The Edmonton Oilers are in quite the situation.
Entering the month of February, the Oilers had a 23-25-5 record, and looked to be out of the playoff picture for sure. But, after going 4-2 in their last six games, Edmonton is now a .500 team, and sits six points from a playoff spot.
If they continue at this pace, the Oil will finish 42-35-5 (89 points), and that’s if they only lose games in regulation. While 89 points usually falls short of a playoff spot, 15 of their remaining 23 games are against teams they are battling for the final two spots.
Also, the Colorado Avalanche, who are currently in the eighth spot, are on pace to finish the year 42-33-7 (92 points). The Oilers play the Avs four more times this year, making these games crucial for both teams’ playoff hopes.
So this poses a difficult question for GM Kevin Lowe: are the Oilers buyers or sellers come trade deadline day?
Sure, he has four games left before that time to evaluate the team, but does he want a repeat of last year, where he waited too long to sell Ryan Smyth, and got minimum value for him? What if the Oilers win the next four games, or even three of the four, and the playoffs look very possible?
If he waits, he may not be able to get that one player the team needs to make the push. But if they lose the next four, and he decides to sell, he may get low-balled again.
So what should he do?
Be a seller. Try to get big contracts out of the way, so that he has the cap room to sign his restricted free agents, mainly Joni Pitkanen, Tom Gilbert, and Jarret Stoll, so that he can avoid any rival GMs trying to get revenge on him from last summer, and any unrestricted free agents over the summer (Marian Hossa anyone?).
I would also suggest trading goalie Dwayne Roloson, seeing as he is no longer the starting goalie here, and is getting paid $3.5 mil a year to ride the pine. If Lowe can get even a second-rounder for him, he should take it.
He should also be listening to any offer for Steve Staios, because while Steady Steve is a good defenseman, he has looked a little lost this year and at a cap hit of $2.7 million a year for the next three years, he is a little costly for just leadership.
Lowe could probably get a deal similar to what the Canadiens got last year for Craig Rivet (a young roster player and a first round pick) because many teams could use a right-handed defenseman who has played in the Stanley Cup Finals.
There are also unrestricted free agents such as Geoff Sanderson and Marty Reasoner, which Lowe could try to get some value for (a so-so prospect, maybe a late round pick).
The key for Lowe is to rebuild for next season, while not throwing the towel on this one yet.
While that sounds contradictory, it is possible. This team is being led by its younger players, and these young guys aren’t playing that bad. What the Oilers need to do is to retain this group, and sign these guys to long-term contracts so that we can get a head start on next season.
However, they can’t tank the rest of this season, because the Ducks have their first-round pick, and it would not be good to be giving them a Top-5 pick. The fans would hate Lowe for signing Penner and would hate Penner too, which would be unfair, seeing how much he has improved from the beginning of the season.
All in all, the Oilers have one heck of a problem going into trade deadline day. Let’s just hope they get it right this time.