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Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland sees progress despite playoff flop

Edmonton Oilers' Alex Chiasson (39) and Connor McDavid (97) shake hands with Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith (2) and Jonathan Toews (19) following NHL qualifying round game action in Edmonton, on Friday August 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.
Edmonton Oilers' Alex Chiasson (39) and Connor McDavid (97) shake hands with Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith (2) and Jonathan Toews (19) following NHL qualifying round game action in Edmonton, on Friday August 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Goals for, goals against, penalty killing, power play. The Edmonton Oilers moved up the rankings in all categories from 2018/19 to 2019/20.

“I thought we made progress in a lot of areas,” said general manager Ken Holland in his post-season media availability Tuesday morning.

However, the progress wasn’t apparent often enough in their qualifying round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Read more: Edmonton Oilers eliminated with 3-2 loss to Blackhawks

“I thought in game one, we weren’t ready to play. That was a veteran team in the other locker room. They were up 4-1 ten minutes into the game. I think they knew the playoff series started when the puck dropped. It looked to me like we were going to wade into the series,” Holland said.

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“It felt like we were chasing the series.”

Holland now looks at tweaking the roster for next season. The salary cap will remain at $81.5-million, leaving Holland only about $10-million to make additions and hang on to restricted free agents Andreas Athanasiou, Ethan Bear, and Matt Benning.

Read more: Blackhawks score two late to push Edmonton Oilers to the brink

“I think I have a good idea what I’d like to do. Can I do it? That’s what I have to find out now over the next couple of months,” explained Holland. “We’re salary capped challenge, but there are probably 20 (teams) like us.”

Holland spent much of last summer bringing in depth role players like Josh Archibald, Riley Sheahan, Gaetan Haas, and Joakim Nygard. Rounding out the forward lines will likely be a top task this year, too.

“Trades are going to have to be similar money for similar money, if there is a trade,” said Holland. “There are going to be some players on the open market that aren’t going to be able to get the money they hoped to because of the flat cap. Can we sign another player on the bottom part of the roster that can impact us a little bit?”

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Oilers elimination disappointment as playoffs end for Edmonton – Aug 9, 2020

In net, Mike Smith is a unrestricted free agent while Mikko Koskinen has two years left on his deal. The pair split games almost evenly in the regular season. Smith was pulled halfway through game one against Chicago. Koskinen went the rest of the way but was ultimately outplayed by Chicago’s Corey Crawford.

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“Probably the goaltending didn’t play as well for us in the playoffs as in the regular season,” said Holland. “Probably our best young goaltender is Stuart Skinner. I think he needs to be in the American League next year. He needs to really establish as the number one goaltender in the American Hockey League playing on an every night basis.”

Preventing goals continues to be a major concern for the Oilers. Their team defence needs to improve. Holland was asked if star players Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid need to play more thorough defensive games.

“The answer would be yes, but I saw that happening,” Holland said. “You’re focusing on the two guys, but our entire team, we’re learning that defence is as important as offence in terms of going for long playoff runs.”

Holland knows he and head coach Dave Tippett will be second-guessed for some of their decisions. Tippett in particular has been under fire starting Smith in game one and for breaking up the dangerous line of Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Kailer Yamamoto. Holland didn’t get into those decisions specifically.

“I think he was a big piece of the progress,” said Holland of Tippett. “He communicates. He builds relationship. He’s got a real good relationship with the top players. He communicates with them.”

Forward Tyler Ennis, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, suffered a fractured leg and ligament damage in his ankle in game three. Defenceman Adam Larsson missed the last two games with a back issue.

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