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5 Oilers questions for the back half of the 2023-24 NHL season

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Photo credit:Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
baggedmilk
25 days ago
Even though we’ve passed the literal halfway point of the NHL season, the All-Star Break is always seen as the unofficial halfway mark of the year, and that has a few questions rolling around in my mind that I would love your help with solving.

Are We Going All In at the Deadline?

Seeing as the Oilers have forced their way back into playoff contention after a dreadful start to their season, all I can think about is how aggressive Ken Holland (Jeff Jackson?) will be at the trade deadline. Now that we’re just over a month away from the NHL’s annual swap-n-shop, the Oilers are in a position to add players despite not having a whole lot of cap space to do so.
Being tight against the cap is a situation we’ve grown accustomed to since Holland has taken over, but after watching the team take a big swing on Mattias Ekholm last year, it’s hard to get excited about the idea of nibbling around the edges. Even though the Oilers aren’t exactly blessed with available cap space, I do wonder what kind of creative solutions Old Dutch will be able to pull out of his hat at this year’s deadline. As I see it, the Oilers would probably love some additional skill on the wings and maybe an upgrade on defence, but making that happen could be tough depending on how much management wants to spend.
Seeing as they’ll likely have $4 million in space by the deadline, that’s more than enough to pick up an impact player who can help them down the stretch drive. Of course, finding those guys and trading for them at a reasonable price is going to be a challenge, but if last year’s Ekholm deal taught me anything it’s that there’s a way to make things happen if you’re willing to get creative, and I certainly hope that’s the case for the Oilers again this season.

Can Stuart Skinner Keep It Going?

What a year Stewart Skinner has had, right? Some of us were questioning whether the guy still knew how to play goalie or not earlier in the season, but then he took off like a runaway train over the last couple of months. Through this 16-game win streak, Skinner has put up a dazzling record of 12-0-0 in the games he’s played to go along with a 1.41 GAA and a .950 save percentage. Needless to say, our man is on fire and he deserves a ton of credit for the way the Oilers have turned things around.
Yet, in the back of my mind, I do worry about whether Stuart Skinner will be able to keep up this torrid pace. That’s not to suggest I don’t believe in Stu — I absolutely think he is the 1A for this franchise — but I do wonder about his workload and whether he’ll have enough support behind him to give the guy more than a few nights off. I’m not saying that as a slight on Calvin Pickard either — he’s played well in the eight appearances he’s had so far — but I don’t think anyone would have ever expected the guy to be the Oilers’ backup at this point in the season, and that makes me nervous just in case we’ll need him more than we have so far.

Can Zach Hyman Hit 50 Goals?

As I’m writing this from my hotel room in Toronto, I can’t help but wonder where Zach Hyman’s magical season is going to end up. Hyman already has 30 goals on the season after only 44 games played, and the idea of watching him put up 50 even though he had never even hit 50 points before coming to Edmonton is simply stunning.
Arguably the best story of the year, the season Hyman has put up so far has been so much fun and I don’t ever want it to stop. It’s not just that he’s scoring goals en masse but the way he grinds for each and every one of them is the kind of stuff that turns you into a legend in our city. Even if he didn’t score another goal all year, I’d personally call the 2023-24 season a successful one for a guy that supposedly signed “the worst contract in NHL history” according to a blog out of Toronto called Editor in Leaf.
Haters aside, I can’t help but feel like we’re incredibly lucky to have Hyman on the roster and producing at the level he is for only $5.5 million per season. And to have a 50-goal season within reach for a guy whose career high was 41 points before he got here feels like the kind of feel-good story that can only happen in sports. Just because no one ever expected him to score this much, Zach Hyman’s heart and hustle are going to give us an absolutely stunning story to follow as we wind down the year.
Can Zach Hyman hit 50 goals? I say he gets there. Dammit, why not?

Who Will Be the Second Half Hero?

If the Oilers are going to not only get themselves back into the playoffs but make some noise once they get there, they’re going to need more players to step up and fight above their weight class. Remember when Fernando Pisani got rolling back in 2006 and no one saw it coming? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. I want to know which player is going to play out of their mind down the stretch and give the Oilers an extra push that maybe we didn’t expect.
Looking at the roster, a few candidates for the second half hero stick out to me, and I’d love to know what you think too. I think of a guy like Contract Year Foegele and how he’s been playing the best hockey of his NHL career over the last six weeks. Could McLovin be the guy that comes up with some timely goals and plays that make the difference at key moments? Could Evander Kane get back on the roll that we saw early in the year before he got banged up and demoted to the third line? Gord knows he has the skill to do it.
I want to know who will be the guy from down in the lineup whose name we’ll be chanting come playoff time. I want to know who is going to grab the moment and earn themselves The Answer belt. I want to know who is going to put themselves in a position to never buy another beer in our fair city whenever they’re thirsty. I want to know who steps up, but the interesting part about this question is that I think there are a few options that could make it happen. Now to wait and see if my bullishness comes through or not.

Will We Ever Lose Again?

Alright, so maybe this one is just for fun, but what else do you expect with the team riding a 16-game heater and wrapping up a perfect month of January? I’ve been an Oilers fan my whole life, and I’ve never seen anything like this 24-3 stretch we’re living in right now. Nor have I ever seen the Oilers win games in such random ways. It’s not like we’re talking about a run of blowouts or anything like that, but rather a team that’s found different ways to win regardless of who they’re facing.
I know some fanbases are poo-pooing the Oilers’ win streak because they had a lighter schedule in January, but the reality is that winning that many games is incredibly difficult, or else everyone would do it. From where I blog, their jealous tears are incredibly delicious and I hope to Gord that the boys can break the league record too so I can bask in the saltiness from now until forever.

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