The Edmonton Oilers have had a lot of bad seasons over the past 12 years, but this one has to be the most frustrating, most disappointing, and quite frankly, the biggest failure out of them all.
Entering 2017-18 as one of the top favorites to win the Stanley Cup, it’s probably not too soon to close the book on their season.
After getting blown out for the second game in a row this weekend, dropping a 4-1 decision in Chicago, the Oilers remain in 13th place in the Western Conference and are eight points out of a playoff spot with 39 games remaining ahead of them. It is almost impossible to imagine them making up that much ground — and jumping over five teams — in that amount of time.
With the final wild card team in the West currently on a 94-point pace, the Oilers would need to collect 56 points the rest of the way to pass that. That would be a 118-point pace over 82 games, meaning the Oilers would need to pretty much be the best team in hockey the rest of the way just to get the second wild card spot.
After losing seven out of their past eight games, a stretch that has seen them be outscored 28-10 (including 20-4 in the past five games), it is almost impossible to see it happening.
It is a stunning fall in such a short amount of time for a team that was one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals and has the league MVP and scoring champion (and arguably the league’s best player!) in Connor McDavid on its roster.
It is that second point that makes this season such a failure for the Oilers.
Keep in mind that in the post-Original Six era there have only been three teams that have had the reigning league MVP on their roster have missed the playoffs. The 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens (Carey Price), the 2011-12 Anaheim Ducks (Corey Perry) and the 2002-03 Canadiens (Jose Theodore).
In the case of the two Canadiens teams it’s at least somewhat understandable given who the MVPs were and how those teams won. Both teams were largely dependent on the success of the two goalies, while Price missed all but 11 games following his MVP season due to injury. Theodore simply experienced a massive regression and was not able to put the team on his back the way he did in his MVP season.
But this Oilers team? With Connor McDavid?
There is no excuse for this.
McDavid is a generational talent, and even worse for the Oilers, is still on his entry level contract this season. That means they are still getting one of the biggest steals in the league against the salary cap and they have surrounded him with … this.
Their special teams are a mess. The goaltending has failed them as Cam Talbot has been run into the ground the past two years with no solid backup behind him. They still have no scoring depth beyond McDavid’s line. At some point if the season continues on this path you have to imagine that a coaching change will be considered. That is always the first move that gets made when a seemingly talented team with sky high expectations underachieves.
The issue here is still with construction of the roster and what seems to be a desire to build a heavy, physical hockey team in a league that is now all about speed, skating and skill.
It is about the way the team has squandered talented players like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle in trades by selling them off in one-for-one deals that did not bring back anything close to equal value. Heaven help Oilers fans when the same thing inevitably happens with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Given Peter Chiarelli’s track record with trades you can almost guarantee that it will.
With McDavid just starting to enter his prime years and still dirt cheap, this should have been a season where the Oilers were set to take another big step forward. That’s what you do with a superstar that still takes up almost none of your salary cap space.
In year three with Sidney Crosby the Pittsburgh Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Final, one year away from winning it. In year three with Patrick Kane the Chicago Blackhawks actually won the Stanley Cup. In year three with Alex Ovechkin the Washington Capitals were division champions and barreling toward being one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. In year three with Steven Stamkos the Tampa Bay Lightning were in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Now the Oilers are not only on their way to missing the playoffs for the second time in three years with McDavid, they are set to head into next season with already more than $60 million in salary cap space committed to just 13 players. And it’s not the big contracts to McDavid and Leon Draisaitl that are causing that cap crunch. You have to keep them and you have to pay them.
It is the $6 million to a Milan Lucic here and the $4 million to a Kris Russell there that eats it up fast.
That is what is going to make it awfully difficult to build any sort of depth around McDavid.
The biggest question out of all of this: Do you trust the current management team to figure out a way to make it work?
They were not able to do it when the best player in the league was costing them peanuts against the salary cap.
It is hard to see how they can do it when he is making his market value.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.