Nugent-Hopkins Injury Likely Seals Oilers’ Fate

Despite winning back-to-back games for the first time in two weeks, the Edmonton Oilers essentially had their playoff hopes dashed against the Florida Panthers on Monday night. As satisfying as yesterday’s 4-2 victory may have been for the players and coaching staff inside the Oilers room, it was an ill-timed blocked shot from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that ultimately stole the spotlight and not in a good way.

While many inside this market have been lobbying for Peter Chiarelli to take a long hard look at possibly moving the former Red Deer Rebels standout in hopes of upgrading his backend, fans and media alike are about to get a look at life without No. 93 in the Oilers lineup for the foreseeable future and something tells me it won’t be pretty.

No RNH Equals No Chance At Playoffs

After watching Nugent-Hopkins block a Dmitry Kulikov point shot on an early second-period power play for the Panthers, it was hard not to shake your head in disbelief. For a team that was roughly eleven periods of hockey away from having a healthy Connor McDavid return to their lineup, the last thing in the world Todd McLellan needed was to lose his “tough minutes” centre to a long-term injury.

[Related Article: Chiarelli Continues To Reshape Oilers Roster]

Let’s not forget, with Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid out of the lineup this coaching staff will now be forced into dressing a lineup with some combination of the following players at centre…Leon Draisaitl, Matt Hendricks, Anton Lander and Mark Letestu. Not sure about all of you but that has disaster written all over it.

Obviously adding No. 97 back into the mix following the NHL’s All-Star break will help but there absolutely no one on this roster who is capable of taking on the role the 2011 first overall pick carries on a nightly basis. Does anyone honestly believe either Draisaitl or McDavid are ready to put this team on their back and carry the load at their age? Anyone who knows anything at all about how the game is played knows the answer to that question and to be fair, even Nugent-Hopkins would be better off with a running mate when it comes to doing the so-called “heavy lifting”.

While the 22-year old was sent back to Edmonton to have team doctors determine the severity of the injury, it is obvious we won’t see him back in action for some time. Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher missed nearly six weeks after breaking a couple of fingers blocking a shot against the New York Islanders in mid-November and he missed 17 games. If we use that as a potential timeframe for Nugent-Hopkins’ return, best case scenario, we are talking about him missing somewhere in the neighbourhood of 16 games and this team is simply ill-equipped to survive his absence for that length of time.

[Related Article: The Edmonton Oilers and 2016 NHL Entry Draft]

Don’t get me wrong, the chances of the Edmonton Oilers actually grabbing the last playoff spot in the Pacific Division were never good. But with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of their lineup, it becomes a near impossibility. While a good chunk of this fan base may be hoping for Peter Chiarelli to go out and try to find a short-term replacement to keep his team afloat, chances are he does the smart thing and simply falls on his sword and allows things to play out in whatever manner they do.