Why the Edmonton Oilers look done adding before NHL trade deadline

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ken Holland wouldn’t confirm that he’s finished shopping, but all signs are pointing to a quiet trade deadline day for the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers GM spoke before Thursday’s game in Columbus following the acquisition of Troy Stecher from Arizona, a depth defenceman that Holland classified as the team’s No. 7. Holland standing before mics spoke volumes about his plans.

Members of Oilers management were supposed to spend Friday in the Ohio capital, hunkering down to try to make any final moves. Instead, an audible was called after landing Stecher and it was decided they’d board the team charter postgame en route for Buffalo — where the Oilers play Saturday afternoon.

The Oilers have just over $1 million in cap space, so it’s not impossible they make another move. It sure doesn’t seem likely. A bigger move is all but out of the question.

Because they didn’t waive anyone on Thursday, the Oilers would have to include someone in a trade if they wanted to bring in someone who’d exceed their available cap space. That’s the case even though they have an open roster spot.

Adam Henrique, Sam Carrick and Stecher in, and Sam Gagner and Dylan Holloway in the minors for now is all but the final audit.

“We’re happy that we’ve added three players — one up front and two on the back end,” Holland said.

Are those moves enough?

Though the Oilers have made upgrades, other Western Conference powers have loaded up, too.

Winnipeg got Sean Monahan and Dallas brought in Chris Tanev in February. Vancouver has added Nikita Zadorov and Elias Lindholm this season. Colorado acquired Casey Mittelstadt and Sean Walker this week, whereas Vegas did the same with Anthony Mantha and Noah Hanifin.

Those teams might not be done, either.

But Holland looks at the 35-11-1 record the Oilers have posted — before the Columbus game — since Kris Knoblauch replaced Jay Woodcroft as coach on Nov. 12. That .755 points percentage is the best in the NHL over that span.

That’s before augmentations to the lineup in the form of a versatile middle-six forward (Henrique), a rugged fourth-liner (Carrick) and a right-handed blueliner who plays a side where the Oilers lacked reinforcements (Stecher).

“We’ve played at a high level. We’ve added some pieces,” Holland said. “I don’t have a crystal ball. All these questions are going to be answered over the next three months.

“You play one team at a time (in the playoffs), and then you’ve got to take care of business. The West is loaded. The team that comes out of the West is going to have to have played at a high level for a long time and is going to have to have good depth.”

Though Stecher bolsters the right side, he’s not of the same quality as Tanev or Walker — blueliners to which the Oilers were linked.

That means the Oilers plan to enter the playoffs with the same six defencemen they predominantly used in the 2022 postseason when they went 6-6. They were 10th in the NHL by allowing 2.88 goals per game before Thursday’s contest.

“Two years ago, four of them took our team to the final four,” Holland said. “Last year, we added (Mattias Ekholm) and we went to the second round.

“We’ve won playoff rounds — not as many as we would like to. The same teams you play in the regular season are the same teams you play in the playoffs. They’ve played at a high level.”

Up front, the Oilers have opted for the lineup flexibility Henrique provides rather than a flashier scorer. Knoblauch said he’ll largely skate at second-line winger or third-line centre, and he spent time at both positions against the Blue Jackets.

Throw Carrick, acquired in the same trade with Anaheim on Wednesday, in that mix, too.

“Part of that move is to get us a little more secondary scoring,” Holland said. “We’re hoping that Sam and Adam can pitch in with a bit.”

So, why not bring in a more offensive-minded forward — ideally at right wing?

“I think chemistry is really important. I believe our chemistry is really good,” Holland said. “Everybody knows their roles. When you bring in somebody from the outside, sometimes it can work real good. Sometimes, it doesn’t have the desired result because it maybe affects some people.

“Because of the type of people that we’ve added in Sam and Adam, I think they’re just willing to come in and be a part of the group. They’re not looking to be on the first line or the first power play. They understand what their role, what their contribution, is going to be. That helps the chemistry and for it to work quicker than if you were bringing in some higher-end people.”

If he’s truly finished, Holland feels good about his team as constructed — namely with the more prominent additions of Henrique and Carrick.

“We’re adding two guys that are going to fit right in off the ice, and the hope is they’re going to have a smooth transition on the ice,” he said.

(Photo of Ken Holland: Jason Franson / The Canadian Press via AP)

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