Having watched the injury-riddled Edmonton Oilers battle and scrap to earn a point against the NHL’s best team in the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 overtime loss on Wednesday, I don’t think there’s any doubt that GM Ken Holland will make a move before the NHL trade deadline to bolster his team for a playoff push.
How far, exactly, Holland is willing and able to go between now and Monday to add to a roster missing Connor McDavid, James Neal, Oscar Klefbom, Zack Kassian, Kris Russell and Joakim Nygard, I don’t know. And while Holland is scheduled to have a media availability this morning at 11:45, I doubt we’ll come away from that knowing much more in terms of details.
In his 22 years running the Detroit Red Wings, who were in Stanley Cup contention to one degree or another for most of his time in the Motor City, Holland was never one to show his cards or tip off what he intended to do. I don’t imagine that will change today with the Oilers sitting at 32-21-7 for 71 points with 22 games remaining — two of those before the deadline.
The needs we know: a left winger to play alongside McDavid and a third line centre, to name the most obvious. How big a swing Holland takes depends on several factors, with money in and money out and deciding between a player with term or a rental near the top of that list. The way I see it, though, the biggest single factor will be how Holland perceives where the Oilers are in terms of contention.
MAKE A RUN
Are the Oilers a one-and-done team in the playoffs? Do they have a legitimate chance of going deeper than that, of coming out of a dead-even Pacific Division and making some noise with McDavid and the others back? How much does Holland give up for one round? For two rounds? For an impact rental or a useable player with some term remaining?
There’s been plenty of speculation about all the above — talk about interest in Adam Larsson by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman saying Holland was all-in on Blake Coleman before he was dealt to Tampa Bay — but no recent insight from the Oilers’ GM himself. With McDavid poised to return and the Oilers feeling rightfully good about how they’ve performed of late, they look and sound like a team worthy of help.
“We just won two games in a row, why can’t we keep winning?” coach Dave Tippett said after pushing the Bruins to overtime. “It is a mindset, you have to go out and play. Some guys have been looking for more opportunities and you get that opportunity and jump in and play. As a group, we started poor, but we battled hard and got better as the game went on and got a hard-fought point.
“I think Ken has a pretty good handle in things. We’ve really concentrated on trying to do what we have to do as a team. If there’s something there (trade-wise) that he thinks can help us, he’ll look at it. But right now, I’m focused on trying to make sure our team is ready to every night.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s been plenty to like about the Oilers since they’ve gone about extracting themselves from the hole they dug in December, of that there is no debate. Likewise, in the way they’ve gone 3-1-1 with McDavid out of the line-up. In the way Mike Smith has battled in the goal crease. In the way Leon Draisaitl has put the team on his back. In Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto. On and on. This team has shown some moxy.
Like I said off the top, I don’t think there’s any question Holland is going to step up to the plate between now and Monday, but I have no idea how big a swing he’s going to take. Only Holland knows that, and he hasn’t told us and he won’t, even when he steps up to the microphone today. We’ll find out when it happens, not before.