5 things: Don’t panic

Panic

It is too early to freak out, Oilers fans.

1. Probably don’t have to say it

Take Time

Okay so we’re four games into the season already and the poor Oilers are winless. What’s worse, Connor McDavid has but a single goal to his name. All is not well in Edmonton, it would appear.

That is, of course, a silly opinion because rosters that get massively overhauled in a single summer — as the Oilers did — and get new coaches — as the Oilers did — and bring in new general managers — as the Oilers did — don’t magically become really good. Especially if they were really bad before. Now, can you say that the performances to this point leave a lot to be desired? Sure you can.

But as I’ve said before: This slate of games for the Oilers isn’t exactly easy. There would be few if any “scheduled wins” (i.e. games the team objectively “should win”), even if they were much better than they currently are. Which they are obviously not.

The reason people are already acting like, “Well gee whiz, what’s wrong with these guys?” is the hype train that pulled into the station the day Edmonton won the draft lottery, and has been pulling on that long, loud whistle pretty much perpetually. Everyone is guilty of it, and while it’s hard to blame Edmonton fans for being excited about their future, the photoshops of McDavid on the cross or whatever was overkill that only served to make things at this point seem worse than they actually are.

Point being that, okay, the Oilers are struggling on the ice, and McDavid has a single goal to his name, but the time for panic is still quite a ways away.

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Spilled Milk

One thing that’s been talked about a decent amount already is the lack of cohesion when it comes to lines. Todd McLellan is juggling them like he’s in the circus and they’re angrily buzzing chainsaws, but again, this is something I think you can expect of a new coach taking over a young team that has basically had very little on-ice success over the years.

This is a roster with what seems to be more moving parts than most, in that no one has had a particularly large amount of goals or good possession together (especially in the absence of Jordan Eberle) so, hey, why not throw things at the wall and see what sticks?

So far, nothing has yet, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. The Oilers are currently less than five percent of the way through their season, and this is a team of which little is expected. Some people think they might or even could make the playoffs, but conditionals such as these shouldn’t dictate organizational direction, especially as the club is really only just starting to dust itself off from lying face-down and miserable in the dirt for a period of several years.

Like honestly, who cares? It’s four games and the team’s not that good any way. People have been patient — if you think that’s the right word — vis a vis this team “figuring things out” for this long, what’s another month, or even two?

3. A favorable comparison

Comparison

I mainly, though, want to talk about things with respect to Connor McDavid and his early-season performance. People are apparently shocked that it hasn’t been mega-great, which I don’t understand.

There aren’t too many 18-year-olds who make their teams all that regularly, even if those teams are pretty lousy. The vast majority also turn 19 pretty soon after the season begins. Only a very small number, including McDavid, will play more games in their first seasons at 18 than 19 (McDavid turns 19 on Jan. 13, after the Oilers’ 44th game).

Moreover, it’s very, very difficult to expect rookies, regardless of age, to immediately be among the very best players in the league. More moreover, we’re judging McDavid based on four games for a mediocre or even not-very-good team, with rotating linemates, against some of the better teams in the toughest division in hockey, three of which were on the road. It’s crazy, but I want to understand the expectation better.

For the sake of comparison, I went and looked at what Sidney Crosby — the only other, “This is an immediate-franchise-changer” player in recent memory, and he was about six months older than McDavid when he came into the league — managed to do early on with the Penguins in 2005-06. The first thing to keep in mind here is that the Penguins were arguably worse then than the Oilers are now, which is saying something. Despite the addition of both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to start that season, they opened the year 0-4-5, giving up 42 goals in nine games(!) and only scoring 26. At least Edmonton isn’t that bad.

Now, we all remember that Crosby finished his rookie season with an astounding 102 points, aided by a number of factors including the league’s willingness to call penalties at the slightest stick lift. Still, 102 points as a rookie is a ludicrous number. But he started out that season with only one goal at 5-on-5 in his first 14 games (and okay, seven assists). He also got massacred in possession for pretty much the entire month of October, despite some pretty free-and-easy handling in terms of the competition he faced at home and his deployment in the offensive zone.

Again, I’m not saying McDavid ends up even as a point-a-game player this season, but if Sidney Crosby had that much of a learning curve early on, and McDavid is supposed to be better than Crosby, then maybe we should all just relax a little bit.

