The goal was simple this year – anything less than playoffs would be a disappointment. After all, the Edmonton Oilers have arguably the best young player in the game in Connor McDavid and easily one of the top five duos in the game in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But was a first-round sweep still considered a success?
On Monday, the Oilers were promptly taken out of contention after losing in triple overtime to the Winnipeg Jets who won four straight to sweep the Oilers – the second place team in the North Division this season.
And while it’s not easy for fans of the franchise, this is a quick look back at the season that was, the playoff run that wasn’t and a swift farewell to the 2020-21 version of the Oilers.
Oilers Fill Tank in Offseason
The Oilers lost a few pieces to start the offseason, but none that were overly significant to the advancement of this club. Mike Green retired after just two games with the Oilers in 2019-20. Sam Gagner joined the Detroit Red Wings and Andreas Athanasiou left for the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers also lost Oscar Klefbom for the season – a blow to their back end.
In return, the Oilers brought in three players for the back end. Slater Koekkoek, Tyson Barrie and – at the deadline – they traded for Dmitry Kulikov. With the additions, the Oilers became a tougher team to play against in their own end, while Barrie had a bounce back season following his one year in Toronto – finishing with eight goals and 48 points in 56 games, third in team scoring.
As for Koekkoek, he only got into 18 games with the Oilers, while Kulikov saw 10 games with the team tallying two assists.
Highly regarded defensive prospect, Evan Bouchard, also made his debut for the Oilers in 2020-21. He played in 14 games and finished with two goals and five points over that span. And while there continues to be a youth movement in Edmonton, their season was a running highlight reel with McDavid and Draisaitl.
Oilers Finish Impressive Season
They finished second in the North Division behind the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 35-19-2 record in their 56 games, but what was the most impressive in maybe all of hockey was McDavid’s ability to finish the season as the only player to have over 100 points. McDavid finished with 33 goals and 105 points in just 56 games for the Oilers and would’ve finished second in league scoring even if all of his goals were taken away from him.
Right behind him – almost fittingly – was Draisaitl who finished his season with 31 goals and 84 points in 56 games. To suggest they are anything but the top duo in the league would be a questionable take.
From there though, there was a major drop off. Barrie finished with 48 points and behind him it was Darnell Nurse with his 36 points. Nurse, however, did have a career year when it came to goals – finishing with a career-high 16 in 2020-21.
As for their goaltenders, Mike Smith took the reins playing 32 games and finishing 21-6-2 over that span with an impressive .923 save percentage (SV%) and 2.31 goals against average (GAA). Next to him, however, Mikko Koskinen was inconsistent at best. He finished with a 13-13-0 record, an .899 SV% and 3.17 GAA. Stuart Skinner also made a spot start, but the 22-year-old didn’t see the ice past that one game.
Still the season earned them home ice in the divisional round of the playoffs where they were matched up against the Jets – a team that played much bigger than the Oilers on a consistent basis.
Oilers’ Swept By the Jets
While the regular season was a good one for the Oilers, the playoffs were tough for the inexperienced Oilers. The Jets took flight from the opening puck drop and never touched down, beating the Oilers in just four games – including three overtime games with Game 4 going into the third overtime period.
The dynamic duo were held at bay in Games 1 and 2, but got going in the final two games. Still, it wasn’t enough to push the Oilers over the top, as McDavid and Draisaitl made up for nine of the teams 24 overall points.
Draisaitl led the team with two goals and five points, while McDavid finished with one goal and four points, but the toughness of the Jets up front led them to the four-game sweep of hockey’s top duo.
As for Smith, his play in the postseason was still consistent with his regular season numbers. Even though they lost all four games, Smith posted a .912 SV% and 2.40 GAA to try and help his team pull out a win.
The overtime games speak themselves. The Oilers weren’t far off, but without a series win, it became a disappointing season for McDavid and the team around him.
Laid to Rest – Final Thoughts
There’s no doubt that the Klefbom injury was a subtle thorn in the side of the Oilers all season long. But with the season that McDavid and Draisaitl had, a first-round exit was inexcusable. The bigger issue plaguing the team is the same thing that has been there for a number of years – the offensive depth. Next to those two, the highest scoring forward this season was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 35 points. That’s not good enough to help this team extend their season.
Still, McDavid made it very clear that his heart is with the Oilers and that he’s not interested in going anywhere – even with the team’s short playoff stint this season.
“We have a great core here. Leon (Draisaitl) and Nursie (Nurse), Nuge (Nugent-Hopkins), Larss (Adam Larsson)…These are guys that I’ve kinda grown up with. We want to see this thing through together. Do this thing right – as a group. It’s special to be able to play with these guys. It feels like we’re light years away (after being swept), but we’re a lot closer than it feels today,” said McDavid at his end-of-year press conference.
McDavid went on to say that both him and Draisaitl have another level they can get to, that they weren’t at their best in the first round against the Jets.
Regardless, the Oilers will have time to prepare for next season as the Jets await their next opponent from the Canadiens and Maple Leafs’ series. To all the Oilers’ fans out there, rest in passion – until 2021-22.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.