Connor McDavid is hands down the best hockey player in the world. He’s on track to win his first Rocket Richard Trophy this season on top of everything else he’s accomplished so far in his career.
Despite all the good McDavid has brought to the Oilers, they currently find themselves in a major battle just to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, if the playoffs started today, the Oilers would be OUT by points percentage.
With over half the season gone, this is a completely unacceptable scenario for a team that not only has McDavid, but also has great players in Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman making major contributions. Each player has 44 points or more and is a point per game player. McDavid is close to two points per game.
Here’s a question. Which Oilers’ forward has the most points outside of the top four mentioned above? It’s Evander Kane. He has just 13 points in 14 games. However he cut his wrist on a skate and is expected to miss 3-4 months. The injury happened in November. He’s still fifth in forward scoring on the Oilers.
Depth a Major Issue
Seeing this, it goes without saying the Oilers have a major depth issue. While their top players can dominate on their own, if teams can slow them down, they have a great chance of defeating the Oilers.
The fact that McDavid has 77 points and the Oilers are out of a playoff position suggests not only depth issues, but it shows they have other issues as well. Namely their defense and goaltending have got to be better.
Let’s start with their forward depth. Excluding Kane since he is injured, the forward with the most goals on the Oilers outside of the top four is Klim Kostin. He has five goals. Three of those five goals came at the end of December.
Derek Ryan also has five goals. Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele each have four goals. That’s simply not good enough. They’re not dangerous enough to pose a significant threat to opponents.
Then on defense, a big reason why the Oilers are in this position is that they allow 3.38 goals per game. Although they score 3.50 goals per game, it’s almost a wash. The greatness of McDavid has been neutralized by their inability to keep the puck out of their own net. The entire unit led by Darnell Nurse must be better.
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Finally on an even more disturbing note is the goaltending. Stuart Skinner has had glimpses of good moments. However his goals-against is 2.96. Jack Campbell, who the Oilers gave a five-year deal to, sits with a 3.68 goals-against average. Wasn’t he supposed to be one of the keys to solidifying the team?
The Oilers’ best laid plans for this season so far hasn’t worked. We are witnessing perhaps one of the greatest seasons in recent memory with McDavid taking a run at 150 points. He’s the runaway Hart Trophy favorite. But his team could miss the playoffs. Whatever the Oilers do, they cannot miss the playoffs. This is why what they do leading up to the Mar 3 trade deadline is of utmost importance.
They Must Maximize & Prioritize McDavid
The heading says it all. The number-one priority for the Oilers is to reverse the recent trend of wasting McDavid’s prime and to maximize the time they have with him. The league is a better league when McDavid is on center stage.
The question becomes what do the Oilers do to reverse this disturbing trend of wasting McDavid’s prime? The 2022-23 season is his 8th full NHL season. He’s made the final four just once, last season. We thought this was the start to a run of dominance rarely seen.
At least McDavid has held his end of the bargain up. He is going to shatter his personal career highs in goals, assists and points. He has an outside chance of 70 goals. Our Brian Swane did a nice job outlining the pace he’s on for scoring this season.
Related: Oilers’ McDavid at New Level With Most Frequent Scoring of Career
Here’s an eye-popping stat. Half of his points (39 of 77) have come on the power play. Yet he’s just +1 on the season. He was +21 and +28 the last two seasons. Take +/- with a grain of salt but this is a significant drop. It points to the ongoing issues the Oilers can’t seem to figure out.
Their overall team defense is 21st in goals against and their goaltending is not playoff caliber. The result is a middling team fighting for their playoff lives. To reduce a potentially historic season to middling is as clear an indictment on a team as one could have.
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The good news is the Oilers can do something about it. They must do something about it. They must consider any and all options to address their depth. Whether it’s a straight hockey trade or a willingness to part with their top picks, the priority here to win Stanley Cups with the best player on the planet. Failure to do anything it takes to win is doing McDavid the biggest injustice in the world.
If the Oilers make the playoffs, their top guys are good enough to win the playoffs. But they have to make the playoffs first. If their depth doesn’t get better soon and if the team doesn’t address glaring needs by Mar 3, they have a real chance to sit out this spring. That cannot happen. Big changes should come if that happens.
The Oilers have a variety of options available to them to reverse the trend of wasting McDavid’s prime. Whatever they do, this must be their top priority. Nothing else matters.
Surround McDavid with better depth and reap the benefits. That’s what the Oilers must do now and every second he’s on the team. He deserves it. Anything less would be completely unacceptable.