4. On the other hand

However

This isn’t to say McDavid is playing perfectly, because he isn’t. You’d ideally like to see him getting to the “good” parts of the ice a lot more often in attack, create some more scoring chances, that sort of thing. But even the peripheral numbers do stack up pretty favourably in comparison with Crosby (who arguably had more help than McDavid does now).

From watching the games and looking at the numbers, it appears to me that a lot of McDavid’s issues are what you’d call rookie problems. He’s no longer playing against elite U-18 players and good-to-mediocre U-20s in the CHL. He’s playing against grown-ass men on good teams, and mostly on the road, where line-matching isn’t possible.

McDavid’s most common opponents so far this season? Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. Welcome to the NHL.

So yeah, he’s going to find it harder to get to scoring areas and he’s going to have to play more defense than he ever has in his entire life. The game clearly still comes to him easily, but the game is just a lot harder at this level.

“Chosen one” or not, “savior” or not, there needs to be a little more slack cut for this kid. Jack Eichel has his two goals, sure. And one of them was on the sort of individual brilliance that people might have expected or wanted from McDavid. But the brilliance of those goals has overshadowed the fact that, like Edmonton, the Sabres still kinda suck. McDavid’s gonna get his shots on goal and he’s going to figure out how to get to the scoring areas pretty quickly.

And when he does, look out.

5. Growing pains

GrowingPains

So the talent is undeniable. That much cannot be disputed. The results haven’t been there yet. Okay, fine.

If we get to November and he’s still in the single-digits for points, maybe you start wondering. If he’s not yet at 50 by the All-Star break, that’s a point of concern. If he finishes the season with like 65 instead of everyone’s expected 80-plus, you say it was probably a disappointment.

But honestly, if any of those things happened it would be a surprise. And it would take nothing from his future capabilities. In all likelihood we’re at the start of a Hall of Fame career. Let’s not allow four games in which he was only okay on an only-okay team to cause any sort of issues.

  • Chet.

    *sirens blaring*

    Did someone call the wambulance?

    Good article. I’ve kept away from the cynicism and happy to see some real perspective. This 0-4 record to start the year is exactly where we should be, and McDavid should only have 1 point. If I was a betting man, 75% of the whiners in here picked McDavid in their draft and they’re the brunt of a few jokes. It’s your fault for picking a rookie after looking at this schedule we have. Lol.

    This is a better team in almost every aspect. Aside from a couple bad plays and a terrible game in Dallas, I have to agree with what McLellan has been saying. We’ve been in most games for the full 60 minutes but it’s taking a bit longer for a few players to adjust to what coach wants (Purcell and Yakupov)

    Also, the defence isn’t where it should be but it’s also far better than last year ever was. Most defencemen in the league look good until the opposing forwards expose them. We just haven’t found that yet. I laugh at when people say that Nurse should be brought up… You really want another rookie defenceman on the team when the team hasn’t even defined itself after a couple wins?

    I would like to see McLellan settle on some forward lines and Chiarelli make a trade, but until that happens I’ll be looking for the signs of legitimate hope that have been shown in the team I’ve been cheering for over the past 25 years.

    It’s a process that hasn’t looked this promising in a long time, so please quit whining.

    4-1 Oilers tonight. RNH with the hatty. Go Oil.

    • Oil City Roller

      The reason why we haven’t gotten “blown out” is because of Talbot’s stellar play. As the season wears on I expect his play to diminish.

      I think we have been (badly in Dallas) outplayed for long stretches the D is awful and to be honest I don’t really believe we have any true goal scorers besides Hall.

      We have held onto the core for too long- hopefully management has the stones to move some players and get some big tough players (O and D).

      Not ready to start thinking about Auston Matthews in an Oiler uni but alas that time may come sooner than later. Lol maybe we can trade one of our dominate young core players- throw in Schultzy and the whole D for that matter- for a #1 in 16 drafts- get a Auston and Chychrun.

  • Semi

    Honestly don’t know which is worse, watching the Oilers lose or listening to people complain.

    4 games… 4 whole games.

    The Oilers haven’t been blown out, and even though there have been stretches of bad play, they’ve at least been in the game past the 2nd period…

    People need to back up off the ledge.

    100% there are issues, and pointing them out is fine, but what did you expect? Did the returning players somehow get better when McDavid was drafted?

