Slumping Oilers can’t find answers to the same old questions

Slumping Oilers can't find answers to the same old questions
Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Don’t blame Connor McDavid for not definitively knowing if Saturday’s Oilers collapse against the Senators was the worst loss of his regular season career.

Much like picking the most exciting McDavid goal, choosing the worst Oilers loss is daunting because of the staggeringly large selection. It would be like leafing through every book at The Library of Congress.

With the Oilers on a six-game losing streak (and a 2-10-2 slump), McDavid, Zack Kassian, and others appeared at a loss for answers.

Yet, when you note quotes from McDavid and Kassian (via The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman), it’s striking how well they can apply to the Oilers’ eternal struggles, rather than these recent ones.

“We’ve talked about it over and over and over again in that room and obviously we haven’t found an answer yet,” McDavid said.

“We’re sitting here talking about the same (expletive) we were talking about before the break,” Kassian said.

Over the years, some details change. Broadly speaking, the Oilers have failed even more to support Connor McDavid (and Leon Draisaitl) during other seasons. But in the grand scheme of things, the Oilers still can’t answer the same plaguing questions.

Extreme highs and lows this season

If you seek a cautionary tale about how a hot start can mislead people about an NHL team, you could do worse than the 2021-22 Edmonton Oilers. (The Maple Leafs going from hot to cold in “The Corsi Hockey League” may be the best, though.)

During their 16-5-0 start (and especially at 9-1-0), the Oilers were simply playing over their heads.

  • Sure, Draisaitl, McDavid, and others form a deadly Oilers power play, but a 35.9% success rate was unsustainable. (Since the full season lockout, no one’s reached 30% for a full season.)
  • A proficient penalty kill probably ranked as a bigger red flag. Their 87.7% success rate (tied for third-best at that time), would easily beat Edmonton’s best PK percentage since 2005-06 (84.7%).
  • PDO is an imperfect measure, but still shorthand for a team riding luck. The Oilers’ 1.033 PDO (save percentage + shooting percentage) topped all teams at even strength.
  • More simply, they were outscoring opponents (80 goals for, 61 against) despite giving up almost two more shots on goal than they created each game.

[Check out where the Oilers stand in PHT’s Power Rankings]

Now, the pendulum is swinging a bit wildly out of Edmonton’s favor.

You know how people sometimes say “the truth is in between the two extremes?” That rings somewhat true of these troubled Oilers.

Entering Sunday, Money Puck gave the Oilers a 58.9% chance to make the playoffs, while other projections hover between a coin flip or slightly less.

So far, they are a mediocre even-strength team with a dynamite power play and a vulnerable penalty kill. They’ve scored 115 goals and allowed 117.

Can Tippett, Holland get McDavid, Draisaitl enough help to redeem Oilers?

In the scheme of this season, the Oilers maybe aren’t as bad as things sometimes seem.

However, that’s mainly a reaction to feelings of panic. The bottom line is that the Oilers still haven’t found answers to essential questions revolving around supporting Draisaitl and McDavid.

[A look at how the NHL’s best and worst teams support their stars]

Not every move has been a forehead-slapping groaner. While the term of Zach Hyman‘s contract radiates with risk, he’s at least a nice player, one who could either supplement Draisaitl/McDavid on a line, or perhaps provide greater depth.

Yet, when it comes to building a supporting cast, the bad outweighs the good. Unfortunately, Ken Holland’s recent track record speaks to serious lapses in identifying value in supporting cast pieces. This thread tells much of that story:

It’s possible Dave Tippett compounds some of those issues. At least, if it’s true that (like plenty of coaches) Tippett might fixate on mistakes younger players make, even as veterans suffer many of the same issues.

Consider this multi-season even strength RAPM comparison (via Evolving Hockey) between Ethan Bear (traded to Carolina) and Tyson Barrie:

Slumping Oilers can't find answers to the same old questions Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

On paper, Ethan Bear is exactly the type of player the Oilers need, considering their salary cap challenges. He’s young (24), currently cheap ($2M), and could remain that way for a while. Barrie, meanwhile, is 30, and carries a fairly expensive contract ($4.5M) that runs through 2023-24.

