The Oilers are good, but can they make themselves great at trade deadline?

Follow The Money's Femi Abebefe and Mike Palm take a look at the current board for Stanley Cup odds, and discuss a few teams they'd stay away from based on their odds, and a few longer odds' teams they're going to play.

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers are, at this two-thirds juncture of the season, as good as you need to be to be considered a Stanley Cup contender.

They’re no Boston, circa 2022-23. But how did that work out for Boston last spring, in a post-season that saw only one of the top-four regular season teams make it to a Conference Final?

That was the Carolina Hurricanes — and they got swept in Round 3.

Like drafting 18-year-old boys and projecting how they’ll perform when they’re 25-year-old men, history teaches us that the exercise of evaluating your team’s Stanley Cup pedigree in February is flawed at best. But with the March 8 trade deadline just 17 days away, alas, this is our task.

Edmonton has played five playoff rounds in the past two seasons. They’ve been eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions for two years running. Like Vegas and Colorado before them — and Tampa, and Colorado, and St. Louis, and Washington — the Oilers have paid considerable playoff dues.

Today, their best players aren’t 24 anymore: Connor McDavid is 27, Leon Draisaitl 28, Darnell Nurse 29 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 30.

They’ve got an emerging goalie in Stuart Skinner who has, among NHL starting goalies over the past three months, the third-best set of stats in the league. They’ve got a defence corps that has contributed to the third-best goals against per game (2.54) since Kris Knoblauch took over as coach on Nov. 13, and enough offence to rank second in the NHL in goals per game (3.85) over that same stretch.

So it’s a good team. Now, how to make the Edmonton Oilers a great one?

Remember, the cap system dictates that every team will have weakness — somewhere. Nobody has it all anymore.

I believe the Oilers can’t afford any player making more than $4.5 million, without having to clear out more than one roster player. At that point, Holland risks upsetting his excellent chemistry and compromising what little depth Edmonton has.

For me, that eliminates a Jake Guentzel and a Jordan Eberle. He could handle Chris Tanev’s $4.5 million AAV by moving Cody Ceci ($3.25M), a move that would be an upgrade — but doesn’t help defensive depth at all.

So, let’s answer a few questions:

If the Oilers acquire two players around the deadline, does one of them have to be a defenceman?

Absolutely. Here’s how GM Ken Holland will play it:

They’ll be in the mix for a forward like, say, Scott Laughton, and also a premier defenceman like Tanev. He doesn’t have the assets or cap space for both.

If they can land the forward work, Holland’s secondary acquisition will be a veteran depth defenceman. A Zach Bogosian, Josh Brown type who can push young Philip Broberg to eighth on the Oilers defensive depth chart.

If they get Tanev, then they’ll bolster the fourth line. Improve defensively, and the offence already on board will be more than enough.

Either way, Holland needs a seventh NHL defenceman to step in ahead of Broberg. You’d love two of them, but…

Does Edmonton need a backup goalie?

Remember where we said that no team gets to be perfect? Calvin Pickard’s excellent play as Skinner’s backup, and the fact that Jack Campbell is available and playing well in Bakersfield means Holland won’t put any assets towards his crease.

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What about a right-winger for Draisaitl?

Edmonton has five legit, established Top 6 forwards: McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman and Evander Kane. It’s a pretty elite group, and let’s face it: does anybody have six legit Top 6 players on their top two lines?

Connor Brown was meant for that sixth spot, but that ship has sailed. So for me, I’m going with a rotation at 2 RW starting with Ryan McLeod, then Corey Perry when McLeod tails off, and even Dylan Holloway in a pinch when that line requires some energy.

That strategy frees me from shopping from the Top 6 aisle, which carries AAVs in the $5 million range, and allows me to fill in the 3C spot with a Laughton at $3 million, or in my wildest dreams, Boone Jenner at $3.75 million, which is unlikely with his remaining term of two years.

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