The Edmonton Oilers season has been quite different from what anyone expected. With such lofty goals entering the 2023–24 campaign, no one expected them to be where they are with 16 games under their belts. Sitting in seventh in the Pacific Division and seven points out of a playoff spot, you could say their season is over, but that is far from the reality.
The Western Conference is as close as ever, and a continuous hot streak could put them back into contention.
That is of course if they find themselves a goaltender, and fast.
Goaltending is the number one priority
Saturday afternoon’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning was just another example of what is plaguing this team. Yes, you can look at the team’s defensive structure and say that the reason their goaltending has been awful is due to the team giving up so many high-danger chances, but your goaltending can only bail you out of so many mistakes.
Unfortunately, whoever is net has been compounding them instead.
It will take some time for the team to get used to Kris Knoblauch’s system, but that is precisely when the team needs solid goaltending.
In the Tampa Bay game, the Oilers were the better team most of the night until the goaltending let them down in the third period. With just 18 saves on 23 shots, and another sub-.800 performance, Stuart Skinner was outdueled by Jonas Johansson. You can yet again point to the defensive personnel. However, the Oilers put 43 shots on net against Johansson and still were unable to solve the goaltender, who theoretically the team could have had on waivers just a season ago.
Based on practice on Sunday, it looks like Calvin Pickard is going to be between the pipes for the Oilers on Monday night against the Florida Panthers, but surely that cannot be the long-term goal. If Pickard is able to stabilize the net for a few games then he has done more than anyone has expected of him.
The priority should be looking at upgrading the position immediately. Skinner can only do so much by himself and his play hasn’t inspired confidence. Getting another goalie so the team can properly 1A/1B may not just be wise but also urgent.
Not a lot to work with
Pulling off a goaltending trade at this point in the season is extremely, extremely rare. Teams are still figuring themselves out and would be unwise to give up on a starting goaltender when they themselves are still in the playoff hunt. The teams with three goaltenders, like the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, and to an extent the Calgary Flames, won’t give up one of their goaltenders for free.
Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast that the Oilers had spoken to the Canadiens about their goaltenders, but it didn’t go anywhere. As expected. However, there are Western Conference goalies that would make sense if the deal was right.
Add in the fact that everyone is tight to the cap, with the Oilers being one of the biggest culprits, it makes it nearly impossible to execute a move. The team will have to give up significant assets to make a deal work, but depending on the netminder they go for, it could be a season-saving trade.
The clock is ticking on this core’s ability to win a Stanley Cup and an injection into the net could be exactly what this team needs. If not, then the hockey operations staff are playing with fire trying to wait for this situation to play itself out.