With all the talk about the Edmonton Oilers this year about what they need to add, players have started to be traded and their names have dropped out of any significant talks about impactful players. Edmonton isn’t a preferred destination for many, even with the talent that is in town.
This has and will continue to make it more difficult for the Oilers to convince players to join their team rather than another destination. There are still holes that could be addressed, but at what cost? It may end up being too much for Ken Holland to think it’s smart to make a move on. But for the first time all year, the Oilers look to just about be at full health just in time for the most important time of the year.
Oilers’ Returning From Injuries & Filling Holes in Lineup
The Oilers have gotten four everyday players back from injury in a short time, and one more is on the way within the next two weeks. That would mark the entire team being healthy for the first time all year. They lead the league in man-games lost by defencemen and have gone through tough stretches relying on prospects to step up and fill the holes. They didn’t do a bad job, but every team of course wants a fully healthy squad as was intended to start the season.
Among the players who have recently returned, Jesse Puljujarvi, a top-six player, joined the Oilers for their last game after missing exactly a month. He slotted in on the second line beside Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman, and that line controlled play in the offensive zone while looking great together.
The Oilers also welcomed back defenceman Kris Russell for their last game to fill the left side of the third pairing, playing alongside Tyson Barrie. This spot had previously been occupied by rookies Philip Broberg and Markus Niemelainen in his absence of a month and a half. Russell is the all-time leader in blocked shots, and even though he isn’t the most flashy of players, he is still effective and is a solid veteran presence. This spot may be the position that the Oilers are most likely to target before the trade deadline, depending on what is out there for a reasonable price.
Both Zack Kassian and Josh Archibald have joined the Oilers for their homestand in which they have won all four games thus far. Kassian came back from injury for the first game while Archibald joined him the game after. They have both been slotted in on the fourth line and create 2/3 of a high energy and physical line. The Oilers were rumoured to be looking for a physical player to shore up their fourth line, but they have Kassian back and playing like the player he used to be, hitting everything in sight and adding a bit of offence.
Archibald bumps Tyler Benson down to the American Hockey League (AHL) but also brings a tenacious style of hockey for a smaller player who can be relied on defensively and add some more offence. He has been effective for the Oilers since joining the organization but will be forced to miss the remaining games in the U.S. due to being unvaccinated (from ‘Unvaccinated Josh Archibald back in the Edmonton Oilers line-up’, Edmonton Journal, March 11, 2022). This may cause a problem in the postseason if the Oilers match up against an American team in the first round which looks likely.
The last injured member of the team, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, is set to join the team in about 10-12 days and will slot in on the third line at centre, giving the team the great forward depth down the middle to match the rest of the group now. They will be covered on the power play and shorthanded and have more than enough players for every situation upfront.
Not Worth It for Oilers to Go All-In This Season
I know what you may be thinking, a team in a position to make the playoffs should do what they can to improve and compete for the Stanley Cup. Not making any significant or big moves at the trade deadline doesn’t mean the Oilers aren’t planning on winning or giving themselves a chance.
They are tight this season on cap space and have individuals they can move, but it will most likely cost them another asset to do so. I don’t believe that is worth it mid-season. The goalie market out there is tough, and there aren’t many long-term solutions to magically fix the goaltending. Semyon Varlamov won’t waive his no-trade clause to come to Edmonton, and Marc-Andre Fleury is a big ask with other teams in hot pursuit as well. He would be a short-term solution and cost a big haul to acquire.
While on their game, Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith are serviceable and could get hot. We’ve seen both do so over the past two years with Koskinen having more than one decently long hot stretch this season. If Smith can find his game and play like he did last season, it would be a relief for the Oilers. One game doesn’t mean much, but it is a good start and it came on a night where the close competition in the standing all won. Holland’s plan looks to be to finish the season with this tandem.
An argument for going all-in could be that the Oilers have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on their team and every year they should be going for it. They also have an impactful player in Evander Kane signed for cheap, and he won’t come that cheap next year if they try and re-sign him.
But as I said, it’s not like they don’t plan on winning. The cost will likely be too high to get all the necessary moves done before the deadline and with a roster that has been more banged up than this one this season, they have proven they can play against the best of the best.
Evander Kane Another Early Gift to the Team
The Oilers had a very tough December and went on a 2-11-2 slide before adding Kane on January 27th, just five days after they started to turn things around. He has already added 10 goals and 18 points in 22 games while giving the top-six the physicality they were lacking providing 61 hits.
With the absence of Nugent-Hopkins, Kane has been a factor on the power play as well and given either McDavid or Draisaitl a legitimate scoring winger who can also protect them. Though the addition came well before the trade deadline, Kane has proven to be very worth it and can be seen as a mid-season acquisition that costed no assets to acquire.
With not much room to work with and the team looking pretty solid as is, I believe Holland will more or less stand pat and probably add a less impactful player for depth purposes on the back-end. He could surprise everyone and pull off something big but don’t count on it.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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