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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

31 Takes On 31 Days: January Edition

January was a wild month for the Edmonton Oilers. They did not end December very well and with a long road trip looming to start 2020, things didn’t look good for the boys in orange. Instead of crumbling, they saved their season. Here are my 31 takes on the last 31 days around Oilersnation.

  1. If the Edmonton Oilers find a way to make the playoffs, there are going to be two moments that we look to as ‘season-defining’. The first is the winning streak to start this past month. After an awful December, the team found a way to beat some very good teams on the road. That trip could have easily gone the other way and put them in a very tough spot heading into the All-Star break.
  2. The second moment will be the game against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, where things really hit the fan from an emotional perspective. Yes, they didn’t win but it was a heated affair and in my opinion, things like that can bring a team closer together. They didn’t get the victory back on January 11th, but that moment seemed to give them a spark.
  3. After the night in Calgary, the Oilers rattled off two wins that were each impressive in their own way.
  4. The 7-3 throttling of the Arizona Coyotes came the day before the teams bye-week began. Combine that with the fact they just had three days off and the game was taking place in the afternoon, there was a part of me that expected the Oilers to look past this one a little bit. Instead, they got off to a blazing hot start and picked up a huge two points against a division rival.
  5. The win against Nashville maybe wasn’t as much fun to watch, but I still walked away from that game being very impressed. Despite a slow start to the season, Nashville is still a good team and the Oilers played a very solid game against them. On a night where they weren’t at their best, the Oilers found a way to take care of business. That’s the sign of a good team.
  6. Their most recent loss to Calgary stings, but I liked their effort. Their powerplay really let them down in the third period and they couldn’t buy a break in the shootout. Stuff like that will happen. 
  7. The first period of that hockey game was one of the most entertaining 20 minutes of hockey I can remember watching. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and there was only one goal scored. Here’s to hoping their game on Saturday night is just as much fun to watch.
  8. I love the fact that Matthew Tkachuk ended up fighting Zack Kassian. Watching their gloves come flying off might be the best Battle of Alberta moment of the last decade. They were both very polite when talking about it in their post-game scrums but I hope the hatred stays around. 
  9. At the end of the day, they’re two points back of Calgary with two games in hand and they own the tiebreak (regulation wins). So while it stings that they haven’t won any of their three games against the Flames, the Oilers are still in a good spot to finish ahead of them in the standings.
  10. When the month began, I was skeptical about the Oilers potentially being heavy buyers. At that time, I viewed them as a team that had a 35-40% chance of making the playoffs and I thought it would be foolish to commit big assets unless the current group of players proved themselves more.
  11. Well, they’ve done that and now I see them as a team with a 75-80% chance of making the playoffs. While I wouldn’t go out and trade their 2020 first-round pick, I think they should consider moving their first or second-round pick in the 2021 Draft along with a young defenseman for some legitimate forward help.
  12. Obviously, if Holland can go out and get a player that is under team control for next season, that would be ideal. Even if it costs a little bit more, getting an impact forward that can help this team now and in the 21/22 season would really set the Oilers up nicely.
  13. If anything, this is a chance for Ken Holland to send a message to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. He can reward them for their tremendous play through the first 50 games of the season and show them that he is serious about winning both now and in the future.
  14. Speaking of trade assets, how Ken Holland handles his defencemen will be very interesting. It’s clear that someone needs to be traded and the deal will probably be for some help up front, but these are trades that Holland can’t afford to lose. I know it sounds like I’m being extreme, but if he can turn a spare asset into a legit top-six forward that’s under team control, it could end up being a franchise-altering move. That extra piece up front would make them very dangerous.
  15. Getting a guy that has team control is really important. I know that the Oilers are in ‘win now’ mode but they aren’t quite in ‘go for the Stanley Cup’ mode. I don’t think it would be wise to spend significant future assets for a rental.
  16. Elsewhere in the division, it will be interesting to see who else is a major buyer. Arizona already made their big move acquiring Taylor Hall, the Vancouver Canucks traded their first-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the draft, and Vegas doesn’t really have the cap space to make a significant move. That really leaves just Calgary as a team to watch. They should have around $4 million to make a move and they have a draft pick in every round for both 2020 and 2021.
