The 2019-20 season came to a bitter end on Friday night for the Edmonton Oilers. In less than two months, the team will enter into what will be a wild and bizarre off-season that could feature free agency and the Entry Draft taking place on the same day.
For veteran GM Ken Holland, it will be a time to upgrade a roster that showed improvement in some areas during the course of the 2019-20 season. The goal must be to make the playoffs in 2021, and hopefully compete to win a round.
The Oilers have a strong core group of players and some key prospects coming. They also have some major holes on the roster and are lacking any real depth. A lot needs to be done to make this Edmonton Oilers team a serious Stanley Cup contender.
We’ll get into Holland’s official to-do list as we get closer to the off-season. Today, however, we will take a look at what this team’s biggest needs are in the wake of their upset at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks.
1. Find a Starting Goaltender: Mike Smith brought a fire to the room, and he did have some strong stretches in goal for the Oilers. Overall, however, Smith was not good in 2019-20. He posted a .902 save percentage, made way too many mistakes with the puck and was far too inconsistent to be the true number 1 goalie this organization needs.
Smith is a pending UFA, and should almost certainly be allowed to walk.
Mikko Koskinen posted a .917 save percentage this season and was the better of the two. The issue is, Koskinen is vastly overpaid at $4,500,000 per year and he isn’t a workhorse goalie. At best, Koskinen is a very solid 1B. That’s a valuable piece, but he’s overpaid for the role.
The Oilers must find a replacement for Smith that can give them consistent, competent goaltending. The good news? There will be ample options.
Robin Lehner will be a free agent, and it is unlikely the Vegas Golden Knights re-sign him because of their commitment to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Thomas Griess has also proven to be a competent tandem goalie and will be a free agent this fall. Corey Crawford is doubtful to leave Chicago, but he’s also slated to be on the market, as is Washington’s Braden Holtby.
Of course, the homerun could be via trade. The Pittsburgh Penguins may look to move on from Matt Murray, while the New York Rangers could deal Henrik Lundqvist.
2. Find a Scoring Winger: The Andreas Athanasiou experiment did not work for the Edmonton Oilers in 2019-20. After a goal and an assist in his debut in February, Athanasiou was held off the scoresheet. He showed flashes in the postseason, but was unable to cash on a few good chances.
That doesn’t mean he is a bust in Edmonton. The sample size was way too small to make any kind of real judgement on him. The problem? The Oilers have to make a judgement on him this off-season.
Athanasiou is a pending RFA and will need a new contract. He carried a cap hit of $3,000,000 this past season and could be in line for a raise. Should the Oilers give it to him? I’m not so sure.
The free agent market will have some real nice options for the club. Taylor Hall is slated to be on the market, and there was mutual interest in a reunion in November and December when Hall was on the trade market. Mike Hoffman will not be retained in Florida as the Panthers look to cut salary. He’s a natural fit for McDavid’s wing and sniped home 29 goals this past season.
Evgenii Dadonov (Florida) and Tyler Toffoli (Vancouver) will also be on the open market and could fit as top-six scoring wingers in Edmonton.
Tyler Ennis could be a cheap internal option as well. Even if the club doesn’t view him as a top-six option, it would be worthwhile to re-sign the local product.
3. Find a Third-Line Center: Riley Sheahan is a strong penalty killer. He’s a fourth-line center at five-on-five with very limited offensive ability. The exact same could be said about Jujhar Khaira, who also brings size and the versatility to play on the wing. Gaetan Haas? He has more speed and skill than the other two, but is also a fourth-line center.
The Oilers absolutely need someone to handle the third-line center job. That player is not currently on the roster. That player may be in the system, but Ryan McLeod is not yet ready for NHL duty.
The trade route could be ideal here. If the Maple Leafs don’t go on a deep run, they could be willing to shake things up. Two-way center Alex Kerfoot would fill the spot nicely, and could be a nice trade target in an Adam Larsson deal.
On the free agent market, Carl Soderberg could help as an offensive-minded option. Veteran Mikko Koivu could move on from Minnesota, while there was interest in both Derick Brassard (last summer) and Nick Cousins (trade deadline) by the team recently.
It’s doubtful he leaves San Jose, but Joe Thornton is a free agent and fits the kind of player Ken Holland seemed to always bring to Detroit.
There is still work to be done to make the Edmonton Oilers a real Stanley Cup contender. The 2019-20 season was an overall step in the right direction that is overshadowed by a bitter, bitter Qualification Round exit.
If the team wants to take another step forward and make the playoffs in 2021, they will need to add a scoring winger to their top-six, a real starting goaltender and a third-line center.
Is that an easy set of tasks? No, but it is the reality they currently face.
What do you see as the areas of need for this club?