By bringing in three significant players at the NHL trade deadline in Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis, Edmonton Oilers’ GM Ken Holland had as good a deadline, on paper at least, as I’ve seen since Kevin Lowe went out and got Dwayne Roloson and Sergei Samsonov in 2006 on the way to the Stanley Cup final.
For now, Holland’s work is done. The rest is up to coach Dave Tippett and his players, who have to turn an improvement on paper into results on the ice with just 20 games remaining in the season and the Oilers in the middle of a playoff race. That, history tells us, isn’t always easy. At 33-27-2 for 73 points, the Oilers are distinctly different team today than they were yesterday.
Who plays with whom? Where do the new players fit? Who gets moved around to accommodate Green, Athanasiou and Ennis? And once Tippett and his staff draw that up, how long does it take for the new mix to become a cohesive group? New players. New personalities. There isn’t a lot of time to get that figured out. The stretch drive isn’t exactly the best time to be trying things out.
It can be done, of course, but we need only look back to 2006 to know it’s not like flipping a switch. We all remember that Cup run, but as good as the Oilers were in the post-season, the 19 games after the trade deadline were no walk in the park. The Oilers, who also added Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom in January, won just nine of those 19 games.
Roloson was distinctly average – he was 8-7-4 with a .905 and 2.43 GAA – before he hit Beast mode. Samsonov was very good with 16 points in those 19 games, but even with that, the Oilers squeaked into the post-season in eighth place. The rest we know. There was an adjustment period then. There will be one now.
ON THE SAME PAGE
I don’t think there’s much argument the Oilers, still waiting on the return of James Neal from injury and Zack Kassian from suspension, are a better team personnel-wise going into Anaheim tonight — although the loss of Kailer Yamamoto takes the edge off that. The question is, how long is it going to take for everybody to settle in? Holland spoke to that Monday.
“I hope it’s just a smooth transition and they’re making beautiful music tomorrow night,” Holland told Jason Gregor when asked about Athanasiou fitting in alongside Connor McDavid. “The reality is I don’t think it’s quite that easy. Some players can find chemistry with some linemates . . .
“Tomorrow night we’re going into Anaheim. It’s a big game. You can’t hold tryouts in March. If you’re going to make the playoffs and you’re trying to win games, you can’t hold tryouts. Dave Tippett might try some things, but you can’t sit and hope and believe that they’re going to all of a sudden find some chemistry if we’re not having success quick enough.
“Dave might have to go to things that have been working and then the players have got to come and adapt to what you’re saying . . . when you go outside and bring in three players, there’s some people’s roles on that hockey team that have helped us have good success to this point in time, their roles are going to change and all of a sudden things change.
“I’m hoping and believing that the moves we made today are going to really pan out and make us a better hockey team. Certainly, I know that I’m running the risk of upsetting the chemistry a little bit and different people are coming in and Dave Tippett has to figure out in a hurry who can find chemistry with who . . .” The full interview with Gregor is here.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While the Oilers have a bit of a margin in the playoff race going into Anaheim, what they don’t need is any unnecessary drama with a repeat of that 2006 swoon before they got into a groove that grabbed this city by the neck. That team, of course, didn’t have McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the stretch with the money on the table. Maybe this group clicks right away.
We know what can happen if you just make it into the post-season. When I look at the teams in the Western Conference, I don’t see a team that looks as dominant as most people thought the Red Wings might be in 2006 before the Oilers got it together and that wild ride picked up steam. Get on with it, men. The sooner the better.