No team ever wants to lose their star player, much less when it is the best player in the world. But there is something to be said for silver linings. Edmonton Oilers fans were quick to hit the panic button on Tuesday. General Manager Ken Holland announced that Connor McDavid would miss 2-3 weeks due to a “quad injury.” On a team that has been famously dependent on its star power to score goals, Oiler fans are understandably nervous.
However, a perfect opportunity for the Oilers to prove themselves as true contenders in this league. Doing that without Connor McDavid could give all the confidence in the world.
Connor McDavid Injury Opens Doors
Edmonton is right in the thick of the wild Pacific Division race. They are three points behind the Vancouver Canucks, and two ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, and Arizona Coyotes. They also have at least two games in hand on everyone.
For the Oilers without Connor McDavid, so far, so good. The Oilers pulled out a huge win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, getting goals from PK specialist Riley Sheahan, veteran leader Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, breakout star Kailer Yamamoto, and scoring leader Leon Draisaitl.
For this team, it’s not just about picking up crucial points. They have a chance to prove to the hockey world that they are legit. If they can win without McDavid, they can upgrade their status from a surprising story to Stanley Cup Contender. It has to start from the top.
Not only can the Oilers assert themselves as winners, but Leon Draisaitl now has an opportune audition to join the ranks of the NHL’s elite. Let’s not forget that the Deutschland Dangler is leading the NHL in scoring, eight points ahead of Connor McDavid. He is coming off of a fifty goal season.
This guy is for real. If he drives the Oilers offence these next few weeks, he should garner serious consideration for a Hart Trophy, and he can finally dismiss this “only good because of McDavid” nonsense. Which is nonsense, because Leon and Connor haven’t played on the same line since before Christmas.
This is also a good test for the leadership group of this team. The Oilers have done an excellent job developing its core, bringing them into the league around the same time. Drafting Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom in 2011, Darnell Nurse in 2013, Draisaitl in 2014, McDavid in 2015 and Yamamoto in 2017. This group has grown up together, and you can expect that they will have no problems rallying around the McDavid injury.
This offseason also saw the addition of some veteran leadership, notably Mike Smith. Smith has consistently been on the front lines, be it challenging Mikko Koskinen for the starter’s job, or being an active participant in the newly sparked Battle of Alberta. Smith knows his role as the wily veteran, and his abilities as a leader are sure to be tested in this tough stretch of games.
The biggest area in which McDavid will be missed is on the power play. The Oilers have the league’s best at 29.9%, but that has more to do with the team’s pure skill than Dave Tippett’s tactical genius.
It’s no secret that the Oilers have one play when it comes to entering the zone with the man advantage. Give the puck to McDavid. His other-worldly speed and ability to get past defenders make this an effective strategy. But he won’t be out there, and the Oilers don’t have any player that can match his combination of speed and skill.
This showed against Chicago. The Oilers’ first chance on the power play looked awful. They could not make a successful zone entry and even gave up a shorthanded goal. The cynicism of Oiler fans began to show. But this team is different than what we’ve seen over the last 15 years.
The Oilers finished the night 2/3 with the man advantage, thanks to the tenacity of Yamamoto and a great pass by Mike Smith to set up Nugent-Hopkins.
So let’s say the McDavid injury lasts exactly three weeks. 21 days. There are nine games (and a trade deadline) between now and March 2nd. Only three are against divisional opponents. Three are against teams currently in a playoff spot. The Oilers can do this, and there are three games, in particular, to look at. They lost a close one to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. However, they did show some fight.
Feb. 19 vs Boston
The Oilers have already beat the Boston Bruins this year by a score of 4-1. McDavid had just one point. Six different players recorded a point, led by Draisaitl who scored a goal and an assist.
Mar. 26 @ Vegas
The Oilers are 5-4-0 all-time against Vegas. The season series currently sits at 1-0 for Edmonton, thanks to a 4-2 win back in November. This marks the only game in the next three weeks in which the Oilers play a divisional opponent that is still in the playoff race, and with Vegas right on their tail, the Oilers need these two points.
At an absolute bare minimum, the Oilers must tread water. Based on the standings alone, they should have no problem. The Oilers are the team with more points in eight of the nine matchups. They have shown that they can score in a variety of ways, both at even strength and on the powerplay. The goaltending situation seems to be sorted out. They are getting contributions up and down the lineup.
Moving Forward Without Connor McDavid
Due to the McDavid injury, the Oilers have lost a potential MVP. Unfortunately for the rest of the NHL, the Oilers have another ace up their sleeve. Leon Draisaitl has a chance to silence the naysayers and solidify his prestige as both an elite goal scorer, and a leader on the offence.
The Oilers can do this. It won’t be easy, but this stretch of games may be remembered as the moment when the Oilers became a true threat. This is their chance to seize the day.