We don't have to dive too deep here into how out-of-this-world good Connor McDavid is. If you're reading this you're probably already well aware of the 22-year-old's utter dominance. The eye-test has him as one of best pure skaters to ever play the game (if not the best) with hands and a brain for the sport to match. As far as accolades go, two scoring titles and a league MVP through his first three NHL seasons along with a couple first-team All-Star nods should tell you all you need to know.
With all that talent, however, comes pressure and an expectation to win almost immediately—something the Oilers have not been able to come close to doing more than 3.5 years into McDavid's tenure. In fact, you can easily make the argument that the club, under the guidance of general manager Peter Chiarelli, has taken a leap back and made the roster worse since drafting their franchise cornerstone in 2015. Incredible.
Putting it very simply and definitely understating the ridiculous difficulty of the job, an NHL general manager along with his front office has, essentially, three key areas to oversee: drafting and development, roster construction, and salary cap and asset management. Though the results don't appear to be too favourable in the drafting and development department yet, let's give Chiarelli a pass there until we see how some of the club's more recent selections pan out.
But, BUT, it is very reasonable at this point to say Chia and Co. have been absolutely dreadful in those other two areas, so let's just hop right into that sludge, shall we?
The Oilers' lineup is quite an eyesore outside of McDavid and non-Chiarelli draft picks Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl. And as the club and its GM desperately search for a forward who can become a permanent fixture on McDavid's wing and another who can help elevate the second line, it's impossible not to look back on three moves in particular that likely set this club back years.
Let's start with some guy named Taylor Hall—the former No. 1 overall pick and 2018 Hart Trophy winner—who was shipped to New Jersey at the start of the 2016 offseason in exchange for second-pairing blueliner Adam Larsson. This thing was a head scratcher from the get-go, as Hall was only 24 at the time of the deal, locked up long term to a very team-friendly, $6-million-per-season contract, and is one of the only wingers in the entire league with the speed and handles to match McDavid's.
Larsson has been OK on the back-end, but the Oilers' all-out "full-court press" to find a forward to play with their captain right now could have easily been solved simply by, uhhh, not doing anything. Hall and McDavid, the last two MVP winners, would look magical alongside each other right about now, wouldn't they? Another example of the team's atrocious asset management is the way that whole Jordan Eberle situation was handled. A very solid, skilled top-six forward and one who was also locked up to a nice and tidy $6-million-per-season long-term deal, Eberle was flipped just a year after Hall was in exchange for the Islanders' Ryan Strome, who was then traded to the Rangers 16 months later for Ryan Spooner.
Spooner was only able to muster three points in 24 games with the Oilers this season before the club put him on waivers. In 19 months, the asset that was Jordan Eberle turned into thin air. Actually, with Spooner clearing waivers and the Oilers on the hook for the entirety of his $3.1-million AAV next season, this trade ended up being Jordan Eberle for negative cap space. Impressive!
Those are two massive mistakes which have set this team's forward group back a mile, and let's not forget a third move that was already questionable at the time, and looks downright dreadful today. I am of course talking about the very first deal made between the Oilers and Islanders under Chiarelli's watch, one that sent a couple of draft picks to Long Island in exchange for minor-league defenceman Griffin Reinhart who, to this point, has exactly two points in 37 NHL games.
One of those picks turned into star-in-the-making Mathew Barzal, who put up 85 points in his first year en route to capturing the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. Hindsight, sure, but it's a stream of poor judgment calls like this one that has seen the Oilers lose valuable assets with little to no return.
The construction of this current roster has gone horribly wrong and the self-induced salary cap conundrum the Oilers find themselves in is doing nothing to help the situation. After basically wasting the three years of McDavid's entry-level contract where they had lots of cap flexibility, Edmonton now finds itself scrambling to add players while handcuffed by burdensome contracts—several of them very bad.
The Oilers have barely any cap space and the deals Chiarelli gave his old buddy Milan Lucic and blueliner Kris Russell are crippling the team's flexibility to an absurd degree. Lucic ($6 million) and Russell ($4 million) are eating up over 12 percent of the Oilers cap space between them and both somehow managed to snag modified no-movement clauses (LOL). The pair have combined for just 21 goals and 76 points in 248 games since the start of last season, good for a nauseating mark of 0.30 points per game.
Edmonton also has over $4 million tied up in a couple of recently acquired third-pairing d-men in Alex Petrovic and Brandon Manning, and another $1.6 million in player buyouts.
