Connor McDavid’s comments after he dragged the Edmonton Oilers to the finish line with four points on a record-setting night in a 5-4 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday say a lot about him. What he said also reminded me what a woeful job the Oilers have done surrounding the best player on the planet with a team that can be consistently competitive.
The Oilers will face the Boston Bruins in their home-opener tonight at Rogers Place with a 2-2 record thanks to McDavid’s heroics – he’d been in on all nine Oiler goals on the season, breaking the old record by Adam Oates to get the Oilers back to 4-4 after they’d trailed 4-1, before Darnell Nurse won it in overtime. Most everybody has heard what McDavid said about his feat by now. For me, it was telling.
“It’s whatever,” McDavid said post-game. “I don’t think it’s a stat we should be proud of. We found a way to get a goal at the end, so we never have to talk about it again.” Well, McDavid did have to talk about it again after practice Wednesday with the Oilers getting ready for a rematch with the Bruins. As expected, he spoke in terms of what it meant to the team when I asked him about what the win meant.
“It definitely feels better coming back,” McDavid said. “Last night could have easily gone the other way where it ended 6-1 or 7-1 and we’re talking about a whole different thing and answering a bunch of different questions today. It definitely helps the mindset and, hopefully, we can keep the ball rolling.”
PUSHING IT UPHILL
Can the Oilers “keep the ball rolling?” Well, I hope so for the sake of long-suffering fans. From where I sit, there’s still a helluva lot of work to do 213 games into McDavid’s tenure with the Oilers – more than there should be at this juncture with Pete Chiarelli at the helm as GM and Todd McLellan running the bench.
“I think you see that in a lot of great players,” McLellan said of McDavid. “They put their teammates, their team, their city ahead of themselves personally. I wouldn’t call Connor shy, he’s been around the media and in the limelight for many years, but he’s not one to try and stick out like a sore thumb. He does his thing, he plays for his teammates, his team, his city, and has a tendency to put all of those before himself. That’s why we think he’s a tremendous leader for our team.”
Of course McDavid’s been a tremendous leader. At 21, he has already won the Art Ross Trophy twice as the NHL’s scoring leader, the Hart Memorial Trophy as MVP and the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player twice. What he hasn’t done to this point is win nearly enough out on the ice, save for dragging the Oilers two rounds deep in the playoffs two years ago. My question, and I’m not alone, is where’s the help?
I wonder how much that wears on him as he enters the prime years of his career. With his new contract, McDavid has all the money he will ever need. Like all great players, what he wants most is to win. That, not money, is the measure for players like this. Yet here we are, four years since Edmonton’s golden ticket, and McDavid has had to be out-of-this-world to get the Oilers home from the road at 2-2. I shudder to think where this team would be without him. I bet you do, too.
GET IT TOGETHER
The Oilers have already proven you can miss the playoffs even with the best player in the world. Other teams, to be fair, have managed that as well. That said, it’s past time that Chiarelli put the pieces together to come up with a supporting cast that gives this team the chance to contend. You might not be able to win with one great player, but you damn sure better be able find a way to put the right pieces around that player and take a run at things or you’ve failed miserably as a manager.
That win in Winnipeg was thrill-a-minute stuff in the third period as the Oilers roared back. It was fun to watch, in the moment, but moments like that are often fleeting. If that’s good enough, then the bar is set way too low. This is the team Chiarelli has put together, and as it stands today, it’s so lacking in so many areas that it needs a 21-year-old kid to pull rabbits out of a hat to have any chance.
“It’s whatever. I don’t think it’s a stat we should be proud of . . .” That reaction, after a record-breaking performance, is what stuck with me when I walked into the rink Wednesday. If I’m Chiarelli, those words are burning in my ears. It’s been obvious for more than a little while McDavid doesn’t have enough help and the Oilers aren’t good enough. The clock is ticking.