It’s been a tough start to the New Year for the Edmonton Oilers. The team has dropped three in a row on their current road swing and is 3-9 since their big win against the Las Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 27. To make matters worse, the Oilers’ starting goalie Mike Smith was injured in their 6-5 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on New Year’s Eve. Smith is currently out day-to-day again.
It might be time for general manager Ken Holland and Oilers management to swallow their pride and admit the time has finally come to get serious about making a deal for a bonafide starting goalie. This is a glaring need that management should have addressed in the offseason and reminds one of the Death Star in the first Star Wars movie (A New Hope) built with one fatal flaw.
There’s no time like the present to get something done because it’s looking very much like the gamble on the 39-year-old Smith has not paid off. Names like Joonas Korpisalo, Marc-Andre Fleury, Braden Holtby, Linus Ullmark and even Carey Price have been thrown around as trade possibilities for the Oilers. For many names on this shortlist, a lot of creative cap management would have to take place. Some teams may have to take Mikko Koskinen and the remainder of his $4.5 million contract in exchange for another goalie. Others may want a prospect like Philip Broberg or even the Oilers’ upcoming first-round pick in order to retain salary.
Oilers fans have explored trade possibilities for a new goaltender have almost to the point of exhaustion. But this is the time to sound the alarm, because it doesn’t look like you can count on Smith anymore. Koskinen lets in too many demoralizing soft goals at key points in games. And, Stuart Skinner, though trending upward, is still unproven.
Oilers’ Holland Needs to Make a Move Soon
Holland needs to do something, not yesterday but now. He might be working the phones trying to make something happen, but meanwhile, his team appears to be drowning. There are no other clear solutions in sight, except maybe to fire the coach. Holland’s history has shown that he isn’t one to change coaches mid-season, so in order to refresh the chemistry on the Oilers sinking ship, he needs to do something right now. And the most obvious change would be to bring in a really good, reliable goaltender. (Does anyone remember Dwayne Roloson, Curtis Joseph, Bill Ranford, Grant Fuhr, or Andy Moog?)
If Holland is incapable of making a solid hockey deal, then maybe it’s time for ownership to turn the focus on him. Oilers fans have been patient through the last decade and a half. They’ve stood by the team, helping support a new arena and buying tickets. The faithful have even purchased enough Oilers merchandise to help the franchise grow financially to where they’re now in the top ten in terms of value in the NHL.
Pacific Division Rivals Leaving Oilers in the Dust
Having a nice shiny arena and a place in Forbes’ NHL Top Ten is great, but Oilers fans would gladly trade all of it for a taste of playoff success. Look at their rivals to the south in Calgary. The Calgary Flames playing in the old, outdated Saddledome are enjoying a resurgence under head coach Darryl Sutter, and their prospects for going far in the playoffs are looking a lot brighter.
Early in the season, it looked like the Oilers and Flames would battle for the division title, and then the Golden Knights sped past them both. The Golden Knights are only getting better, and with Jack Eichel possibly joining them soon, they could truly run away with the division. The Oilers could learn a bit from the Golden Knights, especially considering how Vegas isn’t afraid to go after high price talent such as Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo and creatively make it work. If Vegas can do it, what’s holding Holland and the Oilers back from making something similar happen?
A fresh face in goal for the Oilers should be the number one priority. If it isn’t, it’s truly a shame. If they continue trending downward, it could be another year of “what ifs.” Oilers fans are tired of it; you can tell by the frustrated voices on Twitter and Facebook. Holland needs to do more than tweak the lineup; he needs to offer fans in Oil Country some genuine hope. Hope that starts with having confidence in a goalie who won’t be on the IR or letting in a soft goal every game. Hopefully Holland can deliver. Hopefully soon.
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.