Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

There’s someone to blame for the Oilers’ struggles, but it isn’t Connor McDavid

The Oilers are through 20 games and own a 7-11-2 record. They’re sitting in 14th in the Western Conference and need 87 points in their next 62 games in order to match their 103-point total from last season.

Times are stressful in Edmonton. Just as Oilers fans thought the Decade of Darkness was in the rearview mirror, it’s the middle of November and the possibility of playoffs is slowly slipping away. It’s completely reasonable to be frustrated and it’s natural to want to point the finger at someone. But, honestly I can’t believe I’m actually typing this, Connor McDavid isn’t the person to shoulder responsibility for this team’s struggles.

Yet oddly enough, that’s something I’ve been noticing recently. Whether it’s in our comments section, on twitter, or from the media, there seems to be a desire to look to McDavid when things have gone wrong. His body language is bad, he’s backchecking poorly and was the cause of a goal against, or he’s simply dominating games like he can. McDavid has shockingly become the target of criticisms despite him individually being just as good as he was last season.

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I’ll get the numbers out of the way first. When McDavid is on the ice, the Oilers have 58.3 per cent of the shot attempts at even strength. They have scored 53.9 per cent of the goals at even strength with McDavid on the ice and based on Corsica’s model for expected goals (derived from shot volume and location) they should have 55.9 per cent of them.

Last season, when the Most Valuable Player was on the ice at even strength, the Oilers had 52.9 per cent of the shot attempts and 68.3 per cent of the goals. Corsica figures the Oilers realistically should have had 56.6 per cent of the goals with McDavid on the ice last season, very similar to his 55.9 number in 2017-18.

At a basic, boxcar stats level, McDavid has 10 goals and 15 assists through 20 games, putting him on pace for 41 goals and 102 points. The point total is very similar to his 100-point Hart Trophy season but the 41 goals would shatter his career-high by 11.

I’m not saying McDavid should be absolved of all criticism. If he plays a poor game like he did against St. Louis or has some bad moments like in the game against Dallas, sure, point it out. But, ultimately, McDavid is making this team a lot better whenever he’s on the ice. Unfortunately, the team needs him to be gunning at 110% at all times in order to be successful. They need, at the bare minimum, for McDavid to be that 100-point MVP game in, game out.

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To be fair to Mark Spector and Jim Matheson, they’re pointing out facts. McDavid was on the ice for those goals against in the Dallas game. The issue I have is that they’re choosing to repeatedly spin it as McDavid did this wrong rather than nobody else is doing anything right. The issue that’s ailing the Oilers right now is an inability to score goals which is a big picture thing. It isn’t the anecdotal evidence of McDavid having a poor backcheck that resulted in a goal in one particular instance.

And that’s where we get into where the blame really should be directed. Peter Chiarelli simply hasn’t built a roster that gives McDavid much breathing room. While the rest of the league is transitioning towards speed and skill, he’s put together a team that’s heavy and physical.

It worked well last year because everything went right. Nobody important got injured and a handful of depth players had very good seasons. But Chiarelli’s biggest mistake was banking on everything going right again. Rather than improving the roster over the off-season, he largely stood pat and hoped internal progression could propel the team forward. The issue with that was not only are you banking on players like Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, Anton Slepyshev, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Drake Caggiula taking a step forward in larger roles, you’re also relying on Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, Kris Russell, Oscar Klefbom, Mark Letestu, and Zack Kassian being, at the very least, to be as good as they were last season.

That hasn’t happened. Nurse has stepped up in a big way, but Klefbom has struggled a little bit. Russell doesn’t look as effective without Andrej Sekera. Matt Benning hasn’t been able to take on a bigger role. None of Caggiula, Kassian, or Slepyshev have been able to fill Jordan Eberle’s void in the top six.

Yet McDavid isn’t dominating enough.

I’m genuinely terrified at the prospect of McDavid being ran out of town for not being perfect enough. Years ago, we rested our hopes on trying to acquire guys like Dany Heatley and Michael Nylander who were repulsed at the idea of playing in Edmonton. Now we have a generational talent who willingly inked a long-term deal to stick around for the prime years of his career and I’m seeing more talk about what he doesn’t do than what he does do. Let’s focus our frustration in the right direction.

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I’m not saying we need to run Chiarelli out of town. I’m not even saying he’s a bad general manager. He took a risk and it didn’t work out. The team isn’t guttered forever because of it, either. Hell, they aren’t even guttered this season. I mean, they aren’t a Cup contender, obviously, but the playoffs — in a league where more than half the teams qualify — aren’t even out of the question.

What I am saying is that if you want to place blame for this disappointing season, point your finger at the one who constructed the inadequate roster, not the player who’s being forced to damn near singlehandedly compensate for it.

    • TrueBlue

      As a disgruntled fan, and the fact that the season can already be flushed down the toilet, lets start talking draft and new possible coaching and GM options as our current management team has started a dumpster fire…..once again.

  • TurkeyLips

    Nope, it definitely is not McDavid’s fault.

