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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The McDavid Oilers are behind other rebuilds

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
Toronto Matthews, Marner 2016-2019 2 TBD TBD
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
Colorado MacKinnon 2013-2016 1 0 Missed Playoffs
Florida Ekblad 2014-2017 1 0 Missed Playoffs
Edmonton McDavid 2015-2018 1 0 Missed Playoffs
Winnipeg Laine 2016-2019 1 TBD TBD
Los Angeles Kopitar 2006-2009 0 0 Missed Playoffs
Colorado Duchene 2009-2012 0 0 Missed Playoffs
Edmonton Hall 2010-2013 0 0 Missed Playoffs
Edmonton RNH 2011-2014 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.

Feb 22, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates his second period goal against the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

  • corky

    Now I know why Connor looked a little sickly the day the Oil won the lottery a few years ago. He could see into his future here. If they cant surround him with the neccesary tools when he’s entry level, how do they do it now?

  • Oilman99

    The Oilers went from rebuild to debuild when PC took over. It will take atleast three more years to get back on track if possible. If the damage done is not repaired quickly, we may never see Connor win a cup here.

    • Leo Tard

      Yes. Like it or not, three years of patience will change everything provided the team follows a couple of basic principles. 1. Keep and use all draft picks to build an army of talent for the AHL team and do not bring these players to main club until they have had proper development time. 2. Wait out the NMC contracts. 3. Do not sign free agents and do not give out any more NMC contracts. 4. Do not trade away current talent in effort of moving this timeline forward.

      • crabman

        @ Leo Tard, for long-term success that’s a good plan. unfortunately if Chiarelli isn’t fired at season end I doubt he looks at being patient for another 3 years. He’s in job saving mode and those are the most dangerous GMs to be running your favorite team.

  • Flint

    This is exactly what I was talking about last off-season in what I called the “Golden Window”, as the Oilers are going to be in the McDavid/Draisaitl competetive window for another decade or so. However, never will it be so ripe to fill the roster with supporting talent as it has been until this seasons end.

    The interesting thing as well about the above list is that it doesn’t account for % of cap salaries, which was an exercise I started, but just got too busy. But, I could not find a team who paid such a massive portion of their cap without first having had success. Toews and Kane’s contracts were huge, but they had brought in a cup and huge revenue from the playoffs, merch etc. – you could say they deserved it.

    But if you look at the lower half of the list, very few of those players were so highly paid, so quickly. It’s going to demand shrewd business and GM saavy going forward, as success isn’t by any means impossible. But it sure is harder to build a Stanley Cup winning team with such stringent cap constraints than it is to build an almost ran.

  • Leo Tard

    The cupboards are bare. The salary cap has been reached. Too many NMCs with high cap hits. There are no reasonable moves to be made. There is no way out of a bad situation. Sit and watch s**t hockey until the NMC contacts are gone. I don’t know why the team handcuffed itself the way that it did, but, here they are. Now they must lay in the bed they made. Undeservingly, the fans of this disaster must also lay in this bed. The immediate future is ugly. But on a positive, the hockey season of 2020-2021 looks fantastic if the team keeps all of its draft picks and restocks the AHL with talent and gives them proper development time. I hate to say this, but patience is the proper way out of this mess. Trading will only drive the timeline forward and there may never be a cup.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Difference here is that Chia was obsessed with getting rid of as many Old Boys Club players as he could as well as saving cap space in those trades, space he hasn’t yet used on anyone other than paying more to McDavid and Leon and that’s set us back. If Chia has some grand plan them I’d sure like to hear it !!

  • TKB2677

    Question for the author of this article.

    Did you look into the supporting cast of all the other teams especially the defense for every team that you listed that are above the Oilers?

