It wasn’t the ending anyone wanted but it was always a matter of when and not if the Edmonton Oilers would fall to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Final. It was fun to watch certain guys elevate and for the group to enjoy some real playoff success. However, falling to the Avs in the fashion they did further cemented this roster’s shortcomings and how desperately they need addressing.
In the coming days and weeks we will repeatedly hear how the Oilers need to make re-signing Evander Kane or finding his replacement priority one in the off-season, when nothing could be further from the truth. Adding a complimentary top-six winger who can finish should certainly be on the shopping list but priority one has been the same for many a year now and it has yet to be addressed.
From the moment Ken Holland took over as the Oilers general manager, the biggest hole on this roster was in between the pipes. Instead of going out and actually addressing the issue in a meaningful sort of way, this front office decided to go the veteran goalie route and brought Mike Smith in to be a short term fix. To make matters worse, they doubled down on that bet after last season and here we are.
Though chunks of this fan base and much of the local media did their best to make the empty calorie numbers he posted against the Los Angeles Kings and the team beating the Calgary Flames (despite his consistently inconsistent performance) their focal point, the fact remains Smith was more of a hindrance than help to what this group was able to accomplish during these playoffs.
For me, it serves no purpose to sit here and write about what Smith did or didn’t do over the last 16 games. Anyone with eyeballs and who isn’t wearing organizational tinted shades can see what occurred. Game after game, it was one awful goal after another and an inability to make a stop when his team needed it most. That simple and it is something that cannot be argued.
To a lesser degree, the same holds true for this team’s blueline. Obviously, the fact Darnell Nurse played with a torn hip flexor throughout these playoffs was a major loss but going into the season, everyone knew the defence Holland constructed wasn’t good enough. It reared its ugly head on numerous occasions in all three of their series and it caught up to them against Colorado.
This despite Cody Ceci far exceeding expectation throughout the season and the stellar deadline addition of Brett Kulak, who they desperately needed heading into the playoffs. The frustrating part in all of this, had Nurse not been severely compromised, the blueline Holland was able to muster up was likely good enough to get this team over the hump…had the goaltending been addressed.
In fact, let’s be honest here. Even with Nurse being in the condition he was and Leon Draisaitl clearly playing on one leg, good goaltending may have been enough to get past the Avalanche and a top notch goalie performance would have certainly done it. Point being, you don’t leave multiple glaring holes on your roster heading into a season and hope you can plug them up at the deadline.
It’s not a realistic ask and because of this continued mind-set, this Oilers team missed out on an opportunity to make this season even better than it was. It’s one thing to be looking to add peripheral pieces to round out a roster in-season. It’s quite another to find a legitimate starting goaltender and impact defencemen during that same time frame. Sorry but that’s just not good enough.
Some will point to Holland trying on multiple occasions to acquire a goalie but failed in those attempts. To that I will simply say this…spare me the excuses. Last time I checked, Jakob Markstrom and Darcy Kuemper are not the only two goaltenders in the NHL who are better than Smith and Mikko Koskinen. It’s the job of the general manager to figure stuff like this out, not punt it, repeatedly, down the line.
Make no mistake, the core of this Oilers roster has a lot going for it and it just proved what they are capable of come playoff time. In my mind, that should be what is applauded here and not the media driven spin of Holland somehow being vindicated that we heard on repeat after Edmonton managed to reach the Conference Final following the team’s series win over the Flames.
Contrary to popular belief, being one of the last four teams vying for the Stanley Cup should not be viewed as some major accomplishment for this organization. It should have been looked upon as the minimum expectation heading into the season and anything short of that would have to be deemed a failure. We never once got that vibe from Holland, as it was all about making the playoffs.
With the players the Oilers have on their roster, the fact the goal in place appeared to be making the playoffs and squeaking out a first round win is downright staggering. Outside of Jay Woodcroft, no one but the players ever talked about wanting real playoff success this year and in opinion, that was the biggest miss and it all goes back to not addressing glaring needs everyone knew existed.
Despite all of this, in the end, this Edmonton Oilers season can be viewed as nothing other than a success. Again, the chance for it to have been so much more was there and it’ll up to Ken Holland to finally set-up and ensure they don’t miss out on an opportunity like this again. As we all know, these don’t come along nearly as often as they did back in Ken’s Detroit days.