Another year, another ask of patience from the Edmonton Oilers.
There’s no denying the Oilers strong regular season that saw them finish second in the north division and the 11th best record in the league. Connor McDavid was nothing short of incredibly while teammate and friend Leon Draisaitl, too, had a tremendous year.
The Oilers found them in the top-10 not only in goal scoring but in allowing goals, too. Big strides were taken in the team’s game over the 56-game regular season but it was all for naught after being swept by the Winnipeg Jets.
The message from the organization? Trust the process.
“(We’re) obviously disappointed. Anytime you don’t win the Stanley Cup in this industry you’re disappointed,” said Oilers general manager Ken Holland in a Wednesday press conference. “I was proud of our guys. There was a lot of positive steps made this year.
“The pain we’re feeling today means our team was competitive, we played at a high level. We were second in the division. We were good on the road. I could give you lots of statistics. We played the type of hockey I believe you need to play to be successful in playoffs.
“What I’m laying out for you is that we got to stick with the process, we have to stick with the plan. You got to continue to try to build your team, you got to try to play your way into the playoffs every year.”
It’s all true and fair. Edmonton needs to assemble itself as an organization that is able to compete year in and year out and it’s certainly an element the club has lacked for decades. But when is enough enough?
Fans and followers of this club have for the last decade sat through some of the toughest times of any franchise in the league only to be disappointed once again by the final result. At what point does that become enough motivation for an organization to go all in and make a big push?
For the Oilers, it could very well be this offseason. They have roughly $24-million in cap space before any buyouts — something Holland said is “very possible” — and a number of holes to fill. Decisions need to be made on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyson Barrie and Adam Larsson, all UFA’s, and a group of another dozen players the Oilers need to make calls on.
A buyout of James Neal’s remaining contract would free nearly $4-million in cap space while a buyout of Mikko Koskinen’s remaining year would free up $3-million. Both reasonable options.
The Oilers are no longer able to accept mediocrity. They’re no longer able to accept first-round exits. Ken Holland’s time to get creative in the free-agent market and trade market is now.
“We have lots of cap space but we have lots of players to sign,” noted Holland. “It’s not like we got a whole bunch of cap space and we’ve got that to sign three players. A large part of our team up front has contracts that are up.”
And when it comes to the market Holland knows what he needs to find and that’s more depth scoring. The Oilers continued to struggle to produce when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl weren’t on the ice.
In fact, Edmonton scored just 32 goals when neither of them was on the ice this year.
Compare that to Colorado who scored 90 goals when leading scorers Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon were off the ice.
In Toronto, the Leafs scored 89 goals when the top two scorers Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were off the ice.
And lastly, how about Vegas who scored 108 (!) goals without leading scorers Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on the ice.
Long story short, Edmonton having a sub-standard supporting cast is no longer going to cut it if this team wants to take the big step forward.
It could come in the form of an impact trade, but Holland said he doesn’t see that as a necessity. Holland singles out young depth players in Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan McLeod as three who could step up internally next year.
The aforementioned free-agent market has some attractive pieces, too. Zach Hyman, Blake Coleman, Tomas Tatar, and to a lesser extent, Jaden Schwartz, could be some of those that Holland chases this offseason.
“I’m coming in here trying to chart a path of building a program and at the appropriate time, history suggests that I’ve made bold moves,” Holland said. “We need to continue to build that program and if the right person is available at the right time to make that move (I would do it).”
The Oilers have an opportunity in front of it next season. They’ll rejoin a tattered Pacific Division made up of the elite Vegas Golden Knights, six teams that missed the playoffs in Vancouver, Calgary, Arizona, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose, and a complete unknown in the expansion Seattle Kraken.
There’s no better time than the present and the Oilers need to be aware of that.
Let’s see what the team has up their sleeve and how much different this team looks in six months.