    It was the trading of Hall and subsequent evisceration in being able to run three competent lines. Draisaitl is wasted as a winger and was fearsome with Hall. Now the Oilers depth is exposed for what it is.

    No #2 defensive defenseman was worth that trade.

    • Peter Chiarelli

      Trading Hall for a second pairing stay at home d-man was well worth the trade. Hall was a malignant tumor in the dressing room. We couldn’t allow this malignancy to spread to McDavid!

      • Atomic Clown

        Was Hall a locker room cancer like Phaneuf/Kesler? Did he bang someones wife and then be belligerent about it? Or was he just sick and tired of losing? I mean he was well enough liked by the other players to be invited to an an Oiler’s player’s wedding. Larssen is second pairing defenseman. Edmonton gave up one of the best LW in the game for him. By no means was that a good trade. Imagine a 1-2 punch of Hall-McDavid, and Draisaitl-Nugent Hopkins. Versus Lucic lumbering around for 6 million a year, for another 5 years. And there was a reason why Kris Russell wasnt resigned in Calgary despite being good in the playoffs, he is a #5 dman at best.

      • OilersGM

        Hall ripped it up with McDavid at world championship. It’s guys like you who ran him outta town, he was never treated fairly here because the city expected him to lead us out of the darkness when he had no support while he was here

        1- no starting goalie
        2- no top 3 defence
        3- no number one centre, while I believe Nuge is good enough to be a #1 centre he was to young to give him that workload that early.
        4- no coaches. Revolving door.
        You guys are blind and put the blame on him. McDavid is the best player in the league and he can’t do it by himself even though this team is lot better than Hall ever had. I certainly don’t blame McDavid. It’s a team game you need good players around you.
        Teams win with core players not trade them. All the blame is on Chiarelli he is way overrated. I can remember how much Neely was yelling at him on their cup run. Also the coach is good but not great, doesn’t have the ability to take a team to the next level.

    • The Dave

      It’s more complicated than that. He traded Hall for 4 years at 6M for Larsson for 5 years at 4.167M. I’d also argue Hall is a consistent risk for injury (and last year in NJ was no exception to that) so we are looking at 260 games from Hall (65/season) for 375 from Larsson (as he is pretty close to invincible, 75/year is a safe bet).

      Larsson has been *extremely* reliable and consistent since then and has played on our top pairing almost the entire time. People seem to forget that our RD defensive depth is still bad and used to be absolutely terrible, and other teams walked into the zone against us for 5 years straight. Larsson is a huge part of that. He’s not as good as Hall, but we’re getting a *lot* more ice time out of him as well. That crap matters.

      I guess I’m the only one who remembers the barrage of hate every time Hall attempted a toe-drag, fell over, got injured, frowned too much on the bench, or got too happy off the ice. I didn’t realize how much we loved him before we ran him out of time. Just like Ebs. Boy now that he plays for a different team we all just love the guy again.

  • Carl the tooth

    Yes!! Most definitely is all his fault.signs a huge contract he will never live up to. 12 mill and can’t outscore Johnny Hockey ! It will be the worst contract in NHL history sorry.Not sorry . Ahhhh sweeet sweet Justice for the arrogance of Tooth Land . So how them power rankings ? Top 2 best players in NHL ? Talbot for vezna? This comment is for I am Batman and mcgaj and any other soiler troll .as for the rest of ON my apologies I’m just here for the Bat wing .

  • Gary

    A few years ago we were a loaded team, what the F happened. Hall gone Jordan too and Lucic is so slow. Draisaitil looks slow and old already. Next year the cap is gonna really put the screws to us.
    Remind me again, how more for Lucic at 6 mill?

  • Oil9744

    Chiarelli did make a mistake by not picking up some help on the wings and defence in the offseason no question, I think we need a legit top 6 winger to help the team, James Neal seems like it could definetly happen for picks and a prospect to Vegas, then Mclellan should be using Connor, Leon, and Nuge all down the centre cause that is our biggest strength up front but Mclellan ain’t using them in the proper positions. Another defensemen who could replace Gryba and Auvitu would be really good t cause ya…they ain’t working

    • Clayton

      Is Connor McDavid still considered a prospect? I could see Chia dealing him, a first and second round pick for Neal. It would be adding by subtraction. Fits Chia’s pennies on the dollar trade game. Secondary scoring would have to increase because they couldn’t rely on Connor for scoring!

  • corky

    As the captain Connor should be shouldering some of the blame. He says all the right things like a robot in front of the media, but what is he doing behind the closed doors? Connor, call Mess and get some pointers on how to handle these snowflakes.

  • Brossoit31

    I think the biggest slip up was trading eberle. He has proven that he can produce good numbers and now the team has a void in the roster because chai traded a top 6 right winger for a top 9 C/RW. We wouldnt have had the salary cap issue with eberle if we had not signed lucic to such a expensive and long term contract with a NMC. To me this is the biggest problem

  • McDankBud69

    Is a Trade of Yamamoto/Poolparty, Sekera and a first rounder and maybe even another draft pick to Arizona for Ekman-Larsson and Dylan Strome a far fetched hope?