Making the occasional bad bet is one thing, especially with defensemen (who are generally tougher to gauge and forecast than forwards).

But it feels like the Oilers make these mistakes often enough that the errors eat away at their cap space and flexibility. As those mistakes pile up, you get less leeway to, say, invest in goaltending with a better chance to succeed than the Mike Smith + Mikko Koskinen duo.

(Injury excuses only go so far with Mike Smith, a 39-year-old goalie who dealt with issues in the past.)

Seemingly, the Oilers’ aims to improve their depth are undermined by a deadly combination: 1) a GM who’s struggled to gauge value and 2) a coach who might sour on the sort of younger, cheaper players you need when two players eat up $21M in cap space.

Few obvious solutions

In reading this post, maybe you disagree with causes, but can you argue with the symptoms? Again, year after year, the Oilers fail to find answers around Draisaitl and McDavid.

This past week, Ken Holland mostly shot down the idea of the Oilers making bigger changes, such as firing Dave Tippett.

To some extent, those comments feel out of touch. Unfortunately, there’s a darker way to view them. Maybe Holland simply believes he’s out of ideas — and running out of get out of jail free cards.

This team remains loaded with long-term contracts, and Darnell Nurse‘s cap hit balloons to $9.25M next season.

So, most of Holland and the Oilers’ options boil down to quick fixes.

  • Firing Dave Tippett. Maybe a new coach can breathe some life into this stodgy team, but how much can a Claude Julien (or, gulp, Mike Babcock) fix?
  • Hope for the best with a goalie like Marc-Andre FleuryIt’s unclear how much a goalie would cost at or around the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. We haven’t seen noteworthy goalies move that often in-season lately. But what if the Blackhawks were willing to take, say, a second-rounder instead of the first-rounder Holland wants to keep?
  • Some other rentals. That’s a topic for another post, down the line.

If I were running the Oilers, I’d consider both a coaching change and a desperate swipe at goaltending. Of course, that would be after I wiped away the tears, and muffled a few expletives at the mountain of mistakes left behind by Holland and Peter Chiarelli.

What do you think the Oilers need to do to turn things around. (Note: you may be judged if your answer is “Change Connor McDavid.”)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    NHL top prospect Connor Bedard draws comparisons to Connor McDavid as draft approaches

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The NHL is going to have another Connor to contend with very shortly.

    For everything two-time NHL MVP Connor McDavid has accomplished in Edmonton since being selected No. 1 in the 2015 draft, Connor Bedard is on the same trajectory in being pegged as this year’s top eligible draft prospect, Central Scouting director Dan Marr said Friday.

    “He’s right up there with Connor McDavid, it’s just the next generation,” Marr said in touting Bedard’s quickness, shot and ability to read and adapt. “So Connor McDavid started that trend, and Connor Bedard is going to lead it into the next trend.”

    The annual NHL pre-draft combine in Buffalo, New York, is resembling more of a coronation for the 17-year-old Bedard, who has spent the past two years putting up generational numbers with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League while also shining against his peers on the international stage.

    “I think you can use a lot of adjectives to describe it,” Regina coach John Paddock told The Associated Press recently in comparing Bedard’s production at the same age level to McDavid and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

    “That’s quite a high ceiling,” said Paddock, a former NHL coach and player. “But there’s no indication he’s not going to do that based on what he’s done to date.”

    The Chicago Blackhawks own the No. 1 pick, and are highly anticipated to use it on Bedard when the draft opens in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 28.

    Bedard held his latest meeting with the Blackhawks at the combine in a relationship that began at a top-prospects camp in Toronto last summer.

    Bedard’s arrival would coincide with the franchise in transition, with Chicago moving on from its aging core after trading 2007 No. 1 pick, Patrick Kane, and with captain Jonathan Toews’ future uncertain.