    Everyone loves to compare the McDavid’s Oilers to Crosby’s Pens. So Crosby comes into the league in 2005. On his team he had Leclair, good player. HALL OF FAMER Recchi, Lemiuex who’s a top 5 player all time. One defense they had Gonchar who was a really good offensive, top 4 dman. Scuderi, was a rock solid top 4 dman, Whitney who before getting hurt was a top 3 dman, Brooks Orpik was and has been a good top 4 guy for his career. They have future Hall of famer Fluery in goal. That team did lousy. But how valuable would having 2 hall of famers in Recchi and Lemiuex be to Crosby?
    2006 roster. They have Crosby who took off just like McDavid. You have future hall of famer Malkin, Hall of famer Recchi, 67 pt dman Gonchar, 59 pt dman Whitney, Staal who’s at worse Nuge. You still have Scuderi who’s a top 4 guy and you have Fluery. NO disrespect to Hall, Eberle and Nuge but they don’t compare to Malkin, Recchi and Staal and the Oiles don’t have 2 60+ pt dmen on their team. That doesn’t even count Letang who didn’t play much in 2006. What’s Letang? A top pairing offensive dman before injuries too their toll.

    So every time I see someone compare McDavid’s Oilers vs another team, I question it because they don’t seem to take into account what was on the team BEFORE Crosby got there. Before Crosby got there, Lemieux was there, Recchi was there, Gonchar was there, Whitney was there, Fluery was there. Who was there before McDavid? Hall. HAHAHA. THe guy 2 months ago admitted for his entire Oilers career he didn’t listen to his coaches and buy in. He just “played”. Who did they have on defense prior to getting McDavid who was remotely good. NO ONE. They has to sign Sekera the same year McDavid’s first year. They had guys like Hunt, Ference, Nurse was a raw rookie, Schultz who sucked, Reinhart is not an NHLer, Fayne is not an NHLer, Nikitin is not an NHLer, Davidson is a 6-7, Pardy is not an NHLer, Oesterle is maybe an NHL finally., Gryba is a 6-7 at best. Clendening is not an NHLer, Klefbom was just starting his career and only played 30 games before he went down. They had NO DEFENSE. If you look at all the guys I listed, they had 1 legit top 4 in Sekera , they had Klefbom who was a complete mystery if he would recover. So maybe you can say they had 2 top 4 dmen. But that’s it. When you have next to nothing on defense, how do you win? How do you build an NHL defense that can WIN in 2 years when you have nothing on the team without making crazy moves like the Hall trade.

    GO look at the other teams. How many Olympians were on the other teams ahead of the guys listed? How many Olympians were on Chicago’s team that were there BEFORE Kane and Toews took off? Keith and Seabrook were 2.

    • Afc Wimbledon

      Its the Oilers fault that the previous 3 nos 1 picks plus various other moves didn’t provide McDavid with support when he arrived, teams aren’t supposed to be so bad for so long they can make 3 Nos 1 picks for Gods sake.
      That there is an outside chance they will get a 5th first pick is astoundingly bad.

    • Anton CP

      I agree with everything that you have said but it is falling on deaf ears. The Oilers fan base maybe one of the passionate in the league but also the most irrational and delusional especially those who jump aboard the bandwagon from 2006 and so on.

      Admittedly that Chiarelli made a few mistakes but then fans largely ignored the issue you have bought up for the complete lack of prospect depth and veteran leadership when Chiarelli took the job. How the Oilers made to playoffs last year but failed on this? It is very simple really, how would a typical Oilers fan react to if Chiarelli outright telling everyone that the team will not be a true contender for at least 2~3 years? So he went for mortgage the future to just have one good season to show for. Frankly, every other fans are laughing at the Oilers because how the team can never stop at the cycle of having great talents then driving them out of the town and they went on having a better career somewhere else. Tom Poti comes to mind…

  • MrBung

    Sorry. Correction. The Oilers are doomed. They might make the playoffs but that will be a stretch. Their window has shut to a crack. Last season and this season was their chance.