To start off the last week before the All-Star break, Chiarelli blessed us with yet another head-scratcher of a move, inking extremely mediocre goaltender Mikko Koskinen to a three-year deal that carries a $4.5-million annual cap hit, AND yet another limited no-movement clause (LOL). The fact Chiarelli inked a goaltender isn't the egregious part of it all—the team was looking to move away from Cam Talbot and both he and Koskinen were set to become unrestricted free agents—but boy oh boy did the Oilers ever overpay, yet again, on this one.
Koskinen turns 31 this summer and has proven very little in the NHL, posting a .905 save percentage in just 28 career starts. He ranks 22nd in save percentage among the 46 goaltenders who have played a minimum of 1,000 minutes this season, 30th in goals saved above average, and 31st in slot-save percentage, according to The Point.
A good comparable here is Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith, who is more than three years younger than Koskinen, has 42 NHL games under his belt and is boasting a career .918 save percentage. DeSmith re-upped this season for three years at an AAV of only $1.25 million. If it appears to you that Chiarelli overpaid Koskinen by around $2-2.5 million per season, it's because he did. Simply inexcusable, and kind of hilarious.
This concoction of ineptitude and misjudgment has yielded an unpleasant scenario for both Oilers and hockey-watchers everywhere who yearn to see the best player in the world playing on the game's biggest stage every spring.
As sports fans, there's nothing better than watching the best of the best compete in the most important games of the season. When McDavid did take the Oilers to their lone playoff appearance since 2006, he helped them reach Game 7 of the second round in what felt like a missed opportunity at the time (and looks to be the case even more so now). Since then, they've been borderline terrible for two seasons. McDavid is so good and carries the team around by his balls every night, but because of the team's futility and inability to surround its stud player with the proper pieces, Edmonton is looking at the possibility of missing the postseason for the third time in his four seasons.
Just past the halfway point of the year, the Oilers are outside of the playoff picture in the West and continue to free-fall. Best-case scenario at this point appears to be earning a first-round playoff date with one of the conference's best teams via a wild-card spot. It's absurd that they have this freak of a talent and once again are struggling to play past the regular season when more than HALF(!) the teams in the conference qualify for the playoffs.
The Oilers have already flushed McDavid's first three years—when he was still on his affordable entry-level contract—down the shitter, and the first season of his eight-year deal is shaping up to be a complete waste, too. No. 97 should feasibly have another 15 or so years left in his sure-to-be Hall of Fame career, but he obviously won't be the league's biggest attraction for the duration of it. And, really, who knows if he's in Edmonton through the length of the contract.
On top of those dwindling years, there's always the risk of injuries cutting an all-time great career excruciatingly short—just ask stars like Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros about that. The time to take advantage of this window is basically now for the Oilers, but with a mediocre farm-system in place, no groundbreaking top prospects on the horizon ready to make an impact, and few desirable trade chips at their disposal, it's really hard to find reasons for optimism.
But with McDavid there is always hope—he's that good. Let's just pray, for everybody's sanity, that this one-of-a-kind talent gets some help around him soon. The NHL's best player should be playing when the stakes are highest. Hockey fans deserve it.
Get your shit together Edmonton, we want to see Connor McDavid in the fucking playoffs!
[UPDATE: Jan. 23, 2019, 12 PM]:
Hours after posting this, the Oilers lost at home to one of the few teams in the NHL that they have more points then, falling 3-2 to the Red Wings to drop their third game in a row. Oh, and they fired Peter Chiarelli [that groan you hear is not from Oilers fans, but from the 30 other NHL GMs who can no longer trade with him].
This had to happen ^read everything above^ but it doesn't immediately make the situation any better (OK, on second thought…). Chiarelli deserves all the jokes that are coming his way, and boy are there some good ones, but surely there are also others responsible for contributing to this mess. The Oilers probably want to undergo an Extreme Makeover: Front Office Edition to start ridding themselves of the main decision-makers during the Chiarelli Era. I mean this was the same group that completed the questionable extension for Koskinen essentially minutes before showing Chiarelli the door. There's no way Chiarelli was the sole person behind that move, but let's say he was, this is the best way to sum up what went down.
It's a perfect time for McDavid to clear his head and enjoy the All-Star Game festivities this weekend [*gets asked a million questions about Chiarelli and the Oilers mess*]. Actually, maybe not!
It's been a bad
week month year decade in Edmonton.