The Edmonton Oilers were expected to contend for the Stanley Cup.
Picked as one of the top teams to make a run in 2017-18, a lot was expected of Connor McDavid. Sure, it wasn’t expected to be the glory years of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, but the Oilers were supposed to be on their way back after making the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Whispers around Alberta and thoughts, perhaps, of a triumphant return of the 1980’s were rekindled.
However, after 48 games just things haven’t worked out for Edmonton, and after being shut out, 5-0, by the lowly Buffalo Sabres on January 23, the Oil have hit a new low. 21-24-3 on the season and in sixth place in the Pacific Division with an atrocious minus-23 goal differential, it appears fans will have to wait another year.
As of writing, the Oilers have obtained just 45 points — sixth lowest in the entire National Hockey League.
When the puck dropped on the 2017-18 season, the team was coming off of one of their best years in memory. Qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division with 103 points and defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games before nearly making the Western Conference Finals before bowing out to the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.
Edmonton also came into this season with the reigning NHL Most Valuable Player and scoring champion in McDavid. League experts expected the second coming of Gretzky to explode, take the next step in his third season in the NHL and put this team on his back. And while McDavid does lead the team in assists (38) and points (53), the former number one overall pick has disappointed with just 15 goals in 48 games played.
Related: 2017-18 Western Conference Preview
Still, hockey is a team sport and the rest of the Oilers just aren’t picking up the slack. Leon Draisaitl (12-27-39) continues to impress and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (16-15-31) has shown flashes of potential but the bottom line there just isn’t enough depth on this team beyond Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson.
It can be argued that the Oilers began to believe their pre-season hype. The team was only second to the Pittsburgh Penguins in odds to lift the Stanley Cup. However, just a month into the season, many NHL observers already saw the wheels coming off Edmonton’s season and wrote the team off.
While the Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Sabres all have fewer points than Edmonton to this point, none of those teams were expected to reach the heights of McDavid and company.
Calling the team a disappointment is an understatement. Edmonton is 20 points off the pace of last season.
While there remains an outside chance, the good news is the Oilers could still make the playoffs with a solid run to finish out the NHL season. Mathematically, at least, they have not been eliminated. But with the All-Star break looming, the time is now for the five-time Stanley Cup champions.
With 34 games remaining, Edmonton is 12 points behind the Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild — all tied with 57 points — for the final spot in the Wild Card race. The Oilers will need some help from the Eastern Conference if it is to make up those points.
Due to the team’s inability to meet the heavy expectations bestowed upon them in the summer, Oilers’ General Manager Peter Chiarelli may be out of a job soon. Chiarelli joined the Oilers in April 2015, nine days after being fired by the Boston Bruins. His first full season as GM wasn’t great as the Oilers missed the NHL postseason for the 10th straight year, however, the groundwork he laid in player personnel paid off in 2016-17 and the franchise ended its long-awaited playoff drought. But this season has seen the team return to the lows of the past decade. Chiarelli’s inability to add offensive power or any sense of a supporting cast to the league’s best attacking player in McDavid has cost the Oilers dearly.
Edmonton is 22nd in goals scored (130), 27th in goals-against (153), second-last in power play efficiency (14.8%) and dead-last on the penalty kill, converting just 71.4% of the time. Yikes! The Oilers’ 2.70 goals-per-game leave a lot ot be desired.
Those are poor numbers for any NHL Stanley Cup hopeful, but are especially poor when McDavid is the man the offense is designed around. And the defense Chiarelli put together this season hasn’t fared much better either, yielding 3.19 per 60 tilt. Goaltender Cam Talbot, after going an incredible — and perhaps unsustainable — 42-22-8, 2.39 GAA and .919 Save % last season has floundered to the tune of 17-17-2, 3.15 and .901 in 2017-18. While the play of the defense in front of him has left a lot to be desired, that has to be discouraging after a breakout 2016-17 campaign.
Currently, McDavid is carrying the Oilers all by himself. He may have an eight-year contract with the franchise, but the Richmond Hill, Ontario native may be second-guessing that decision unless the Oilers do a better job of building around him.
The bottom line is the Edmonton Oilers were supposed to be a team on the rise, a team Canada could finally see win a Stanley Cup — something the True North has been without since the Montreal Canadiens hoisted Lord Stanley in 1993. Simply, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for McDavid, Chiarelli and Co. this season. The fans deserve better. It will be interesting to see if Chiarelli and the Oilers will be buyers or sellers at the NHL Trade Deadline on March 3.
Written by Drew Farmer / @DrewMFarmer
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place on January 20, 2018 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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