The Edmonton Oilers have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2019-20 NHL season. Projected to finish outside of the playoffs for a third straight campaign, the team has defied expectations and surged to the top of the Pacific Division.
Fueled by the two highest-scoring players in the league, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton currently leads the division by one point over the equally surprising Arizona Coyotes.
The Oilers look poised to make just their second playoff appearance in the last 14 years but general manager Ken Holland knows his team cannot get comfortable with their place in the standings.
“You look at the standings and you have to be very happy competing with the best teams in our division,” said Holland during his Wednesday morning media availability. “It’s been a really good 30 games. There are still 52 games to go. It’s going to get harder, it’s going to get tougher, but I think, so far so good.”
Despite the early-season success, the team’s scoring depth has come into question once again. Behind its pair of superstars, no Oilers skater has more than 19 points, less than half of what McDavid and Draisaitl have posted.
With rumours of Taylor Hall being made available by the New Jersey Devils, Holland was non-committal on the idea of acquiring any rental players at the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
“Right now, it’s the beginning of December. The trade deadline is at the end of February so I think we’re a long way away from rentals,” said Holland.
“We’ve had a great start and it’s important that we continue to put ourselves in a [good] position. It’s an easy league to all of the sudden lose six or seven in a row.”
Edmonton has already committed their third and seventh round picks in the upcoming draft in separate transactions, but Holland made it clear that his No. 1 priority is to ensure the success of the franchise.
“I value winning. When you get a chance to win, I value winning. That’s what you have to do.” said Holland. “Historically, when I thought that we’ve had a chance to make some noise, I’ve tried to do something.”
Holland specifically pointed to the trade deadline acquisitions of Chris Chelios, Brad Stuart, Marek Zidlicky and Erik Cole during his tenure as GM of the Detroit Red Wings.
The championship pedigree brought to the Oilers’ front office by the four-time Stanley Cup winner is invaluable, as he continues working with his staff to evaluate the club’s needs moving forward.
“That’s experience. It’s weighing all the information, talking to your people and ultimately making a decision based on all the information,” said Holland. “We’re in a nice place today but things can change in two weeks.”
With just under three months before the deadline, the 64-year-old specifically pointed out two things the Oilers’ front office will be watching for as the season progresses.
“Whatever decisions we make leading up to the trade deadline are going to be based on where we’re going to be in the standings,” said Holland. “And then, who’s available, what’s available, what’s the cost? You go through all that and you weight that and you either do or you don’t.
“Time answers all questions.”