You’ve heard all this before.
The first total picks. The stars. The busts.
They’re going to have to figure all this out at some point, right?
The Edmonton Oilers were defeated by Colorado in the Western Conference Finals, giving up a 4-2 lead in the third period in a 6-5 loss in overtime. The Oilers were battered and injured, with Leon Draisaitl playing about half a leg during the playoffs, only to be reinforced in the second half of Game 4. Connor McDavid couldn’t pull it all off, and the Oilers paid the ultimate price.
It’s another year of “What if?” for an Oilers team with two of the best players in the world. To be honest, some of the team’s top stars played injured. Darnell Nurse was never the same after suffering an injury early in the playoffs. Draisaitl was in severe pain every time he touched the ice. There’s not much you can do with that, especially against an Avalanche team that has been considered serious Stanley Cup contenders from the start.
This team had the ability to be something special. Two of the best players played 200 percent, even as Draisaitl struggled with injuries. Jesse Puljujärvi apparently ran into a wall. Darnell Nurse played injured the whole time. Duncan Keith was mostly a liability. Derek Ryan, Zack Kassian and Warren Foegele had meager offensive influences. Only five Oilers scored four or more goals all postseason — Colorado had nine. When the Oilers needed even more depth at the close, they stayed quiet with the team’s shaky goalkeeping, brought in two veterans in Brett Kulak and Derrick Brassard, and while Ken Holland believed in his group, the warning signs were fully apparent.
That’s how Mike Smith had his moments during the playoffs. Let’s not forget how he seemingly dubbed a Vezina Trophy finalist into Jacob Markstrom. But again, red flags were everywhere, and the team with a fickle 40-year-old goalkeeper in the pipes eventually lost.
Would the Oilers have won Game 4 with Evander Kane? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have changed the fact that the playoffs’ top scorer didn’t change the team’s course in the first three games. In those three games, Draisaitl didn’t score, Kane only had one and if you take away that wild 8-6 opener, only McDavid and Ryan McLeod scored. So while depth was so important to New York and Colorado — two teams actively bringing help at the close — the Oilers remained patent-proof.
Reaching the Stanley Cup Finals is hard, everyone knows that. And it doesn’t matter if two of the best players of their generation play together if they don’t get the right help they need. Had they not signed Kane – who was released from San Jose after a spate of controversy – who would have scored outside of 97 and 29 for this group? Kailer Yamamoto had as one ebb and flow in the playoffs and Puljujärvi was invisible from the start.
Holland needs to take a serious look at this group this off-season and really decide what that group should look like. Smith has one year left on contract – does he decide to retire early? Is Stuart Skinner a realistic goalie option for the future? It’s a tough free agency market and while getting a goalie like Marc-Andre Fleury would give it a boost, would it be enough? We expect him to slow down at 38.
They will have a fairly open panel up front to work with. Only eight forwards will be signed next season and Ryan McLeod, Puljujarvi and Yamamoto won’t cost too much to bring back. Kane will definitely be an interesting off-season story. Mikko Koskinen isn’t expected to return at net, so at least one goalkeeping spot to worry about – if not two if Smith retires in the final year of his contract. And that defensive core… it needs help and six players are already signed. Hopefully Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg take another step forward, but things only get worse for Keith in the final year of his deal.
The Oilers have two gold bars. They are still maturing in a way and have many years ahead of them. But you can’t help but feel like it’s being utterly wasted on patchwork trying to pull this all together. The Oilers have only one pick in the first four rounds, and it will be a late first-rounder. There is help in the system, but will it be enough?
You just can’t waste McDavid and Draisaitl’s prime years. They had so many chances with different people at the top. Eventually, they must find out in order to help ignite the City of Champions. This could have been her year. They hit the flames, so what stopped them?
Apparently their own decisions. And Holland and Co. have to live with that.