    “Yeah, it’d be awesome,” Bedard said of the possibility of being selected by the Blackhawks. “The history of that organization, that city with sports would be unbelievable. We’ll see what happens, but to be selected, that would be a huge honor.”

    Bedard said he’s following McDavid’s advice to stay in the moment and not peak too far ahead. He added, his dream to play in the NHL began no different than those of his colleagues: the moment he picked up a hockey stick growing up in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

    What separates Bedard, however, is his exceptional skating ability and a hard shot, which is even more lethal given his quick release.

    With Bedard the likely top pick, the intrigue at the draft is likely to revolve around who rounds out the remainder of the top five selections.

    University of Michigan’s Adam Fantilli is second among North American skaters on Central Scouting’s final list, followed by top American prospect, William Smith, who played for USA Hockey’s developmental program. The top two European skaters are also considered in the mix with Sweden’s Leo Carlsson and Russia’s Matvei Michkov.

    Anaheim is scheduled to pick second followed by Columbus, San Jose and Montreal.

    Marr gives the edge to Bedard while also being impressed with Fantilli – just the third freshman to win the Hobey Baker Trophy awarded to college hockey’s top players – in a draft class considered very deep with offensive-minded forwards.

    “You’re going to win with both,” Marr said. “And whoever gets these two players they’re going to help define a franchise.”

    What distinguishes Bedard, who doesn’t turn 18 until next month, has been his consistency.

    Last season, his 71 goals in just 57 games were the most in the WHL since Pavel Brendl scored 73 in 1998-99. Bedard’s 143 points were the most in the CHL since three players topped that mark in 1995-96. And it was a season in which he enjoyed 10 games with five or more points, and just five games in which he failed to register a point.

    In 2020-21, Bedard became just the third WHL 16-year-old to reach 100 points, and was the youngest to score 50 goals in finishing with 51.

    He’s also made a splash on the international stage. Bedard led Canada with nine goals and 23 points at the world juniors last winter, and his combined production of 17 goals and 36 points in just 16 games ranks fourth on the career tournament list.

    Bedard has honed his talent by spending countless hours practicing shots in his backyard, which he referred to as his “Happy Place.” He was so dedicated to work on his shot that he preferred practicing than joining his family for a vacation to Disneyland, and eventually vacationed in Hawaii but only after he was allowed to bring his inline skates and sticks to practice.

    Noted for being soft-spoken, Bedard said he’s not yet allowed himself to envision being drafted or making his NHL debut yet.

    “It’s hard kind of think of that. But of course, I’ll work as hard as I can to try to achieve that goal,” he said. “And hopefully I do.”

    Blue Jackets acquire D Damon Severson from Devils after he signs 8-year deal

    blue jackets
    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils on Friday after the veteran defenseman and soon-to-be free agent signed an eight-year $50 million contract.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sent a third-round pick, 80th overall, in this month’s draft to the Devils for Severson, who will be under contract through the 2030-31 NHL season.

    Severson had 58 goals and 205 assists in 647 career appearances with the Devils since making his NHL debut in 2014-15. He scored seven game-winning goals and averaged more than 21 minutes of playing time during his nine seasons. The 28-year-old had seven goals and 26 assists this season, including two game-winning goals, in 81 games.

    “Damon is a versatile defenseman who has great vision, moves the puck extremely well, has good size and can play heavy minutes at both ends of the ice,” Kekalainen said.

    The Canadian was selected in the second round in the 2012 draft. He has collected 30 or more points five times in his career and twice notched 11 or more goals. He played in every game in three straight seasons from 2018-21 and has played 80 or more contests four times in his career.

    With the addition of the third-round pick, New Jersey now has six selections in the draft, including its own picks in rounds two, four, five, six and seven.

    Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

    James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
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    Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

    The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

    Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

    The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

    “I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

    Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

    Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

    At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

    “You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

    Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

    “He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

    Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

    The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

    Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

    “It was fine,” he quipped.

    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

    stanley cup final
    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.