The Oilers entered the second half of the season with playoff hopes dashed and fans enraged. Offseason bets haven’t worked out, and the long-term effects of downgrading in skill each summer are showing.
Still, the season isn’t a complete loss. The Oilers can build for next year. There won’t be blockbuster trades, but they can make moves that help long term.
- Sell off at the deadline. Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu, Mike Cammalleri, and Yohann Auvitu are impending unrestricted free-agents that have to be moved. Maroon’s the big chip, and could net the Oilers a second-round pick. Letestu might be able to get a third, and take anything for Cammalleri. Auvitu’s versatility at wing and defence means he could have a role in Edmonton beyond this season.
- RFA housekeeping. Ryan Strome, Anton Slepyshev, Drake Caggiula, Brandon Davidson, Matthew Bennning, and Darnell Nurse are all restricted free-agents after the season. Caggiula, Benning, and Nurse are part of the future. Davidson could return as cheap depth. Strome’s $3-million qualifying offer means he could be sent out at the deadline as it’s unlikely the Oilers qualify him at that price. Slepyshev has rarely played and reportedly available, it’s easy to see him gone.
- Test drive players. I’ve talked about Anthony Duclair being an option. He’d be the kind of player that wouldn’t cost a lot, but could be worth taking a chance on in the twilight of the season. The Oilers aren’t adding in the typical way at the deadline, but someone has to fill in for the free agents that go.
- Try RNH on the wing. What’s the harm? They’re loaded at center with few skilled wingers.
- Rest Cam Talbot. Talbot’s played a lot of hockey for the Oilers. There’s no point starting him 35 times the rest of the season. Give Al Montoya more games. Maybe even Laurent Brosoit or Nick Ellis get a game if either plays well in Bakersfield.
- Clear salary. The Oilers’ cap situation is even more precarious with McDavid’s mega extension kicking in next season. If there’s someone that would take Kris Russell’s contract the Oilers should consider it, especially with Darnell Nurse needing a new deal.
- Lay the groundwork for the offseason. People get fired when team’s don’t do well. Going from a 103-point season to an ~80-point season during the last cheap year of a generation center? That’s going to cost someone their job. A mid-season change is unlikely because teams won’t let their guys go on route to the playoffs. But things happen in the NHL when they’re not supposed to. Contract terms get discussed in advance, players talk to one another about free-agent destinations, and an organization in the midst of a disappointing campaign could let a team like Nashville or Tampa Bay know they’d like to interview one of their assistant general managers after the season.
This year is incredibly disappointing for the Oilers and their fans. This won’t be exciting, Oilers fans know a team playing out a lost season all too well, but they can set themselves up for next year with some smart moves.