The Oilers are coming out of the bye week sitting third last in the Western Conference with only Chicago and Los Angeles below them. While they are just three points back of the final wild-card spot, they need to jump five teams to get there. That’s a tall order especially considering the fact that they dropped their last three games heading into the break.
Take all of that and combine it with the fact that they’ve only gotten consistent offensive production from three players, their defensive core can’t stay healthy, their goaltending has been suspect and things don’t look good.
They also don’t have a General Manager and even if they did, he wouldn’t really have the organizational depth or cap space necessary to make a big splash at the trade deadline.
On the surface, this team should be a seller at the upcoming trade deadline, or at the very least, they should simply hold onto the cards they have, ride out this season, and wait until the summer to make any decisions.
But I don’t think the Oilers should do that and here’s why:
1 – THE MESSAGE
There’s been lots of talk about what Connor McDavid thinks about the change in management and the current direction of the team. Some fear that McDavid would ask out if things don’t get better over the next few years, although I don’t buy into that line of thinking.
Regardless, if the Oilers go into the deadline and sell of the likes of Chiasson and Talbot or even if they just stand pat and don’t do anything, what kind of message does that send to McDavid and the rest of the team’s young core?
I don’t think it’s the best idea for the Oilers management to look at Connor McDavid and essentially say “your team is only three points out of the race in a weak conference, but we don’t believe in you and this group”.
I’m not saying I agree, or disagree, with them selling off at the deadline. I see, from a hockey perspective, why getting a bunch of draft picks and setting up your next GM for success makes sense, but the Oilers have Connor McDavid and considering what he means to this franchise, they owe it to him to not just keep this roster in-tact on February 25th but they should look at adding a winger. Not a player that would cost the first round pick, but someone who could come in and make this team better.
Don’t take this as me saying Connor McDavid would demand that the Oilers make a trade or anything along those lines, I don’t believe him to be that type of player, but the Oilers can’t just accept 2018-19 as a lost season. They owe it to their franchise player to at least attempt to improve this team and give him a fighting chance of dragging this team into the playoffs.
2 – A HEALTHY BLUELINE
Don’t underrate the importance of Oscar Klefbom being back in the lineup. He’s their number one defenseman and there’s no other way to put it. He gives them a reliable top pairing d-man who gets the puck to their forwards efficiently and can simply eat minutes. He will also help out their powerplay, which has been struggling as of late.
In the Oilers last ten games before Klefbom went down they were 7-2-1. They allowed just 22 goals (2.20 goals against per game) and Klefbom has seven points over that span.
With Klefbom out of the lineup, they went 6-12-1 and allowed 72 goals (3.29 goals against per game).
Now, you could point towards the goaltending as getting worse but I think the play of the goaltenders can be directly linked with the absence of both Klefbom and Kris Russell, who missed close to a month with injury as well.
They should be welcoming back Andrej Sekera to the lineup within the next few weeks as well. I’m not sure how much Sekera will be able to contribute, but if he’s 100% healthy, he will no doubt help the Oilers back end. A healthy blueline is definitely a reason to be more optimistic about this team heading into the second half.
All these bodies returning also means they could try to deal Matt Benning or Alex Petrovic in order to find the cap space necessary to make a deal.
3 – THE TRICKLE DOWN
Trading a mid-round draft pick and a prospect for a player like Marcus Johansson or Andrei Burakovsky, or even if they pay a slightly higher price and get someone like Ryan Dzingel, might not seem like the type of move that elevates a team from a the edge of a playoff race to being a legit playoff contender, but it could make a huge impact on the Oilers.
The team has an elite duo on their top line with McDavid and Draisaitl. They also have an elite second line centre in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, he just needs a little bit of help. If they could bring in a winger that clicks with RNH, not only would it give them a consistent source of secondary scoring, but it could push someone like Jujhar Khaira to the third line and allow him to try to spark some offence from the bottom six. Call me a homer for suggesting that, but Khaira’s game has taken a strong step in the right direction since the calendar flipped to 2019.
They don’t need to add a player that drives the play, if they just add a nice complimentary piece to their top six, it could result in an increased level of production from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and also push a piece like Khaira or even Jesse Puljujarvi to the bottom six, which could spark offence from even lower in the lineup.
It would also allow them to potentially find a little bit of consistency in their lines, which could even make the trio of McDavid-Draisaitl-Chiasson even more dangerous. If Chiasson keeps getting comfortable and you don’t have to always be double shifting McDavid and Draisaitl, that’s only a positive.
Maybe this bye-week has made me a little crazy with optimism, but the Oilers aren’t out of the race yet. Now that their defence is healthy, or close to it, that should help their goaltending out. That will go a long way in solving their problems when it comes to allowing goals. They also have the best player in the world leading their offence and if they can just give him a little bit of help, it could solve their problems in the goal-scoring department as well.