What a waste.
That is the only way to describe the totality of the 2020-21 Oilers season after it ended with an emphatic thud on Monday night in a 4-3 triple overtime loss to the Jets.
The loss completed a four-game sweep, including three consecutive overtime losses, that sends the Oilers home early — again — without coming anywhere close to a championship.
It was a waste in the sense that it wasted a historic offensive season from the likely league MVP, Connor McDavid, in which he scored 105 points in 56 regular-season games.
It also wasted another prime year of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl as they both, once again, finished as two of the NHL’s top offensive players and dragged an otherwise lousy team along as far as they could.
Most organizations will go their entire existence without ever having two players this good. It takes an extraordinary amount of luck, good fortune, and good timing to not only get two of them, but to get two of them at the exact same time, at roughly the exact same age, at the exact same point in their careers. On the rare occasion you do get that, you should be competing for the Stanley Cup every season.
Not just barely making the playoffs. Not just being close to the playoffs. You should be a major contender. Winning it should not necessarily be the expectation every year, but you should at least give yourself a reason to be in the discussion.
The Oilers, now six years into the McDavid-Draisaitl era, are not even close to that discussion.
In total, they have won eight playoff games during that time, and that is if you want to be generous and include the one Qualifying Round victory from a year ago against the 23rd-ranked Blackhawks. If you do not include that one game, they have seven playoff wins. And that is a damning indictment on the entire organization from top to bottom, ranging from the former GM Peter Chiarelli to the current GM Ken Holland. They are wasting this gift from the hockey gods that they have been given.
Whenever a team loses in the playoffs, and this is especially true when it is an embarrassing playoff loss, there is always a rush to point the finger at the superstars. With big money and big stats comes big expectations. If the team fails, they get the blame. Or they get told how they have to change. For years when the Capitals lost in the playoffs it was always Alex Ovechkin that had to change his game. When the Lightning kept falling just short it was Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos that would take the heat. When Toronto goes out early, it’s the young core that does not know how to win.
Now, McDavid and Draisaitl are going to get that microscope placed on them with every aspect of their game being critiqued. Be better defensively. Make your teammates better. Change the way you play so it is a winning style.
It is all a waste of time.
First, consider this. This is the supporting cast for McDavid and Draisaitl that was on the ice in Game 4 on Monday.
Oilers forward lineup tonight, by 5v5 points this season:
40 – 56 – 16
6 – 14 – 5
9 – 3 – 19
1 – 11 – 9
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) May 25, 2021
The struggle with team building in hockey is that the best players have the smallest impact in the game among the major sports. It is not like basketball where one or two superstars can play 90% of the game and change everything. In football, a great quarterback makes you a contender as soon as they join the team.
But here? The best players only play, at most, a third of the game. That means for the overwhelming majority of the game you need to rely on your supporting cast. And not to be overly dramatic here, but the Oilers supporting cast, for lack of a better word, stinks.
They are getting less support from their teammates than any other top player in the league.
Let’s look at this table here as an example. This shows the top-15 scorers in the NHL from this regular season. On the left, you have what the teams did with them on the ice during 5-on-5 play in terms of goals for, goals against, and shot attempt differential.
On the right, you have what those teams did when the top scorer was not on the ice.
Look at how dominant the Oilers were with those two on the ice. Then look at how bad they were without them. Look at the drop. Then look at the support the other players on this list received.
Even with Marchand, that number dramatically improved after the trade deadline (because Boston actually tried to get better).
As for the others? Chicago missed the playoffs by a mile. The also Blues got swept in the First Round (while playing the NHL’s best team and not actually having Perron for any of the games). The Rangers also missed the playoffs.
The very fact that the Oilers even made the playoffs is a testament to how far McDavid and Draisaitl carried them because when they are on the bench this is a lottery team. A bad lottery team.
But Adam, you are probably thinking, this is the regular season here. The playoffs are different, and maybe McDavid and Draisaitl needed to do more. Fight through it. Go to the tough areas. Be better!
Maybe. But the Oilers still outscored the Jets with McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice. It was only 3-2 on aggregate, but it was still in the Oilers’ favor. As was the territorial advantage (significantly so).
In the 90 minutes of all situations hockey (5-on-5, power play, penalty kill) where one of those two was on the ice the Oilers scored four goals.
In the 202 minutes without them the Oilers scored … four goals. And were outscored 9-4, including 7-3 during 5-on-5 play. When neither McDavid or Draisaitl played they were outscored by four goals at even-strength, in a series where they lost three one-goal games in overtime.
Yeah, maybe you could expect two superstars to have more than three total goals in four games.
But maybe for once, just once, this season or at any point over the past six seasons, somebody else on the roster could make a play, or score a goal, or make an impact on the rare occasion that those two guys got stopped. Maybe the goalie could make a save. Maybe they could avoid taking the stupid penalty that swings a game. At some point every Cup winning team needs that from their supporting cast.
The Oilers never get it. Because they do not have anybody else capable of doing it and every piece of objective evidence we have at our disposal illustrates it. For that to be the case six years into this, after all of the high first-round picks, is a complete and total failure across the board.
The Oilers have the two most dynamic offensive players in the world in the prime of their careers. And the team is still years from contending.