Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
What’s the ceiling for the Edmonton Oilers?
1 month ago
What is the ceiling of this Oilers team?
A few weeks ago on Oilersnation Radio, one of my incredible co-hosts, Rick, said that he hadn’t given up hope of winning the division. I thought that was absolutely insane, but since then, the Oilers have continued to be one the best teams in the NHL, and it doesn’t sound quite as far-fetched.
For a while, the Vegas Golden Knights were looking like a juggernaut but after starting the season 11-0-1, they’ve gone 12-12-4 and are 23rd in the league in points percentage over that span.
At that same time that the Oilers have gone on a seven-game heater, the Los Angeles Kings have lost five consecutive games.
All of a sudden, the gap between these teams isn’t as big as it once was. The Oilers sit five points back of the Kings with the same number of games played and while they’re ten points back of Vegas, the Oilers do have four games in hand.
The other thing that will help the Oilers in their chase of these two teams is head-to-head meetings. The Oilers will face the Golden Knights two more times this season and have three more meetings with the Kings. That could go a long way in determining how far up the standings the Oilers can go.
One team that I haven’t talked about is the Vancouver Canucks. Of course, the Oilers can’t win the division if they don’t catch all three of the teams that are currently above them.
My fear is that the Canucks may never come back down to earth.
They’re coming off a wildly impressive victory over the New York Rangers, who look like one of the few true Cup contenders in the Eastern Conference, and currently sit 14 points ahead of the Oilers.
Just like in the race with Vegas, the Oilers do have four games in hand but even if they were to win all of those, they’d still be eight points back. The other thing that will really hurt the Oilers here is that they only play the Canucks one more time this season and that’s a matchup that the Oilers have really struggled in already this season.
The other thing is that the Canucks aren’t looking like they’re going to slow down at all. They have a potential Hart Trophy candidate in Elias Pettersson, a Norris Trophy front-runner in Quinn Hughes, and the Vezina Trophy favourite in Thatcher Demko. JT Miller is having an incredible season as well and Brock Boeser is one of the best goal-scorers in the league.
They’re a wagon and knowing how aggressive their front office is, they probably aren’t done making moves.
So what’s the ceiling for the Oilers? I think, unfortunately, the division is out of reach, even though the difference between Vegas and Vancouver is just four points. Catching all three of the teams in front of them feels like a bit of an insurmountable task, especially in today’s NHL with the existence of the loser point and the lack of head-to-head games against the Canucks.
Getting home ice in the first round of the playoffs though? That feels attainable. It will take a lot for the Oilers to catch both Los Angeles and Vegas, but they’ve already shown this season that they’re capable of ripping off extended heaters.
THE GOALIE TALK
Dec 10, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; New Jersey Devils forward Jesper Brett (63) looks for a rebound in front of Edmonton Oilers goaltender Calvin Pickard (30) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
As Stuart Skinner continues to impress, I’m starting to wonder if maybe the Oilers don’t actually need to go out and acquire a goalie ahead of the trade deadline.
Since December 1st, Skinner has gone 8-2-0 and has a .925 save percentage, which is the seventh-best mark in the league amongst qualified goalies. He’s also had a .900 or better save percentage in five consecutive games. In short: he’s been dynamite as of late and is back to looking like a legit starting goaltender.
Along with that, Calvin Pickard has proven to be more than competent. Even in the games where his save percentage hasn’t been eye-catching, I thought he’s done a good job of just stopping the pucks that he’s supposed to and not giving up the kind of weak goals that take the wind out of a team’s sails.
So if Pickard continues to prove that he’s a solid backup option and Skinner continues to look the way he has as of late, then what makes more sense: spending assets on a backup who may be only a marginal upgrade on Pickard? Or spending those assets on upgrades to the rest of the roster?
Now, that’s a big if and another thing I’ll add is that if there’s a way to get a goalie who could be viewed as more of a long-term option, like Mackenzie Blackwood or Karel Vejmelka, then Ken Holland and the Oilers office should seriously consider it. That’s obvious.
But, is someone like James Reimer really worth a mid-round pick and the uptick in cap space compared to Pickard? I’m not totally sold.
I had someone the other day say “Would you be comfortable if Skinner got hurt and Pickard had to play in a playoff game?” Well, honestly, I wouldn’t be all that comfortable with Reimer or any other goalie that the Oilers could get for a mid to late-round pick, starting in a playoff game.
I’m honestly just accepting that the Oilers will go as far as Stuart Skinner will carry them in the playoffs and they’re better off spending any surplus assets on upgrades to the blueline and the forward group.
And hey, if they’re really in a pinch, they do have one of the best goalies in the American Hockey League sitting in their system. Maybe he can be a free solution to any sort of potential problems they could run into.
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