There’s not much more that Connor McDavid can do. For that matter, Leon Draisaitl should be attached to that lament permanently now, after he also averaged two points per game in the playoffs with maybe two functioning limbs. They’re the only players to average two points per game in the playoffs over more than one series in the 2000s. In 16 games, the two combined for 65 points, which by any measure is simply absurd.
And all it got the Oilers was halfway. Eight wins and a four-game sweep by the Avalanche. For that unheard of production, the kind we might not see again, and Draisaitl battling through his body falling off of him like hot wax, in reality the Oilers still never got close to a Stanley Cup. They were mostly rolled in the conference final by Colorado, which is an obvious thing to say in a sweep and something the Avs would do to a lot of teams. But sometimes there’s a four-game sweep where you lose a couple hard-luck games, or you get a bad bounce in overtime. That wasn’t this. Only in Game 3 were the Oilers the better team, and their goalie let the Avs by anyway. Sure, there were a couple close games, but ones where Avs goalie, Pavel Francouz, made things more interesting than they needed to be or the Avs shifted down a couple gears out of boredom. As we saw in the third period last night, whenever the Avs decided they didn’t want to play with their food anymore, the Oilers had no answers and we’re merely witnesses.
And given what we know about how the Oilers are run, and what Ken Holland has done as a GM for 10 years or so now in both Detroit and Edmonton, they’ll learn all the wrong lessons from this run. What it was, in the end, was a sweetheart draw, through an L.A. Kings team that couldn’t have been more of a definition of mediocre and a Flames team with a goalie that had his molecules re-shift every few minutes. Oh, and McDavid and Draisaitl balling out like no one’s ever seen. Is that something they’re going to count on every season?
The Oilers only have about seven million in cap space for next year, and if you are a betting man you would side with Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto taking up most if not all of that space. And then the Oilers can spend the next few seasons watching Kane erase his production with a tsunami of dumb penalties and pissing off his teammates, assuming he doesn’t do something criminal.
That will still leave the Oilers without a genuine checking center to relieve McDavid of having to do that, too, in addition to scoring 120+ points per season just to keep the Oilers buoyant. Or a genuine second pair on the blue line, if not a genuine partner for Darnell Nurse (who inexplicably played through the playoffs with a torn hip flexor, leaving him nothing more than chum for the jet-heeled Avs). They’ll still be paying Zack Kassian over $3 million to be, perhaps, the worst player in the league, and certainly one of the stupidest.
Worst of all, for the Oilers that is, these 16 games will convince them to give Mike Smith another go, and he’s got one year left on his deal anyway. Smith spit up Games 1, 3, and 4 in this series for Edmonton. But because he was only slightly worse than Francouz and slightly better than Jakob Markstrom in the second round, the aforementioned goalie who couldn’t maintain solid form, the Oilers will convince themselves that he has one last run in him at age 41. Reader, he does not.
Perhaps there’s salvation for the Oilers in the 2023-2024 season, where they currently have $26 million in space on the cap schedules, assuming they don’t break the bank on Kane, Yamamoto, and Evan Bouchard after next season. Even if the Oilers had a lot of room this summer, the list of free-agent goalies isn’t making anyone weak in the knees, at least not for the right reasons. But they don’t, which is why they’ll talk themselves into Smith again.
The Pacific may be as bad again, especially if Johnny Gaudreau leaves Calgary, or re-signing him causes them to strip out their depth. Vegas will rebound in some fashion, though. The division will still cushion the Oilers.
It’s a shame. McDavid showed the world what it can look like when he finally has something to play for. Even giving him a whiff inspired historic performance, and drew new eyes to the playoffs. Good thing they saw it now, because it very well may not be on display again, at least not for a while.