The coroner is in. Let us commemorate the tragic fall of the Edmonton Oilers.
The skinny: In this series, Edmonton received another grim reminder: this is not the NBA where two superstars is enough to guarantee a deep playoff run. Despite a likely Hart Trophy winner in Connor McDavid putting up one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory and Leon Draisaitl also putting up great numbers, the Oilers once again failed where it mattered most in the postseason.
Despite facing a Winnipeg Jets team that was limping into the postseason and saw its offense dry up in the final few weeks of the season, they were able to pull out an impressive victory over Edmonton and its two superstars. It leaves the Oilers with serious questions, but where did it all go so wrong? Let’s break that part down first…
Offensive struggles: Normally, this is where pundits would begin their seemingly annual roasting of Edmonton’s depth, but that would discount how well Winnipeg did defensively. McDavid and Draisaitl weren’t without their struggles, as both players were held off the scoresheet in the first two games. Their final numbers weren’t too bad, but the depth once again couldn’t keep up when the defense focused on the superstars. All of two goals came from players not playing with McDavid or Draisaitl, and the defensive corps failed to score a goal. It was a bad showing all around for the Oilers in the opposing zone.
Failure to close: Game 3 was the moment Edmonton’s fate was sealed. It seemed like Edmonton was on its way to scoring their first victory in the series with a 4-1 lead with nine minutes remaining, only for disaster to strike. In a little over three minutes, Winnipeg would fire off three unanswered goals to tie the game up, then see Nikolaj Ehlers score the overtime winner. Edmonton did try to fight back in Game 4, but costly turnovers from Ethan Bear and McDavid ended up leading to Winnipeg goals that completed the sweep.
Special teams: Special teams battles can decide how a series goes down, and that’s exactly the case here. What is shocking is how much of a far cry Edmonton’s special teams went from regular season to postseason. From first in power play percentage and ninth in penalty kill percentage in the regular season, Edmonton struggled in both, putting up 18.2% on the power play and a tepid 70% penalty kill. Again, give credit to Winnipeg for adjusting to Edmonton’s style and wearing them down, but the impetus has to be on the Oilers to produce in some capacity.
The crystal ball: The good news about Edmonton’s situation is that their cap situation should improve this offseason. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will likely be heading out, and it appears that the Oilers are favoring an extension for Adam Larsson over Tyson Barrie. Kailer Yamamoto and Dominik Kahun may warrant extensions as restricted free agents, but they likely won’t cost much. It also appears the Oilers will work to extend Mike Smith and buyout Mikko Koskinen. Regardless, it should give the Oilers a chance to figure out their situation and hopefully make some meaningful moves this offseason.
That said, the real question about the future lies with McDavid. How long can the Oilers reasonably expect their captain’s patience to hold out? It won’t be this offseason, or even next offseason, but at some point, the trade rumors will become more than just rumors. What happens when McDavid nears 30 if the Oilers continue to struggle in the postseason? The personal accolades and tremendous output are all fine, but they ultimately mean nothing if they come without an opportunity at the Stanley Cup. The frustration can’t keep building up, and GM Ken Holland will have to keep that in mind when it comes to building this team for next season and beyond.