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The Oilers Need to Change Things Up, and Fast

The Oilers have two of the best players on earth, but they are another example of why you don’t have anything in the NHL if you don’t have solid goaltending. There's more to the team's struggles than goaltending, though, and GM Ken Holland needs to act soon.

The Edmonton Oilers blew it again Wednesday night in Toronto, failing to protect a 2-1 lead and falling to the Maple Leafs 4-2. 

This has led to more calls, from observers and fans, for the Oilers to acquire a new No. 1 goaltender. Current No. 1 Mikko Koskinen seems resigned to being moved out of that role and either traded or made a clear No. 2 option. Veteran Mike Smith may scrape up what’s left in his competitive tank and give Edmonton a good run of games, but the 39-year-old’s body may simply not hold up to the rigors of the position.

Other than their goaltending woes, the Oilers’ loss to the slick, slippery Maple Leafs was a micro example of a macro problem this season: Edmonton is capable of stretches of dominant play, but they’re psychologically fragile, and still trying, and failing, to hold leads. Part of that is on the goalies, but the other part of it is on the defense in general. It is true the Leafs game may have had a different outcome if superstar Connor McDavid were in the lineup, but they’ve still got a legitimate star in Leon Draisaitl, and in coming from behind Toronto’s 1-0 lead to start the night, Edmonton looked like a team no one in the league can keep up with, speed-wise. It’s fair and natural to want more out of them away from the puck.

All things considered, the Oilers are still going to be in the playoff race, but at the start of the season, they played like true frontrunners to finish first in the Pacific Division; now, they’ve regressed to the point the fifth-place Los Angeles Kings are only one standings point behind them. 

Similarly, the sixth-place San Jose Sharks and the surging, seventh-place Vancouver Canucks are only three points behind Edmonton – and L.A. has a game in hand on the Oilers, Sharks and Canucks. Suddenly, Edmonton is in a real battle for that fourth and final playoff berth. That makes GM Ken Holland an urgent buyer in the marketplace.

Holland is going to have some competition in his pursuit of a goalie; he might be able to pry Marc-Andre Fleury out of Chicago as a short-term rental, but look at a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins: they’re currently riding starter Tristan Jarry (who has put up sparkling numbers of a 1.89 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in 25 games played), but does GM Ron Hextall really want to go into the playoffs with Casey DeSmith (3.47 G.A.A., .888 SP in 8 GP this year) as a backup in case Jarry melts down for the second straight season? Pittsburgh is salary-capped-out at the moment, but what a homecoming that would be for Fleury.

Holland needs to strike soon, before he gets pulled into a bidding war with the Penguins, or with a darkhorse team like, say, the Minnesota Wild. This is why some GMs follow former Penguins and current Canucks head honcho Jim Rutherford’s style, and make deals well before the trade deadline. NHL teams now are trying to follow the tandem, 1A/1B goalie system, and a competitor like Fleury would surely improve his numbers on a more talented team than the Blackhawks. Holland has no cap space to work with, so he’s got to either sweeten any deal to get a trade partner to assume some salary, or find a taker for one or more of Edmonton’s fringe players (Kyle Turris and Colton Sceviour, anyone?) to make room for a veteran like Fleury.

The Oilers have two of the best players on earth, but they are another example of why you don’t have anything in the NHL if you don’t have solid goaltending. They need a change, and they can’t depend on anyone in-house to thrive in a high-pressure post-season. Fleury has the experience and calmness to elevate a team to the next level, but he will not come cheaply. Trade for him now, before a rival beats you to it, and he winds up haunting your team for a very long time.

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