    There are people on here who have spent more time complaining about the Oilers, than the Oilers have spent on the ice this season…

    It’s unreal.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    This is our first year with competent management/coaching..

    We were one of the worst teams last year and I’m only expecting marginal improvement.

    An 0-4-0 start sucks but my expectation of marginal improvement is still achievable.

    We were in these hockey games and our record could easily be 2-2-0.

    Teams don’t make blockbuster trades 4 games into the season because 4 games isn’t enough to know what you have…although our fans think 4 is enough.

    It’s laughable how fed up the fan base is and how illogical it makes them.

  • Oil City Roller

    Maybe MacDavid isn’t a generational player.

    Maybe the media needs something to talk about to sell advertising, and what a way to create stories with hockey in Canada.

    Maybe we should accept he is good, but will not be a generational player, accept it, and leave him alone.

  • Harry2

    The crazy thing is that if the powerplay was scoring the Oilers could be 2-2, they had a chance in all those games. I think there is a lot that needs to improve but why is that a surprise to anyone. The goalies are much better and that will make a huge difference as the season goes on. In some ways it is better for the team to lose a few games to top teams at the start of the year when they probably need time to gel anyways. Now beat the Flames and get that first W.

  • CMG30

    Oilers need to be the better team tonight.

    They need to show that they can be motivated to play hard in a winnable game. I don’t expect them to be perfect or even win, but they need to show heart and drive and most importantly, COMPETE FOR 3 PERIODS! If this group lacks the drive to show up for one of the few ‘easy’ games early in the season, then this group doesn’t have what it takes to win and must be blown up.

  • Jim nasium

    Well, I don’t support the immediate panic movement, but I do reiterate what I posted a while ago. The. Team has to many home run hitters! It doesn’t work. For you curlers out there when is the last time four skips on one team ever did anything? We are reluctant to consider moving a Hall or Yakapov, or God forbid even McDavid, but If a trade brought a no.1 defenseman and a top three power forward and possibly High draft choice why wouldn’t we consider it. for example a trade with the sabres for big E, their top D, and a first round draft choice? Sounds a little outlier but what’s the use of standing pat with 4skips and no wins?

    • fisherprice

      Well, I suppose the reason we are reluctant to consider a trade is because Yakupov or Hall are actually NOT going to bring back a number 1 defenceman AND a top line power forward. Trading McDavid, hilarious. Oilers fans, everyone!

  • Admiral Ackbar

    I dunno. It shouldn’t be, but this is about as must win as it gets in October. Like regulation win time vs division rival in pacific division which is struggling out the gate. How many teams have gone 0-5 out the gate and what were there records on the season. This SHOULD not be a LOTTERY team. They can’t be. If they are, I have no idea how Chiarelli and co can fix things without a massive blow up. This team needs to at least be in the hunt after the all star breaks. No more lost seasons by game 20.

    A win tonight will go a long way for many oiler fans. I hope the boys show up against what should be a tired, but motivated Calgary team.

  • fisherprice

    I cut Connor all the slack in the world, being a rookie and all. They rest of the team, its the same horrible mistakes. Connor could never look good with the way his linemates play.

  • fisherprice

    Based on the level of competition, the Oilers need to have 3 points when the game against Detroit is done to show improvement on last year versus the same opponents.

    If they get to 4 points in the next 3 games they are on track to make the playoffs based again on opponent quality again.

    So the reality is that they have a crap schedule to start but the benefit of it is a slow start doesn’t kill them.

    *I have based this on the number of points the Oilers took from these teams last year. With only 1 win in 21 games versus Nashville Dallas Detroit St Louis Calgary and Vancouver it is a scary mix of opponents to start the season.

  • CMG30

    If you are a realist, you are not panicking right now.

    I never expected McLellan to turn this team around in a week. So I’m not overly concerned.

    I’ve also studied the Detroit Red Wings, and how they became a powerhouse team in the last 20 years, and under Scotty Bowman it took a season of transforming Yzerman’s game into a proper 2 way game.

    A season where Yzerman had a month where he only had one goal, if I recall correctly.

    The management is clearly attempting a long term strategy, like the Red Wings did. Chia could have traded young talent at a loss, could have bought contracts, could have overpaid for UFA Dmen…all to make this season the one where the Oilers go deep.

    He hasn’t, which makes it pretty clear that he’s in this for the long run.

    So if you’re not in this for the long run, you may be incredibly let down by their record this season.