The Edmonton Oilers are in year four of the Connor McDavid era, and at the risk of becoming a broken record here it looks like they are headed toward yet another wasted season if things do not dramatically turn around.
Given that McDavid himself has met every expectation the hockey world could have had for him as a player, they should be on their way to becoming contender in the Western Conference. At the very least, they should be a group that is a consistent playoff team and is just a couple of tweaks away from being a contender. It has been enough time for the front office and coaching staff to assemble the right pieces around the game’s most dominant offensive force, especially given the assets that were already on the roster and in the team’s possession when McDavid was drafted in 2015 (they had a future league MVP on the roster, after all).
They are most definitely not that team, or anything close to being that team.
After dropping back-to-back games over the weekend to the Calgary and Vegas — the latter of which being a particularly ugly 6-2 loss on Sunday night to a disappointing Golden Knights team that has been crushed by injuries — the Oilers are on pace to finish with the exact same record they finished 2017-18 with.
A record that saw them miss the Stanley Cup playoffs by 17 points.
That is more than baffling; it is completely unacceptable.
They have now lost six out of their past seven games (and seven out of 10), have been outscored by nine goals on the season, and are still as top-heavy and overly reliant on McDavid to carry them as they have been during the first three years of his career. Just about the only reason for optimism here is the fact they do have McDavid, and the rest of their division is so completely mediocre that it has left the door open for them to maybe — emphasis on maybe — steal a playoff spot.
But when you have an MVP caliber player at the top of your roster (and another star-level player in Leon Draisaitl) you should not have to depend on the rest of the teams around you to simply be more inept than you are just to give you a chance to get in the playoffs.
Last year’s disastrous results should have put everyone in a position of power — from general manager Peter Chiarelli, to head coach Todd McLellan — on the hot seat.
You would also have think that with yet another slow start the temperature is only starting to increase. Especially since all of the same problem exist, from terrible special teams play to a stunning lack of depth at pretty much every position.
The biggest issue has, once again, been with the asset management of the roster. It was highlighted once again this past week when Ryan Strome was traded straight up for Ryan Spooner, a shuffling of the deck chairs type of move where both teams hope a fresh start might spark the middling players involved.
Bigger picture, though, is with that trade the Oilers managed to turn a top-line winger in Jordan Eberle — a position where the Oilers have zero quality NHL depth — into a reclamation project in just a little more than one year. It just continued a disturbing trend of taking high value players and working backwards. As I pointed on the day of the Strome trade, the cupboard wasn’t totally bare back in 2015. It is astonishingly bare today.
You just can not win by moving in the wrong direction, talent-wise, on so many trades.
The result today is a team whose top wingers are either one of their natural centers (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Draisaitl), or the likes of Drake Caggiula, Alex Chiasson, and Tobias Rieder. The latter trio are the top-scoring natural wingers on the tea so far this season.
None of them have more than 10 points entering the week.
None of them have ever topped 40-points in a single NHL season.
So again, the question remains, how much longer can this continue before meaningful changes get made?
And perhaps the more concerning question: What is there to make you believe the Oilers will get it right when they do make changes? Because they have made changes before. Todd McLellan is not the first coach to fail in Edmonton over the past decade-and-a-half. They changed coaches six other times between 2005-06 and McLellan’s hiring in 2015-16.
General managers have come and gone as well, from the end of the Kevin Lowe era in 2008, to Steve Tambellini, to Craig MacTavish, to Chiarelli.
They have had No. 1 picks. They have promising prospects. They have reasons for optimism that maybe this version of the rebuild was going to be the one to return the Oilers to glory.
The results: All the same. That points to an even bigger problem at the top — above even the head coach and general manager — because that has been the one constant in the organization. It also paints a disturbing picture for Oilers fans because it should be obvious that the current organizational structure is not working and that changes probably need to be made. But what faith do you have that the people in charge are going to make the right changes?
If history is any indication, you probably should not have much. It is a devastatingly frustrating cycle.