  17. Back to the Oilers. Coming into this season, goaltending was generally viewed as the biggest question mark around this team. We knew that Koskinen and Smith would be the duo but consistency was what worried most around this team. While a lack of consistency has been an issue, I think most fans are generally happy about the way the goaltenders have performed.
  18. After it looked like Koskinen was going to be the starter, Smith bounced back incredibly in the month of January. In seven starts, he only gave up more than three goals once (the win over Toronto) and never had a save percentage under .880. 
  19. He’s been very good but I still have a feeling that come playoff time, Mikko Koskinen will be the starter again. I just can’t see Mike Smith keeping up his current level of play for the next two months. Koskinen will get another chance to steal back the crease.
  20. Last week on Oilersnation Radio we talked about who the third most valuable Oiler is and my answer was ‘whoever starts in goal’. I stand by that. If Draisaitl and McDavid or even just the powerplay are rolling on any given night, then the only other thing they need is goaltending and I like their chances of winning.
  21. The other two names I heard a lot when we floated that question out were Oscar Klefbom and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I have time for those arguments, especially when it comes to Klefbom. Last season, we saw how much this blueline struggles without him in the lineup. Even with the emergence of Ethan Bear, I still feel as though he is their puck mover. Whether they’re up or down by a goal, Klefbom is the one player I want on the ice in the final minutes of a game.
  22. I wonder how Dave Tippett will handle his blueline over the next stretch of games. Caleb Jones sat in the press box for their game against Calgary and I can’t imagine the organization likes having one of their young defensemen routinely being a healthy scratch. Will they send him down or start to rotate Jones, Benning, and Russel in and out of the lineup? 
  23. On the Kassian contract, I like it. That’s not a guy I would have wanted to see walk in unrestricted free agency and while they gave him an extra year of term, his salary in that last season is just $2.3 million. He also doesn’t have any trade protection. It would be very easy to move that contract if you need to. Also, you know he works well with McDavid and I don’t think that will change. You can still go try to find more skilled wingers, but having Kassian around is a nice insurance policy. There’s never a guarantee that the player you bring in will click with #97.
  24. If Kassian would have gone to free agency, he definitley could have gotten more money. Teams would have valued a tough, physical player coming off a 20-25 goal season. 4×4 would not have been a stretch for him on the open market and the list of comparables proves that.
  25. What a revelation Kailer Yamamoto has been since being recalled late in December. He came up at a time when the Oilers desperately needed a spark in their top-six and he’s given them exactly that with four goals and three assists in nine games.
  26. The point production hasn’t even been the most impressive part of his game, it’s actually been his ability to retrieve pucks. He’s a hound in the offensive zone and despite his small stature, he routinely knocks defensemen off the puck. Once he gets the puck, he seems to always make a smart play with it.
  27. I’ve been very impressed with his neutral zone player as well. He seems to always know when to take the puck and skate with it, stop up and find a streaking player in the middle of the ice, or just play it safe and deflect it into the offensive zone. Keep an eye on how smart he is in the neutral zone.
  28. There’s no reason to split up the current second line, but I’d be very interested to see how Kailer Yamamoto would look with Connor McDavid. I’m sure there will come a point where we see it because I don’t think Yamamoto is ever going to see the American Hockey League again.
  29. Considering the way that both Yamamoto and Ethan Bear have burst onto the scene this season, I wonder if that changes anything in Ken Hollands offseason plans. Will he be making sure there is a spot for guys like Evan Bouchard or Tyler Benson out of camp? It would be a good way to save some money against the cap and based on how this year’s group of Oilers rookies have performed, who’s to say that Benson and Bouchard can’t be impact players come the fall of 2020.
  30. I touched on the goaltending earlier, but I think we need to see Mikko Koskinen get into at least five games this month. He’s seen game action just once in the last 31 days. It’s important to keep both guys fresh down the stretch and I hope Dave Tippett splits up the workload a little bit better than he did in January.
  31. February is a crazy month for the Oilers. They’ll play 14 games in just 29 days including two sets of back-to-backs, which should help get Koskinen back between the pipes more. The first comes on February 15/16 when they’re in Florida then Carolina. On February 25/26 they’ll be in Anaheim and then Vegas. Out of their 14 games, ten are against Western Division opponents and six are against teams that are within five points of the Oilers in the standings. Some big games coming up this month!