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What's Next for the Edmonton Oilers?

The Oilers didn't make it out of the Western Conference final, but still made it this far. Now, Ken Holland has an interesting off-season ahead of him.
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The Edmonton Oilers battled hard in their Game 4 showdown against the mighty Colorado Avalanche, but ultimately, they lost 6-5 in overtime to the Avs on Monday and were swept in their Western Conference Final series. And the way the Oilers lost Game Five was a demonstration of what they need to somehow acquire this off-season to take the next competitive step next season.

As they did in Game 1 of this series, Edmonton did not have issues putting the puck in the Avs’ net in Game 4. The Oilers were ahead 3-1 entering the third period. Then they were up 4-2 on the Avs. Then they surrendered the next three goals to put Colorado up 5-4. The Oilers tied it up to force OT, but only 76 seconds into the extra frame, star blueliner Cale Makar’s shot was deflected by Arturri Lehkonen, who gathered his own rebound and beat goalie Mike Smith for the series-winning goal. Makar’s assist on the goal gave him a whopping four assists and five points on the night, while playing more than 29 minutes.

But before we focus our attention on Makar's heroics, let's discuss the key thing that has to change for Edmonton next season: the goaltending. Full credit to Mike Smith for making it this far in the post-season, but there's simply no way he can be their No.1 netminder in 2022-23. Forget about his age (although he'll be 41 next year). Instead, just recognize all the leads he couldn't hold in these playoffs. Smith has an uncanny knack for allowing one rotten goal in each game, and that's not something you fix at age 40.

Smith is signed at a $2-million salary next year, and that's fine – pay him to be the Oilers backup. This year's other Oilers veteran goalie Mikko Koskinen is not going to be brought back. Depending on the salary Holland sheds elsewhere, he might want to take a run at Leafs starter (and current unrestricted free agent) Jack Campbell. But otherwise, Holland may have to look at the trade market to bring in a younger player to be a difference-maker in net.

Now, let’s get back to Makar. If we're talking what the Oilers really need to get by Colorado next year, we should be talking about them finding a minute-munching blueliner able to function essentially as a fourth winger and produce huge amounts of offense. Obviously, that task is much easier said than done. Players like Makar aren't abundant in any entry draft round. That means Edmonton GM Ken Holland has to upgrade his blueline through trades, or sign a depth blueliner to solidify the Oilers’ defense from the ground up.

Another big question for Edmonton is whether they’re prepared and able to re-sign UFA winger Evander Kane. There’s no question Kane was a successful signing, scoring 22 regular-season goals and adding 12 in this post-season – and for the relative bargain of a $2.1-million salary – but he’s the same hotheaded player who deprived his team of his services for Game Four because of a selfish, non-hockey move when he drove Avs agitator Nazem Kadri into the end boards.

Kane was suspended for Monday’s game, and do you think they could’ve used another goal from him? That would’ve kept Edmonton’s Cup aspirations alive, however faintly. Instead, he sidelined himself. Is that the kind of asset you want to invest a large cap hit and a lot of contract term in? Some people have their doubts.

The Oilers know offense won’t be a weakness for them next year, the year after that, and any year Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are playing for them. No, the issue with Edmonton is what many of us imagined it would be before the 2021-22 campaign began: an inability to shut down the opposing team’s offense–generators. Addressing their defense and goaltending in a meaningful manner should be Holland’s priority. If the Oilers can improve that end, a trip to the western final next year will be the least that’s expected of them.

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