The Oilers are 25th in the league and their playoff hopes are effectively over despite Connor McDavid doing Connor McDavid things. He’s on pace for another 100-point season, yet the Oilers are nowhere near the playoffs. I think people underrate the impact of star players in hockey versus other sports because how much they can play. Hockey’s best forwards only play a little over a third of the game compared to a star player in basketball or football. How many teams are really bad with a potential Art Ross winner?
I searched for teams at the bottom of the standings with a player in or close to Art Ross contention.
2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins – 22-46-14
McDavid comparable: Sidney Crosby – 81GP 39G 63A 102P
Why they were so bad: They just drafted Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin was still in Russia. Kris Letang was playing junior hockey. Marc-Andre Fleury was adjusting to the NHL. Their defence was led by Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. Crosby had an amazing season, but was still 20 points back of Joe Thornton and Jaromir Jagr for the scoring lead.
What happened next year: They drafted Jordan Staal 2nd overall. Malkin came over. Staal was productive as an 18-year old. Fleury improved and they haven’t missed the playoffs since.
2005-06 Washington Capitals – 29-41-12
McDavid comparable: Alex Ovechkin – 81GP 52G 54A 106P
Why they were so bad: Ovechkin led the team in scoring and had a 49-point gap between him and Washington’s second-leading scorer, Dainius Zubrus. There was no one on defence. Their goalie, Olaf Kolzig, was 35 and not very good.
What happened next year: They drafted Nicklas Backstrom, but he stayed in Sweden. Alex Semin joined Ovechkin and provided scoring depth, but they were still awful.
2012-13 Carolina Hurricanes – 19-25-4
McDavid comparable: Eric Staal – 48GP 18G 35A 53P
Why they were so bad: Justin Faulk was in his second season. Otherwise, their defence consisted of Joni Pitkanen (22GP), Jay Harrison, Tim Gleason, Joe Corvo, and Jamie McBain. Cam Ward, Justin Peters, and Dan Ellis all played around 19 games, but none of them were good enough to make a difference. Staal was seven points behind Martin St. Louis for the Art Ross, but it didn’t matter.
What happened next year: They added Andrej Sekera, Ron Hainsey, Nathan Gerbe, Elias Lindholm. They improved but weren’t much better.
2012-13 Tampa Bay Lightning – 18-26-4
McDavid comparable: Martin St. Louis – 48GP 17G 43A 60P Steven Stamkos – 48GP 29G 28A 57P
Why they were so bad: St. Louis won the Art Ross during this lockout-shortened season. Steven Stamkos was right behind him. Despite having the two top scorers in the league, the Lightning were a mess. Goaltender sunk the team. Trading for Anders Lindback didn’t work out.
What happened next year: Ben Bishop’s acquisition vaulted them up the standings. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat became full-time players. Valteri Filpulla was signed as a free agent and had one of his best seasons. They made the playoffs but lost in the first round.
2017-18 Edmonton Oilers – 23-27-4
McDavid comparable: Connor McDavid 54GP 22G 42A 64P
Why they were so bad: Cam Talbot’s save percentage fell from .919 to .902 this season. Andrej Sekera missed significant time recovering from a torn ACL injury, and hasn’t been the same player since returning. Trading Jordan Eberle meant betting on unproven young players.
What happened next year: To be determined. The Oilers need to improve but aren’t flush with cap space or tradable assets. Will there be a change at general manager or coach? It’s too early to tell, but whoever is in charge has their work cut out for them.
It’s surprising how few teams weren’t close to the playoffs with an elite scorer. Tampa Bay had a few years (2007-08, 2008-09) where both Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis were over a point per game but finished at the bottom of the standings. They got Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman out of those years but had another down year during the shortened 2012-13 season.
Can the Oilers find their own supporting cast like the Lightning did with Johnson, Palat, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, and Vladislav Namestnikov?
This year shows sometimes an elite scorer isn’t enough. A good goalie and depth make a huge difference.
I don’t think it’s overstated how catastrophic this season is for the Oilers. Crosby’s Penguins missed during his rookie season and haven’t looked back since. The Chicago Blackhawks are on pace to miss the playoffs for the second time in the Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews era. Wasting a season like this from McDavid should prompt serious questions and changes.