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Hunting High And Low

Ken Holland’s to-do list looks a lot like the one he had in the offseason.

Edmonton Oilers 2021-2022 Headshots Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Oilers are on a five game slide, which isn’t good.

The Oilers lost to the Carolina Hurricanes last night by a 3-1 margin. Again, this is a game that the Oilers might have had a chance to squeak out a point, but the Oilers scored exactly one goal, Mikko Koskinen allowed a goal he’d probably like to have back, and the Hurricanes took two points out of Edmonton amid Ethan Bear’s first game back since being traded to Raleigh.

The heat is turning up a bit. After a 16-5 start, the Oilers have limped to a 16-10 record. They’re one point ahead of the San Jose Sharks in fourth place, two ahead of the surging Golden Knights. Some of that blame can be spread around. Mikko Koskinen allowed a goal I’m sure he’d love to have back. The Oilers aren’t scoring a whole tonne of goals right now (they’ve had just eight total in their last five games), and the defence is still recovering from some injuries.

Through the first third of this year, a few things remain constant: the Oilers are relying on their top two lines almost exclusively, they depend a significant amount on the success of their power play (and to a lesser extent, their PK), and they struggle to get any substantive help from their bottom six.

Remember the scene in Trading Places where Eddie Murphy breaks the fourth wall? This is one of those moments. Everything that’s on this checklist was supposed to be addressed by Ken Holland this past offseason. I should be flabbergasted that we’re a third of the way through the season and nothing has seemingly changed.

  • Goaltending? Well, they almost got Darcy Kuemper in the offseason. Ken Holland brought back Mike Smith for two more years. At 39 years of age, Smith had just finished a very good year. Signing him to a two year deal was especially risky given his injury history. Smith has been out with a lower body injury for two months now, and is expected to make his return soon. We’ve seen a mix of Mikko Koskinen and Stuart Skinner since then. There’s a vocal segment of the Oiler fanbase who aren’t pleased with Koskinen’s performance, which is fair. Ken Holland is approaching his 1000th day on the job as Oilers general manager, and Koskinen’s still here.
  • A third line centre? That’s what Derek Ryan was brought in for, but it’s a difficult road for him. The trio of Ryan, Foegele and Kassian were hot for a brief moment, but have otherwise faired poorly as part of a bottom six that’s yielded three times as many goals as they’ve scored. I’m hopeful that the bottom six can straighten out, but it’s looking like they’re off the road in need of a tow.
  • Left defence? Ken Holland acquired Duncan Keith at full value for Caleb Jones and a conditional third round pick in the 2022 Entry Draft this past offseason. The pick becomes a second round pick if the Oilers reach this year’s conference finals. It’s a tremendous overpay, and the cap space taken by Keith until the 2022-23 offseason is going to wreak havoc come offseason. Keith has teamed with Cody Ceci on the second pair up until he suffered an injury against the Dallas Stars in November. The thought that Ken Holland is at all thinking about bringing in another player to play on the left is just wild to me. Surely, he can’t be looking for someone to play on the third pair. They’ve got what seems like a hundred choices for that spot. Today, they could choose one of William Lagesson, Phiip Broberg, or Markus Niemeläinen. Edmonton could decide to call up Dmitri Samorukov. Both Slater Koekkoek and Kris Russell are injured, but could be future choices down the line. Is Holland going to bring in someone to push Duncan Keith to third pair? There’s not enough ink.

How Ken Holland’s list - in a year where the Oilers are supposed to be “all-in” - looks like it’s still the same one in the offseason should give everyone pause as to think about what’s next. If Holland plans on making a move, who’s cap space goes out for whatever’s coming in?

The Maple Leafs are in town on Tuesday to face off against the Oilers. The longer the Oilers go without a win, the more and more likely names like Ben Chiarot unironically appear in trade talks. A win for the Oilers would be a refreshing change of pace. I don’t even want to know what’s on the other side of a sixth consecutive loss.