the Oilers are going to shop for proven number one goalie for the playoffs, Holland is going to have to get creative and possibly give up a prospect or a pick to make something happen.

Predictions for the Second Half of the Edmonton Oilers 2021-22 Season

You have to think that the Oilers are mentally stronger after coming off their December and January losing streaks.This will help the team going forward in the second half of season, and could really help them if they make the postseason. The Oilers must hope that the California teams (Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings) go into a late-season funk, and start losing some games. As of the end of January, the Oilers find themselves closer to the bottom of the Pacific Division Standings than the top. In terms of getting in as a Western Conference wildcard team, the Oilers would have to play .600 or .700 hockey to get in. The Oilers’ best bet is reel in teams within the Pacific Division, where the Oilers currently have a 10-2 record within the division.

Tyson Barrie Edmonton Oilers
Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

What’s realistic for the second half of the season for the Edmonton Oilers? Will the Oilers be buyers or sellers at the March 21 trade deadline? Now that Evan Bouchard is proving his worth on the powerplay, could Tyson Barrie be a trade chip? And, if Kane works out, could the team consider parting ways with Kailer Yamamoto or Jesse Puljujarvi, who is due a big raise in the offseason. If the Oilers go on another prolonged losing streak in the next three months, they can all but kiss the playoffs goodbye. That would most likely cost some members of the Oilers front office their jobs.

It’ll also mean a roster overhaul in the summer albiet with limited financial resources. Looking at the positive, if the Oilers turn it around and make the playoffs, this could be the season that Edmonton goes farther than one round in the postseason. I’m predicting the Oilers will make the playoffs. They have the deepest forward group since the 80’s and they might be able to score their way into the playoffs despite a weaker defence and goaltending. Where do you think the Edmonton Oilers will finish? All predictions and comments are welcome.

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