Miracles do happen. On Nov. 26, the Edmonton Oilers came all the way back from three goals down in the third period against the New York Rangers to beat the Broadway Blue Shirts 4-3. It could be a season-defining win for them as Evan Bouchard and Dylan Holloway broke out in a big way to help lead their team to victory.
Having young players such as Bouchard, Holloway, Warren Foegle and Ryan McLeod take over a game rather than depending on Connor McDavid could be a good sign for the Oilers moving forward this season. However, that remains to be seen. When you compare McDavid, who is obviously this generation’s best player, to other superstars and their teams, it seems that the Oilers aren’t quite where they need to be yet.
Looking Back at Generational Players and Teams
When you look at generational superstars going back to Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby, each of them had a team built around them that struck fear into the opposition. Unfortunately, not many teams fear McDavid and the Oilers. Players in today’s NHL might fear getting beaten in open ice by McDavid, or having Leon Draisaitl make them look foolish with one of his patented backhand passes. But it’s not that they fear the team overall.
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Back in the day, when the Boston Bruins led by Orr came to town, teams genuinely were scared to play against them. Orr had a great team around him comprising Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, John Bucyk, and Gerry Cheevers. When you look at Lafleur and the great Montreal Canadiens, they had Steve Shutt, Pete Mahovlich, Bob Gainey, and the big three on defence that included Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe. If you beat any of the big three you had to face Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden who was steady as a rock in the Habs net. Even Gretzky had Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, and the acrobatic Grant Fuhr in goal – who always came up big when needed.
When you look at these great players and their teams, the majority of them were always at the top of the standings in the regular season. From the Bruins being in first place in the early 70s, the Habs only losing eight games in the entire 1976-77 season to the great Oilers teams of the 80s and Penguins teams of the 90s and early 2000s, they were all feared in the regular season. The only exception could be the 1991-92 Penguins led by Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi, Bryan Trottier, Coffey, and Tom Barrasso, as they finished sixth overall in the regular season standings but blazed their way through to Stanley Cup glory that spring.
The 2008-09 Penguins captained by Crosby and featuring Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and the underrated Marc-André Fleury in goal may give this current version of the Oilers hope, as they finished eighth overall in the regular season but beat the defending champion Detroit Red Wings in a thrilling seven-game Stanley Cup Final. However, when Crosby’s Penguins won their cups in 2015-16 and 2016-17, they finished in the top four overall in both of those seasons. The best regular season record the Oilers can claim during the McDavid years was in 2016-17 when they finished eighth overall and lost to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
Oilers Keep Searching for the Winning Formula
This isn’t McDavid’s fault. Nor is it Draisaitl’s either. And you can’t say that the Oilers organization hasn’t tried because they’ve worked their tails off to try and build a winner in the Alberta Capital. Could it be that the one common denominator of the Oilers’ frustrations during the McDavid years has been their inability to play as a team? Are too many players like Jesse Puljujärvi, Kailer Yamamoto (when healthy), and even McLeod, Bouchard, and Foegele just waiting for McDavid or Draisaitl to do something spectacular when the opportunity is there for them to seize the day?
This current Oilers roster could be the deepest team that management has built around McDavid. Unfortunately, they’re not playing like they’re a great team. Yes, the injury to Evander Kane has hurt. His toughness, swagger, and scoring touch are sorely missed. But Zach Hyman is definitely inspiring others with his consistent play, and players such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are holding their own.
The Oilers’ defensive core led by Darnell Nurse, Tyson Barrie, and Bretty Kulak could be playing better, and goalie Jack Campbell has admitted he needs to improve – which he has in the past few games. Stuart Skinner, the second half of the Oilers’ goaltending tandem is trending up, and he has the potential to be another Jake Oettinger if Campbell’s game were to completely go in the ditch this season. But the team needs both goalies going in order to have a chance this season.
Oilers Can’t Wait Around For Yet Another Late Season Playoff Push
The Oilers seem to have taken on an underdog label since the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Before the salary cap, they were the little market that could when Doug Weight and Curtis Joseph-led teams took down the goliaths like the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche of the late 1990s. Even when they had Chris Pronger in the first year of the new salary cap era in the NHL, they were considered underdogs. Sure they made it all the way to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final and lost to the eventual champion Carolina Hurricanes, but the organization has not been able to shed the label of being the little team that could.
It’s time for this generation of Oilers, led by McDavid, to rise up. No more excuses. This is a good team on paper. They need to prove it to themselves by playing as a team rather than as a collection of individuals. They need to play for each other and ignore the noise outside their dressing room. McDavid and this generation of the Oilers’ time is now.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.