    • ubermiguel

      Connor’s got the big contract locked in, so now his agent’s job is to be in communication with Oilers’ management: “Connor would sure like to make the playoffs sooner than later”, “Connor sure likes playing with Nuge and Klefbom”, “Connor thinks the assistant coaches could do a better job on special teams.”

        • ubermiguel

          I don’t disagree with you there. I think the whole Decade+ of Darkness really started when Katz bought the team; most people think it’s the Pronger trade, that didn’t help, but ultimately Katz is responsible for this organization and this organization has been terrible. But Connor seems more like the guy that will take action rather than bide his time, and that means getting his agent to be his mouthpiece. I could see Jeff Jackson pulling Gretzky aside at some event and saying, “hey Wayne, how does my client deal with a floundering no-accountability organization? It’s weighing on him.” That convo makes it’s way back up to Katz, maybe Katz takes accountability seriously.

  • 24% body fat

    what do you expect to happen when you surround the best player in the league with Cagguia and Lucic, and the passes are coming from Russel out of the zone.

  • tkfisher

    Except the rebuild didn’t start with Connor, and we’re not three years in. The rebuild started with the Gagner, Cogs, cluster, rebuild 2.0 started with the Hall cluster. We are year 3 of the McDavid cluster and still crapping the bed because of the failures of the men in charge.

  • TKB2677

    The problem with the Oilers now, I trace back to the 2012 draft. At the time they had Hall, Nuge, Eberle, Paajarvi, Hemsky, Gagner, Horcoff, Smyth was back. They were a bit weak down the middle and weak at defense. The absolute LAST thing the Oilers needed was another winger. What they really needed was a dman, then a center that could be in your top 6. Supposedly it was Yak or Murray. From what I heard, most in the organization weren’t sold on Yak for the reason he currently has and Murray was seen as not sexy enough for being picked at #1.

    The should have traded down. Every year some teams offer a package for the #1.This was seen as a weak draft. Take a package and move down.
    Rielly was #5
    Lindholm #6
    Dumba #7
    Trouba #9
    Ceci #15
    Maata #22
    Matheson #23

    Anyone of those guys would have been better than Yak and helped the team today as they would all be 24-25. So just going into their prime.

  • RJ

    Imagine how many more points McDavid would have with a 30+ goal scorer like Van Reimsdyk on his wing, instead of 10 goal scorer like Lucic. Depth matters, and the Oilers have none.

    Imagine how much better McDavids team would do with a real coach like Babcock instead of the over-hyped McLellan and his “elite” coaching staff. There were a number of quality coaches available and the Oilers picked the lemon.

    I think most Oiler fans should be disgusted by how badly the last 12 years of inept management and coaching have led to the Oilers wasting McDavid’s ELC.

  • toprightcorner

    You will notice that all of the top ones are 9-12 years ago. There was a much larger diversity of team talent back then and it was much easier to do a quicker rebuild. That is much more rare today. Your numbers also don’t take the voodoo the team has suffered this year. Their record is based solely on special teams disasters, their 5×5 play and their advanced stats are very good. That shows the quality of a team and how this is an abbreviation to what this team will accomplish.

  • Arfguy

    I do feel bad for Connor McDavid, as he seems to be working his ass off every game. A weird suggestion would be…maybe try to find players to play with Leon Draisaitl at this point, rather than McDavid? Once again, I am not looking at trading RNH as an option, nor Oscar Klefbom, but one of the biggest reasons why McDavid and Draisaitl was working so well is because McDavid is the fast one and Draisaitl is the more cerebral one. At this point, I am watching some of the players Draisaitl is playing with and most of them cannot seem to penetrate the zone. I saw Draisaitl get into the offensive zone a couple of times by himself and could not find an open man, since none of the players on his lines left themselves open to be passed to.

    The Oilers seriously need to find some wingers with some wheels. Also, they can’t always be changing lines every second game. Leave Puljujarvi with Draisaitl for the rest of the season. Put Puljujarvi on the PP and ask him to just shoot and shoot. The kid looks like he’s completely lost all his confidence in his shot.