Missing the playoffs in the third year of Connor McDavid’s entry-level contract is a huge disappointment. Making a run at the Stanley Cup during a young superstar’s ELC is important. Once they get paid, other players are often sacrificed to accommodate their jump in salary.
Most rebuilds on the right path succeed early. It’s not impossible to win after star players get paid, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles all did it, but it gets more difficult. The Kings took a while to get things going with Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, but otherwise, you don’t want to be in the same conversation as most teams who didn’t succeed early on.
McDavid’s Oilers vs. other Rebuilds
|Team||ELC Player(s)||Years||Playoff Appearances||Conference Finals||Year 3 Result|
|Pittsburgh||Malkin, Staal||2006-2009||3||2||Won Stanley Cup|
|Washington||Backstrom||2007-2010||3||0||Lost in Round Two|
|Washington||Ovechkin||2005-2008||2||0||Lost in Round Two|
|Pittsburgh||Crosby||2005-2008||2||1||Lost in Finals|
|Chicago||Kane, Toews||2007-2010||2||2||Won Stanley Cup|
|Los Angeles||Doughty||2008-2011||2||0||Lost in Round One|
|N.Y. Islanders||Tavares||2009-2012||1||0||Lost in Round One|
|Tampa Bay||Stamkos||2009-2012||1||1||Lost in Round Three|
|Colorado||Landeskog||2011-2014||1||0||Lost in Round One|
|Los Angeles||Kopitar||2006-2009||0||0||Missed Playoffs|
|Buffalo||Eichel, Reinhart||2015-2018||0||0||Missed Playoffs|
I’ve included the highest draft picks that were difference makers out of the gate and looked at their first three years in the league, like McDavid, and only bundled players that ELC’s started at the same time.
McDavid’s Oilers are in bad company. The Oilers will have made the playoffs once with no appearances past the second round. That’s the same as the New York Islanders with John Tavares, the Colorado Avalanche with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, and the Florida Panthers with Aaron Ekblad. These aren’t teams Edmonton wants to be associated with.
The Oilers are ahead of Los Angeles during Kopitar’s first three seasons, Colorado with Matt Duchene, Edmonton with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Buffalo with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Pittsburgh made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in the last year of Sidney Crosby’s ELC. Then again next season while Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal were both on the last year of their rookie deals.
Chicago went to a Western Conference Final and won a Stanley Cup in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ first three seasons.
Tampa Bay made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in the third year of Steven Stamkos’ ELC and might be an optimist’s comparison for the Oilers. The Oilers only made the second round, but like Tampa Bay, took a step back after their one playoff appearance. They missed the playoffs the next two seasons until really taking off, albeit with another hiccup in 2016-17.
Steve Yzerman’s drafting and player development, including signing free agents Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde, have put them back on top. The Oilers haven’t drafted and developed players nearly as well as the Lightning have under Yzerman.
The Kings didn’t do much in the first five years of Kopitar’s career. They made the playoffs twice but never made it out of the first round. The Kings then won the Stanley Cup twice in the next three seasons. Both Kopitar and Doughty were off their rookie contracts and onto more expensive deals.
Chicago’s had to sell off talent to keep their core of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook together. Out went Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer, Nick Leddy and in came Brandon Saad, Artemi Panarin, and other younger, cheaper players.
But Chicago sent those players away after they won the Stanley Cup. They didn’t trade Patrick Sharp after going to the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
It’s also important to note Arizona’s absence here. They’re on pace to miss the playoffs for the sixth season in a row and have two top-six forwards to show for it (Clayton Keller and Max Domi). Dylan Strome is lighting up the minors, but hasn’t made any traction in the NHL. Edmonton winning the draft lottery in 2015 bumped them down a spot from picking Jack Eichel.
The Sabres and Islanders are stark reminders of the perils of not supporting elite talent.
Toronto has already lapped the Oilers and still have a year left on Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner’s ELCs. They’re on track to make the playoffs both years Matthews has been in the league and have a boatload of cap space to use this summer.
The Oilers aren’t doomed, but making the playoffs once while McDavid is on his ELC is not a good sign. McDavid is better than the majority of players listed here. The Oilers failed to support McDavid with enough talent and didn’t utilize his entry-level contract. It’s hard to see to that changing when his cap hit grows by nearly $9 million next season.