When it comes to the Edmonton Oilers, there’s always a lot of pundits that work for media organizations, TV stations, radio stations, websites that have an opinion to give about trade deadline day. I differentiate them from me because I’m just a blogger more interested in providing a fan’s perspective than a professional “sports jock” opinion.
Anyway, likely due to said deadlines there seems to be a lazy formula applied by the media machine when it comes to the NHL trade deadline: “Team needs + GM’s moves = label of success or failure”
This is, of course, an oversimplification in the extreme. Prior to the deadline, I wasn’t expecting the Oilers to be that active, and I spelled out why here. So it was absolutely no surprise to me when the Oilers only made 1 minor trade the entire deadline day.
We’ve also been able to get a good handle on who Ken Holland is as a GM now. We know he believes in building a team from the D corps on out, so in any transaction, he will always look at how he can upgrade his defence before looking to upgrade his forwards or goaltenders. So, was it a surprise that Holland’s 1 move was for a d-man? No.
The Edmonton Oilers played it smart on the NHL Trade Deadline day
We also knew that Slater Koekkoek will be out with injury for most of, if not the entire, remainder of the regular season. This only increased the urgency to help the D corps. He’s a key stay-at-home d-man for the Oilers, so we knew there’d be a good chance that he was going to get a replacement for Koekkoek. Kulikov is basically a clone of Koekkoek, so again no surprise there that Holland acquired him.
We also knew that the Oilers were hamstrung with little cap space to work with, and also a dearth of draft capital, having dealt away their 2nd, 3rd, and 5th round picks already between the 2020 deadline and this past offseason. We also knew Holland wasn’t going to part with the 1st round pick unless it gave us back a player with a term that we could fit into our cap structure, as he said that publicly in his pre-deadline media scrum.
Holland mentioned in his post-deadline scrum that he made a few calls about forwards, but nothing that would’ve resulted in an upgrade at forward. This also explains why the Oilers didn’t make a 3-way trade like the Maple Leafs did to acquire Foligno and Noesen – Toronto had the draft capital to make that trade, the Oilers wouldn’t have (FYI really stupid to trade a 1st round pick to rent Nick Foligno. That’s probably going to come back to haunt the Leafs when the player Columbus drafts in that spot turn out to be a huge upgrade on Foligno).
We also knew that Kris Russell was punching above his weight class as a 2nd pairing D and that Caleb Jones isn’t ready for those minutes yet. Nor is William Lagesson who has slowed down significantly and hasn’t even played in 3 weeks.
These were much bigger needs than a top 6 LW or a puck-moving d-man – and good luck acquiring those things without giving up significant prospects, draft picks, or taking on significant cap space. These moves were not as urgent as we already have guys that can play at 2nd line LW that are at least OK for now.
Puck moving in the D corps also isn’t as urgent a need because Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie are handling those responsibilities just fine, not to mention Ethan Bear is doing better than he was at the beginning of the season. Bigger moves are better left to the offseason when the Oilers will have more draft picks going into the 2022 season and a lot more cap space.
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One other thing to consider is since Dubas screwed up and sent Columbus a 1st round pick for Foligno, that set the precedent and ruined it for every other GM. But all of this is just a lead-up to the million-dollar question – Did the Oilers get better, or are they actually deadline day losers as the pundits say?
The answer is this – yes the Oilers are better and no they are not deadline day losers. They used the resources they had to fill a need. On D all they had to do was temporarily replace Koekkoek, and they accomplished that. Anything else would’ve required larger moves that aren’t possible and would be premature at this time anyway.
After all, the Oilers have more prospects on the way and they have to be wary of handing out long-term contracts to outsiders because of that. Once these prospects make their way to the big leagues, the Oilers will be upgraded as a team from playoff contenders to cup contenders.
Sure, Holland probably could’ve gone all in and tried to go for it now, but when the Oilers are looking more and more like a team that’s going to make the playoffs but not win the cup, why go all in now, bleeding the prospect pool and what little draft picks they had this year for a cup run that’s probably not going to happen?
GMs always have to keep an eye on the long term as well as the short term. Sometimes that means not mortgaging the future for success now. If the Oilers were a cup contender who was 1 or 2 pieces away from winning the cup, then maybe we can talk about the Oilers being deadline day losers. But right now the Oilers are only a playoff contender, not a cup contender, so they need their picks and prospects to develop rather than parting with them willy nilly to win now.
Build a team like that, and even if you do win the cup that year, there’s no way you’ll be able to bring back all the guys you’d want, and Holland wants to set the Oilers up for long term success where Connor Mcdavid and Leon Draisaitl can win multiple cups instead of being “1 cup chumps.” That would be a cruel fate for the league’s 2 best players.