As the Edmonton Oilers enjoy a reprieve from the cold Edmonton weather on their current five-game road trip, you can’t help but notice how fragile the team’s psyche currently is. Losers of eight of ten games going into their New Year’s Day tilt with the New York Islanders, the team seems like they’re still gripping their sticks tighter and look like a team afraid to make a mistake. This goes for the coaches too.
In the Oilers’ 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 29, Oilers rookie defenceman Dmitri Samorukov made two critical mistakes early in the first period that led to his benching for the remainder of the game. A tough way for the rookie rearguard to start his career. One that may have been handled differently were the Oilers and their coaching staff not so desperate for wins (think Ethan Bear).
So how did this team led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl lose their early-season mojo? Part of it has to come down to injuries, the pandemic and so much upheaval on the roster. They also look like a team that could use some good luck. After such a hot start to 2021-22 and with expectations high, the current rendition of the Oilers are a team now in a dog fight for a playoff spot, especially with the Vancouver Canucks climbing back into contention after bringing in new coach Bruce Boudreau.
Oilers fans and some pundits are pointing fingers at Oilers general manager Ken Holland and Oilers head coach Dave Tippett, calling for their dismissal almost on a daily basis, especially on Oilers Twitter. Holland has done some good things, but has made some questionable moves. He also has over $4 million in dead cap space with Milan Lucic, James Neal and Andrej Sekera still on the books this year. And the team is paying back up goalie Mikko Koskinen $4.5 million again this year.
Could you imagine what $8.5 million would do for this team? Almost every NHL team has some dead cap space to deal with, but the Oilers appear to be dealing with more than most. Part of that comes from having to overpay players to come to Edmonton. If you’re a free agent, playing with McDavid and Draisaitl is definitely appealing. But Alberta’s tax structure isn’t as lucrative as regions such as Florida, and when it comes to the weather, there’s really no comparison because Edmonton’s arctic winters are definitely not for the faint of heart.
Winning Can Change Everything
This current rendition of the Edmonton Oilers could use some roster tweaks by the trade deadline and some genuine luck. They could start by scoring the first goal in their next few games. The team could also use some good news on the injury front, especially from prospect Dylan Holloway. If Holloway’s wrist is at 100 percent, and he lives up to his scouting reports, he could inject some positive energy into the team.
Holland also needs a big win on or before the trade deadline. If he can shed some salary in a trade and bring in a third-line centre, a gritty D man and a reliable starting goaltender, then you’d have to consider that a win. But let’s be realistic, even one out of three on this trade wish list could help the Oilers down the stretch.
The Oilers Need Some Wins on Current January Road Trip
When play resumed in the NHL after the COVID shutdown, the Oilers were in need of a winning streak. Things didn’t start off well in St. Louis in late December, and then with a disappointing loss in New Jersey to the Devils on New Year’s Eve, Oilers fans are hoping the team can get on a roll. They need to win at least two of the final three games on this current trip. A winning streak would not only help the team’s confidence, but would also help the fan base overall. After reading some toxic tweets on Twitter, including one mocking Holland for the way he was thinking and speaking, you have to hope that Oilers fans can do better. Maybe winning could do that.
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.