Ken Holland pulled the trigger on a major move on Thursday, firing head coach Dave Tippett and associate coach Jim Playfair.
The Edmonton Oilers have dropped back-to-back games coming out of the All-Star break and currently sit 10th in the Western Conference in terms of points percentage. While the Oilers have a few games in hand on the teams above them, they’re also facing a difficult schedule the rest of the way, both in terms of the number of games they’ll play and the quality of their opponents.
With the trade deadline a month-and-a-half away, what’s next for Holland and the Oilers?
Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman on Sportsnet talked on Thursday about Holland’s next priority now that he’s made the decision to fire Tippett and Playfair, which is figuring out the team’s goaltending situation. Friedman mentioned that Holland has made an offer for Martin Jones of the Philadelphia Flyers and that he balked at the price the Columbus Blue Jackets requested for Joonas Korpisalo.
Marek: I wonder if all of those same stresses that you mentioned with Ken Holland, there’s the coaching decision and now that’s been made. But isn’t the goalie stress still there? I don’t know if we’ve seen Stuart Skinner demonstrate that he can be the guy.
This isn’t a team that just has aspirations to get to the playoffs and then it’s a successful season, not the way Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are playing. You’re looking for a goaltender who’s going to take you deeper. I look at that stress for Ken Holland as still existing, that hasn’t gone with the coaching change.
Friedman: If you look at Holland, I think he offered like a fifth-round pick to Philly for Martin Jones, Philly wasn’t doing that. I think with Joonas Korpisalo, the Blue Jackets were asking for a couple of higher round draft picks, not a first, but it was something Edmonton didn’t want to do. [Friedman mentions later that Columbus asked for a second- and a third-round pick for Korpisalo]
The thing is, Holland has shown that he’s not going to do something there just for the sake of doing it. I know I’m a broken record, but I keep talking about how missing the playoffs this year in Edmonton isn’t an option, and what happened the last 48 hours certainly jeopardized that, but I still think Holland is determined not to make a move where he looks at it and says ‘that’s a disaster waiting to happen.’
I think one of the guys they like is the kid from St. Louis, Ville Husso. But the Blues are trying to win the Stanley Cup this year and I don’t know if that makes any sense for them.
Even a fifth-round pick seems steep for Jones, who likely wouldn’t be a clear upgrade over what the Oilers already have. Jones has a .901 save percentage over the course of 17 games for the Flyers this season, which is a slight upgrade on the .896 save percentage hs posted in back-to-back-to-back seasons for the San Jose Sharks before getting bought out last summer.
Columbus’ ask for Korpisalo is also incredibly steep given how he’s played over the past couple of years. After what appeared to be a breakout season in 2019-20, Korpisalo has posted an .891 save percentage over the course of 51 games for the Blue Jackets between 2021 and 2021-22. He’s a free agent at the end of this season and Columbus has already indicated that Elvis Merzlikins is the goalie they’ll be rolling with as he signed a five-year contract back in September.
The most interesting name mentioned by Friedman is Ville Husso, who’s come out of nowhere with an amazing season for the Blues. Husso posted a .893 save percentage in 17 games as a 26-year-old rookie for St. Louis last season but has been incredible this year with a .941 save percentage in 15 games.
Husso is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so there’s some merit to the suggestion that the Blues could sell high and roll with Jordan Binnington, the goalie who took them all the way in 2019. But given the fact the Blues are a contender, they’re probably just better off keeping this tandem and accepting that Husso might leave for nothing in the summer.
Also, on TSN’s Insider Trading, Darren Dreger mentioned that Holland’s top priority might instead be upgrading the team’s defence, particularly on the right side. While Edmonton’s goaltending has been poor, Dreger suggests that the team’s problems run deeper than in net. He also said that the Oilers likely don’t have the assets to add both a goaltender and a defenceman.
Dreger: Goaltending, of course, could become a real priority one more time for Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers. That seems pretty obvious given the storylines that have swirled around the crease. But you’ve got to look much deeper than that and look at the defensive core of the Edmonton Oilers.
What they need is a top-three, top-four, right-shot defenceman, because their defence collectively hasn’t been good enough. They give up Grade A chances night after night, which obviously puts more stress on the team.
You can’t afford the assets to upgrade your goaltending and add a top-three, top-four defenceman, so it’s tough decisions ahead for Ken Holland, but that right-shot defenceman is a priority.
The name that comes to mind here is Ben Chiarot, a left-handed defender who can play both sides of the blueline.
Chiarot was excellent for the Montreal Canadiens during their run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring, as he led the team with an average time on ice of 25:15 per game and went up against the other team’s top competition. Given how bad the Habs are, moving Chiarot, an impending free agent, is an automatic.
Given the Oilers already have Evan Bouchard, Cody Ceci, and Tyson Barrie on the right side, it’s possible that we see one of them moved in order to accommodate the addition of another defender. Barrie would be the most sensible one to move of that trio, as his role on the team as an offensive defenceman has been made redundant by Bouchard’s breakout. Barrie also carries a $4.5 million cap hit, so moving that out would help give Holland the space to add another impact player.