I’m a big fan of Allan Mitchell’s work at The Athletic and on Monday, he wrote a piece listing seven reasons the Edmonton Oilers should go all in at this season’s deadline. While I don’t necessarily agree that the Oilers should go big-game hunting if they keep winning, I see the validity behind some of his reasoning that GM Ken Holland pushes all his chips in.
Rightfully noting that this is likely Holland’s last season as general manager, there is a temptation to push a little harder when you a) have one last shot and b) aren’t necessarily around to clean up the mess. That said, I honestly don’t believe Holland is working alone. This is a collaborative effort between himself and new Oilers’ CEO Jeff Jackson. Nothing gets done that Jackson doesn’t like.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at some of the reasons Mitchell argued for the Oilers to go for it. From there, let’s see if Jackson’s and Holland’s priorities align.
Draisaitl’s Last Chance at the Stanley Cup with the Oilers?
Suggesting a big contract decision is coming this summer for Leon Draisaitl, Mitchell wonders if the Oilers see this as their last guarantee they’ll get a chance to make a run with Draisaitl on the roster. Should he not commit to a long-term extension this offseason, Edmonton might be forced to consider a trade. That means this season has extra importance.
This will be the final chance for the Oilers to win the Stanley Cup before the Draisaitl negotiations take place, and therefore there’s potential for 2024 to be the final playoff run for this incarnation of the team.
I do agree that the Oilers can’t afford to let Draisaitl enter next season (or at least get too far into it) without an extension. If he’s not going to stay, get the best deal you can and pick up multiple pieces in a trade while GMs are open to adding players with big-money aspirations because the salary cap is going up.
Having said all that, I also believe the two sides figure it out and Draisaitl sticks around. The Oilers will pay Draisaitl. I don’t see his ask being so ridiculous, that the two sides are miles apart.
The Oilers Have to Take Advantage of Their Depth
Mitchell writes that a “lack of injuries combined with depth (so far) means some bona fide players are biding their time in the minors. If the Oilers enjoy a long run, and injuries hit, some of that depth might be key.” This is true, but I don’t necessarily believe it won’t be true next season. The Oilers can add depth at a low-cost next year if they feel the need and lose players like Warren Foegele or Corey Perry this summer.
It’s not a bad thing if some of the young talent on the roster starts taking a more meaningful role or bringing extra while they are on cheap contracts. There were arguments this season for a longer look at Philip Broberg or Raphael Lavoie. At some point, those players have to become important pieces of a contending team.
Mitchell also points to the team’s balance and in that respect, I wholeheartedly agree. Despite what P.K. Subban rants on about when it comes to this roster, it’s not just McDavid and Draisaitl making it click. It’s everyone playing their role. That doesn’t always happen. If the Oilers can find more players like that — ones that fill a role that isn’t yet being filled on this team — they should push to add that piece.
Won’t Have a New Coach: Is That a Problem?
I also don’t necessarily buy the theory that the luster and motivation to win under a new coach will be gone next season and that the “bounce” Mitchell talks about will last the rest of this season. Yes, we’ve seen teams with new coaches go on and have incredible runs. We’ve also seen seasons where that bounce only lasts for a few months and then dies off.
I think the key for the Oilers isn’t necessarily the voice, but the players having bought into the instructions. This is a team that has discovered they don’t have to win just by outscoring their opponents. They can shut the opposing team down by playing the right way and I don’t see that being lost on the stars now that they’ve learned this valuable lesson.
Mitchell also argues that having this team win together once is going to make them want to win together over and over. It’s a nice sentiment, but I’m not sure how accurate it is in today’s hockey landscape. Players surely want to win and if the money is right and the situation beneficial, want to stick where it’s comfortable. I won’t discount it’s a factor. But, the reality is, Cup winning teams break up. You can’t afford everyone. Players go where the big contracts are, or where there’s a new challenge. Some want to be the centerpiece and others say, ‘Well, hey, at least I won it once.’
Oilers Shouldn’t Go All In Just Because
There are certainly some valid reasons to push all in this season. There are also reasons to take a cautious approach and ensure the future of this team long-term. If the Oilers don’t need to add, don’t do so for the sake of it. That’s when mistakes get made.
Add when there’s a need and the right option is there for the right price.
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