    • Brossoit31

      That would be interesting, although taking strome would be tough because we already have outstanding center depth. I dont think the coyotes will trade OEL unless he starts tanking or he requests a trade though cause OEL is still only 26

    • 3rdTierFan

      Not gonna get OEL for that offer, especially with Chia as GM. Look what it took to land Larsson. It would likely need to be Draisaitl plus a first rounder or high level prospect. And do you want to risk only getting 1 3/4 seasons of OEL, because he a UFA at the end of next season. Why would he choose to resign here the way things have been going this season? Now maybe if the trade were to turn this team around, but that’s a big gamble and I don’t have faith that Chiarelli could make that deal without getting fleeced – again.

  • Derian Hatcher

    Talent evaluation. ie. pens “find” sheary, rust, Rowney, and plug those players into the roster and they contribute – they are not Stars but they fill a role well. Guessing the brain trust thought Strome, Caggiula, etc could do the same. There are lot of factors but bottom line the oilers evaluation of talent – amateur and pro team is not gods imo

  • Stallions #35

    That is the problem with some of the oilers fan. Instead of focusing on a 20 year old who was the first oiler to get 100 pts in a season in Gord knows how long, and is on pace for another 100 plus points season, lets look at the other players on this team.

    We are all frustrated or have the #generaldisappointment at how the team is performing but lets not target the guy who is leading the team in goals and points.

  • yahsper

    He is captain so he will shoulder some of the blame. Is he firing up the dressing room. Yelling at the team and himself to do better? Nurturing players who need some help? Calling out Veteran players for pooping the bed? Who knows… Lots of pressure for him to do well. If you wear the “C” you will face more pressure. Thats part of it.
    Not his fault, but he should take the blame and be a motivator. I have no idea what hes like as a captain and in the room but the “C” can be a target.

    • cgyearnall/edmfreeloaders

      Damnit guys im a flame fan..i feel terrible for your young guys…kids need to learn not lead
      …other older players should have the c and teach….or you will have another hall…too much wieght on this kids shoulders…let him grow and enjoy the game…he still needs to learn as well as any youngster does..

  • ScottV

    Hey I love the player and the whole bit, but he was on the ice for all 6 goals, if you count vacating the ice and leaving Talbot on his own for the last one.
    No ones gonna get to the point of suggesting he be run out of town.
    There are growth issues on his path to becoming the worlds number 1.
    He’ll get there but will take some time.
    Not sure McL is the guy to mentor that process.

  • gordo

    connor is one of the top 3 in the league maybe if chiarelli wasn’t behind the curve he’d have some line mates and team mates who could complement him. we really don’t need lucic for 5 more years, we coulda had barzal…

  • I am Bruce Wayne

    Another embarrassment by the coilers. I am also here just because batgirl trolls so hard. Hey Bryan you’re a dumber version of Lucic. Lottery picks that how you build a team. But it takes more than one decade often it takes 3 decades.

    • Carl the tooth

      Lol I think I just figured out who you are Bruce . I see you accepted my offer lol Awesome ! The Dynamic Dou A.k.A The Elite Troll Hunting Sqaud . ETHS inc

  • Hockeyfan

    bAHAHAHA!!!!! farce article, farce team, farce generational mcmuffin. More welfare please, just 1 more welfare please sir???? JOKE!!! GO FLAMES GO!!!! ALBERTA’S REAL TEAM!!!!

  • The Dave

    I’d blame Oiler fans for it, but lets of media and twitter types are being terrible for this McDavid crap too. So I’ma put 2 and 2 together for everyone who hasn’t.

    -McDavid missed yesterday’s practice because of illness
    -McDavid has “bad body language” in between shifts in the game today.

    Now to crack this case wide open: Connor McDavid hasn’t tuned out the coach, he is sick. I get that he’s a pro and he needs to show up to work and put in the effort, and that’s why he is still on pace for a 100 point season. But he’s allowed to look pale and tired and slouch a bit on the bench, because dude is sick.

    People of earth: Chill out. And quit trying to reduce every problem to blaming one guy.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    From my perspective I see two main problems 1. selling players low, for that I look to Chia. I’m always amazed at the trades many other teams seem to pull off where they get at least a fair trade. Calgary cames to mind. 2. Far to often the third guy in to our zone is being chased by our forward rather than waiting for him. It seemed all night against most teams we are always facing a wall of players. The other teams seem to get far more odd man rushes than we do. Ours only happen when Zach manages to some how end up steeling the puck or CMD blows by someone. I feel we have been out coached for weeks and I do not mean out coached during the game but out coached by practice and discipline gained in learning systems etc. We seem to thow out a line and hope that CMD will just save the day. Frustrating. Sure the coach is talking about our lack of disapline, all I can say is they learn from you and by this point most of the team should be well taught and ready.

    • cgyearnall/edmfreeloaders

      The whole leque saw those future trades comming..couldnt do better as we all know you couldnt afford all those great pkayers…if trades of equal return were made you couldnt now afford mc d

  • Heschultzhescores

    AGREED! We are very lucky to have McDavid. McDavid will lead us to a cup one day, if we give him a chance with some supporting cast that has his desire to win.