Following a strong playoff run that ended in a disappointing Western Conference Final sweep at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, the Edmonton Oilers have to feel a combination of good and bad. They should be pleased with what they accomplished, but should also be bothered that it ended on such a sour note.
Edmonton had an answer for both the Los Angeles Kings and the Calgary Flames, but not the Avs who were a different, faster, and more skilled team that was able to stifle the Oilers’ offense on more than one occasion. The way this season came to a close, the Oilers will have some serious questions they’ll need to answer. The trick will be trying to figure out how much one series matters in the grand scheme of how the rest of the 2021-22 campaign went.
Question 1: Was The Avalanche Series Winnable?
Making excuses is a loser’s lament, but it’s fair for the Oilers to look back at these four games and ask how much of this series was dictated by things there were potentially out of their control. Almost every game had something. Game 1 included an offside that will be argued for a while. The other games included a mashup of strange officiating, rare misplays, a potential high-stick in overtime, injuries, a suspension, and more. Again, these aren’t excuses, but how much of this factors into the overall performance of the team during this series?
If things had bounced differently a couple of times, would the outcome have been different? Giving credit where it’s due — the Avalanche are a good team — I’ll argue no. But, is this series a sweep? Maybe not. And, if the Oilers lose in six or seven games, is the roster viewed a bit differently? Perhaps.
Question 2: Is Mike Smith The Guy?
There were times during these playoffs that Mike Smith was incredible. There were also times he was the main reason the Oilers lost games. The question GM Ken Holland will have to ask is, are the mistakes Smith is inevitably going to make moving forward worth overlooking because he can be one of the fiercest competitors in the NHL?
Even if the solution isn’t moving Smith in the offseason, it needs to be determined if he can be relied upon for one more year. Is a combination of Stuart Skinner and Smith a winning combination? Do the Oilers need to go out and acquire another goalie to work in tandem with one of these two?
Question 3: Is Kane’s Bad Decision A Reason Not To Retain Him?
Depending on how his grievance with the San Jose Sharks plays out, the Oilers might not have the option to re-sign Evander Kane. If they can, should they? For 45 games, Kane was the epitome of the perfect acquisition for the Oilers. He was an excellent teammate, perfectly walked the line of playing in-your-face hockey, and scored goals at an incredible pace. That is, until this last series where he wasn’t as effective and got himself suspended for a game after a dirty hit on Nazem Kadri.
Some fans will argue that one bad decision during his Oilers’ tenure isn’t enough to warrant the team moving on. Others will say it was only a matter of time before Kane did something dumb and his hit on Kadri is just the tip of what the Oilers should expect if they extend him on a long-term deal.
Signing Kane will come at a cost. Not only will they need to pay him well to keep him, but they’ll need to sacrifice a couple of players to make the money work.
Question 4: Do the Oilers Extend Head Coach Jay Woodcroft?
Jay Woodcroft looked like a genius for most of these playoffs. That said, he ran into a better team and better coaching in the series versus the Avalanche and his team got swept. It’s fair to ask if he’s the guy based on how he put together his lines, deployed his players, and handled adversity.
I would argue the Oilers would be unwise to let him go but Holland will need to decide if he offers him a long-term deal or goes after a higher-profile coach. There are a lot of big names available this offseason and many of them would be attractive for a team that feels a young coach might not be the best fit in a window that will only stay open for so long. And, if Holland chooses to keep Woodcroft, what kind of deal does he offer?
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