Oilers Remain Team with Many Flaws in Year 8 of McDavid

While it feels like forever ago, you don’t have to go all that far back to find a time when the Edmonton Oilers were the laughingstock of the NHL. Despite having three first-overall picks in three straight years from 2010-2012, they continued to be among the worst teams in the league, which led them to select first overall yet again in 2015.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As everyone knows, of course, that 2015 Draft Lottery win was instrumental in turning the franchise around, as they were able to select Connor McDavid. The now 25-year-old has helped lead the Oilers to the playoffs in four of his eight seasons in the NHL, including a trip to last year’s Western Conference Final. Despite their improvement in terms of the standings, however, many still believe this team, with two superstars in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, should be much better than they are. That begs the question, has the overall team improved during McDavid’s time in the league?

Secondary Scoring Still Lacking

Early in McDavid’s tenure with the Oilers, and even prior to him joining the franchise, secondary scoring was a major problem for this team. Too often they were forced to rely on their young, talented stars to have multi-point outings to walk away with victories. Fast forward to where they are now, and that still remains a major problem.

Despite McDavid and Draisaitl having combined for 138 points in 80 games this season, the Oilers find themselves in a wild card position, three points shy of the Seattle Kraken for third in the Pacific Division despite having played three more games. It isn’t as if some other top players aren’t pulling their weight, either, as both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman are having career years, while Evander Kane was also playing very solid prior to his injury.

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The issue in terms of scoring is almost specifically due to the Oilers’ bottom six. Players like Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod, Derek Ryan, Dylan Holloway, and Devin Shore simply haven’t put up the offense needed for this team to have better overall success. Puljujarvi and Yamamoto have been particularly frustrating, as both have received plenty of reps in the top six but have little to show for it.

As sad of a realization as it is, this area of the Oilers is no better than they were when McDavid first arrived. It is simply unacceptable given that many other teams around the league, despite not having the brilliance that is McDavid and Draisaitl, have improved quicker, while building deeper teams than the Oilers have. What makes it even worse is that their bottom six isn’t the only area needing some serious improvement moving forward.

Oilers Blue Line Very Thin

When McDavid first arrived in Edmonton, he was joining a team that had one of the worst blue lines in the entire NHL. Guys such as Mark Fayne, Eric Gryba, Brandon Davidson, and a young Justin Schultz were exposed plenty and often, much to the ire of Oilers fans.

This area of the team actually did improve significantly under Peter Chiarelli, as their blue line during their 2016-17 playoff run was the deepest they had in some time. Unfortunately, several of that team’s top defensemen in Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, and Adam Larsson are either done with the game or have moved on to different organizations.

Evan Bouchard Edmonton Oilers
Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Heading into this season, the Oilers entered with a blue line that had a ton of questions. The hope was that young players such as Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg would take big steps forward, but that hasn’t been the case. On top of that, Cody Ceci has yet to play as well as he did a season ago, all while Darnell Nurse is struggling in a big way. Their blue-line struggles this season are a big reason why they own a mediocre 21-17-3 record thus far.

Shaky Goaltending an Ongoing Problem

Since McDavid’s rookie season back in 2014-15, this Oilers team has gone through its fair share of goaltenders. Aside from Cam Talbot from 2015-2018, they haven’t had a legitimate number one, an issue that has been harped on a ton. That issue was expected to be fixed when Ken Holland signed Jack Campbell to a five-year, $25 million deal this offseason, but that has not gone as anyone had hoped.

While he has shown some signs of improvement as of late, Campbell has played second fiddle to rookie Stuart Skinner this season and owns a cringeworthy 3.69 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .878 save percentage (SV%). His struggles pose a serious issue not only for this season but perhaps several moving forward as his contract is untradeable at this point in time. Safe to say, if Holland had a do-over here, he would take it.

Time is Ticking

At a quick glance, it may seem as though the Oilers have time to turn things around given that McDavid still has three additional seasons on his contract. However, when considering all the issues this roster still has, paired with their extremely tight cap situation, it makes things look somewhat grim moving forward. On top of that, his shotgun rider in Draisaitl has just two additional seasons on his contract, and could very well choose to move on when that deal comes to an end. If that were to happen, it feels like a near guarantee McDavid would be gone shortly after.

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The good news here for Holland and his staff is that there still is some time to turn things around. It won’t be easy given the team’s salary cap situation, but it is up to him to figure that out and round out this roster to give McDavid a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Getting Kane back in the near future will help, but there are still other changes that need to be made for the Oilers to get any type of recognition as a contender, not only in 2022-23 but moving forward as well.