For a second game in a row, the Edmonton Oilers have had three scouts at a Columbus Blue Jackets game. Three representatives from the Oilers attended Columbus’ previous game against the Boston Bruins, which started the conversation as to which players the team was actually looking deeply at. I think we have figured that out, but that doesn’t mean the Montreal Canadiens, the Blue Jackets’ opponents on Nov. 29, are excused from the conversation.
The Oilers and Canadiens have been linked for a long while as the Oilers are in desperate need of a goaltender, and the Canadiens have three, none of which they are willing to waive. Time is of the essence for the Oilers in regards to acquiring a goaltender to split time with Stuart Skinner. I don’t blame Calvin Pickard’s loss in his one game this season on him, but it is clear that the Oilers only trust Skinner at this point, as he has started 13 of the last 15 games.
Skinner has been overworked, and goaltending is the most glaring area the Oilers need to upgrade. Edmonton could use a defensive upgrade, the team has arguably been better under Kris Knoblauch defensively. Though they have been scored on quite a bit, the penalty kill and defensive structure have improved. The main focus will be on the goaltending both these teams offer, which makes more sense, but there will be a little bit on what else the Blue Jackets and Canadiens offer.
Oilers Get More In-Depth Look at Blue Jackets
While three scouts attended the Blue Jackets/Bruins game and saw Spencer Martin in net, Elvis Merzlikins was in net against the Canadiens. Though I do believe that Martin’s strong season thus far and the fact that the Blue Jackets will have to move a goalie makes him a high-priority target, that’s not who the Oilers were there to see the second time the scouts were present at their game.
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The Blue Jackets have finally seen positives from Merzlikins after slowly regressing season after season since his NHL debut. Playing on a bad team that has seemingly been rebuilding or lacking a ton of talent doesn’t help, and neither did playing behind a very injured defensive group/team last season. He has played well this season, sporting a .907 save percentage (SV%). At this point, anything above .900 is a vast improvement on what the Oilers have gotten this season and all of last season from Campbell. The only way the Blue Jackets consider moving Merzlikins to the Oilers is if they really don’t see themselves as playoff contenders for another few seasons. The Blue Jackets’ starter has three years left on his $5.4 million annual average value (AAV) deal after this season. Campbell would have to go the other way, and that would also cost Edmonton.
So looking past the goaltending, there have been two names on defense that have continued to stay in the rumor mill, Adam Boqvist and Andrew Peeke. I believe that Boqvist is being showcased by the Blue Jackets in order to raise his value. Due to the amount of talent on their back end, he has been a healthy scratch at times when he would get into seemingly any other lineup in the league every night. There isn’t room for Boqvist with Damon Severson, David Jiricek, and Erik Gudbranson, not to mention Peeke, who’s also a right-shot defender. Boqvist is just 23 years old, but a criticism is that he is just a worse version of Evan Bouchard, who is a defensive liability despite his offensive talents.
What the Oilers really need is more help defending. That is why I continue to come back to Peeke, even though his numbers haven’t been overly impressive. He has gotten the short end of the stick in Columbus, serving as the seventh/eighth defenseman the entire season. The 25-year-old has only played four games and hasn’t been given a chance after 80 games in 2022-23. Both are riskier than what the Oilers can get elsewhere, and Vincent Desharnais’ play is looking better and better. Martin is really the top target on the Blue Jackets that would provide the most help at this time. So that leaves us with the Canadiens, who the Oilers could very well have been watching more closely in the game.
Multiple Targets on the Canadiens
The Oilers have now gotten a good look at all three goalies on the Canadiens. The last time they heavily scouted this team, Cayden Primeau was in net. This time, it was Sam Montembeault. I want to remove Primeau from the conversation because that’s not the type of experience and trustworthiness the Oilers need beside Skinner. Instead, it’s between Montembeault and Jake Allen.
At this time, factors for each goalie make me believe that they will cost around the same to acquire. Montembeault is an unrestricted free agent after the season, so he is just a rental, but his cap hit is just $1 million AAV, and was the better goalie last season. While Allen started great this season for the Canadiens, his numbers have dropped down to a .903 SV% while Montembeault’s has climbed up to .910. Allen is a veteran with a lot of experience, and he has another year left on his deal. This gives the Oilers a little bit of security. Acquiring him would require dumping Campbell, which may be worth it over buying him out.
I would be happy with either Montembeault or Allen, but if the Oilers could pry Montembeault from the Canadiens and agree upon a two to three-year extension, that would be the ideal situation. So who else could the Oilers be interested in? I think they have pretty good depth that has just been very unlucky in the scoring department this season. Using assets to help that when it could change in an instant isn’t the best idea right now. What about defense? The Canadiens do have defensive options like David Savard, but he didn’t play and has been injured for a while. If the conversation is a strong defensive defenseman, Johnathan Kovacevic has to be on the Oilers’ radar. He has a very small cap hit, but like everyone else on the Canadiens’ defense this season, the analytics aren’t great.
I hope all of this scouting isn’t for nothing and the Oilers get some great information on exactly who they want, whether it is from the Blue Jackets or Canadiens. This was really a great game to see because both teams will be sellers and have players to move on from this early in the season.