With the season winding to an end and the Oilers sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in, the Oilers have ultimately wasted three of the first four years of Connor McDavid’s NHL career.
You can give them a pass on the first one, given the fact he was a fresh rookie who missed half of the season due to an injury, but these last two seasons after the team’s supposed breakout year in 2016-17 have been incredibly frustrating. And that frustration isn’t just felt by the fanbase. It’s felt, most of all, by the captain himself.
The Oilers were officially eliminated from the playoffs after Tuesday night’s loss in Vegas. We knew long before that night the team wasn’t going to defy the odds and go on a run, but the official elimination from playoff contention is always a gut punch. McDavid clearly felt it that night.
“It’s really high. It’s really, really high. It’s frustrating. We want to play in the playoffs as a team. I personally want to play in the playoffs. I’m not happy about it. It’s going to be a long summer.”
This was probably the most frustrated we’ve seen the soft-spoken captain in an interview before and his words carried loudly around the league. Many have spouted off about the possibility (or inevitability) of McDavid demanding out. I don’t really put much weight on those opinions as most don’t actually have any insight into the situation and many actively looking to stir things up. This is the hyper-analysis of his draft lottery body language all over again.
That said, when Elliotte Freidman chimes in on the situation, you can’t help but pay attention. Friedman said on his 31 Thoughts podcast that he believes the Oilers have one or two more years before McDavid requests to be let out of this situation. While many will say McDavid should or will demand a trade simply to start controversy, I don’t believe Friedman is that type. He’s very well-connected and puts a lot of thought into the things he says.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday FRIDAY EDITION question. If you were in Connor McDavid’s shoes, how would you handle the future? Would you commit to the organization no matter what? Would you flex some influence and demand a certain coach or general manager is brought in? Or would you be looking to get your way out as soon as possible?
It’s very obvious McDavid’s career has been wasted up to this point. No matter how much of an optimist you are, there’s no way around that. Nobody expected for the Oilers to be on the outside looking in after his fourth season, not even this organization’s biggest critics.
There really aren’t many instances in the NHL in which a player of McDavid’s calibre has been in a situation so bad. Mario Lemieux would probably be the best comparable, as the Penguins didn’t manage to make the playoffs in his first four seasons in the league. Other first overall pick comparables who saw virtually zero success with their first franchise are John Tavares, who made the playoffs in just three of nine seasons with the Islanders before leaving the team as a free agent, and Rick Nash, who made the playoffs once in nine seasons with the Blue Jackets before requesting a trade.
Even if we take a look outside the NHL to the NBA, you don’t see a superstar player jump ship that quickly. The Cleveland Cavaliers massively flopped having LeBron James in his first go-around. He carried a team bogged down with marginal players to five playoff appearances in seven seasons and one trip to the Final before leaving to sign with the Miami Heat. Even Kevin Durant, who infamously ditched the OKC Thunder for easy championships in Golden State, stuck with the Thunder for nine seasons. Anthony Davis, whose career has been completely wasted in New Orleans, finally requested a trade this year, which is his seventh in the league. Also wasted in New Orleans, Chris Paul played six seasons before asking for a trade.
So, really, McDavid asking for a trade after four seasons would be pretty unprecedented for a player of his calibre in recent history. It’s a sticky situation because while McDavid is obviously a tremendously competitive person who desperately wants to have a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup, he also isn’t a quitter. If he was quieter, he wouldn’t be this good at hockey.
There’s no doubt that leaving puts a damper on a player’s legacy. I’m not just saying this as an Oilers fan who would be sad if Connor McDavid left. It’s just a reality. When LeBron left Cleveland, his two championships in Miami were met with a shrug. Four years after The Decision, LeBron returned to Cleveland and his 2016 championship is viewed as a bigger accomplishment than the other two combined. Then there’s Kevin Durant, whose two rings with Golden State are scoffed at because he just latched onto an already great team.
Still, a player can only put up with so much. As Friedman said, there’s reason to believe he can only take another couple years of incompetent management here before he decides to move on. If you’re Connor McDavid, and the organization doesn’t get it right, how long can you stick it out?