It’s hard to believe that after going over a month without a win, the Edmonton Oilers are still in a position to compete for a playoff spot. After beating the Calgary Flames 5-3 on Saturday for their first win since Dec. 18 (against the Seattle Kraken), the Oilers are five points back of the Los Angeles Kings for third place in the Pacific Division with four games in hand.
Just a few days ago, if you mentioned the playoffs to anyone in Oilerland, you received Indianapolis Colt’s coach Jim Mora’s famous retort about the postseason from over 20 years ago: “Playoffs? Don’t talk about—playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs!?!” But low and behold, here they are still in postseason contention and with a realistic shot at the 2022 Playoffs.
What the Oilers Need To Make the Playoffs
Despite Mikko Koskinen‘s strong play in the Jan. 22 tilt against the Flames, the Oilers need consistency from their netminders. However, Stuart Skinner is now off of COVID protocol, and Mike Smith will soon return from a thumb injury things might be looking up in the goaltending department. Add in the possibility that Alex Stalock will rebound from myocarditis, and there’s a chance that the Oilers can solve their goaltending issues from within.
Many still believe the Oilers could use Marc-André Fleury, Braden Holtby, or Semyon Varlamov, which means the March 21 NHL trade deadline could be interesting for the Oilers if they are still in contention at that time.
What About Evander Kane?
Should management take a chance on him, or do they pass? A few recent reports have suggested that the Oilers are at the top of the list for Evander Kane. They could use his size, grit, and scoring touch but definitely don’t need any of his off-ice issues to distract an already fragile dressing room. There’s also the message it sends to fans. Is Kane really worth the trouble?
Key Players Returning from Injured Reserve
When injured forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman and defenceman Tyson Barrie return from the injured reserve list, the club will get a boost. However, based on Evan Bouchard’s recent play on the power play, especially against Calgary, you have to wonder if Barrie could be used as a trade chip at the deadline. Bouchard might be ready to take over quarterbacking the man advantage sooner than later, which would give the Oilers some flexibility in terms of cap space and trade chips (if they put Barrie on the block).
Young prospect Dylan Holloway also just returned from injury, and he has shown promise in his short tenure with the farm club in Bakersfield. He could have a positive impact on the club if he’s called up before the end of the season.
A Lot of Games Against Pacific Division Opponents
Edmonton has a 9-2 record against Pacific Division teams this season. That’s hard to believe, considering that the sky seemed to be falling in December and most of January.
If the Oilers can find a way to continue this trend, they should have a good chance at climbing back into a playoff berth. Yes, there are a lot of games, many back-to-backs, to be played between now and late April. They will need some luck on their side. Luck they haven’t had since late November.
Oilers’ Management Not Off the Hook
Even if the Flames victory becomes a turning point in the season, Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett will still be held accountable for one of the most demoralizing losing stretches in franchise history. You can blame the depressing weather, pandemic fatigue, injuries, and an ever-changing lineup for the mood of the fan base, but you can’t deny that mistakes were made in the offseason by Holland and during the season by the coaching staff.
Holland gambled on Mike Smith being healthy, Duncan Keith turning into Chris Chelios, and a bottom-six forward group that could score and keep the puck out of the net, and results are mixed. Will the rest of 2021-22 provide some redemption for Holland, Tippett, and the rest of the team? Possibly. At least you know they are battle-hardened after their losing streak, and, who knows, that might be enough to build enough character to reach the playoffs and maybe even win a round or two. Put on your seatbelt Oilers fans, because it’s going to be an interesting ride from here to the end of the season.
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.