Oilers must stop giving away what Connor McDavid creates

One of Ken Holland’s priorities includes fixing the Oilers’ bottom-six forwards. I’d go even further and extend that to the Oilers top nine. Quite simply, for every season but one in 2016-17, the Oilers without Connor McDavid on the ice have given up what McDavid’s created and then some.

It’s easy to spot the lone playoff year. The Oilers managed a -4 goal differential without McDavid on the ice in 2016-17, the best effort of McDavid’s career thus far. Cam Talbot’s .929 save percentage at 5-on-5 helped, as the non-97 goals only dropped by seven the next season, but outside of 2016-17, the Oilers can’t hold their own with their superstar on the bench.

The Oilers should be concerned with the drop in both goals and shot attempts with McDavid on the ice in 2018-19. That can’t all be attributed to Talbot’s decline and Mikko Koskinen’s slip as the season went on. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl spent the most time together in their careers last season, too.

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  • Players in red did not return the following season. Players in blue are new additions and players with a strikethrough were traded in-season.

It’s hard to see the 2015-16 non-McDavid list and not think of Taylor Hall potentially playing 1000+ 5-on-5 minutes without McDavid on the ice. The Oilers would have had two lines with an elite playdriver and coaches would fits deciding how to linematch.

Even with Hall gone, the Oilers should still have Draisaitl playing big minutes without McDavid. But Draisaitl was summoned to the McDavid line in 2016-17 and they’ve played huge minutes together since. Both Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock routinely went back to McDavid-Draisaitl as their top line.

Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian have seen a bunch of ice time when McDavid wasn’t on the ice. Ryan Strome led the non-McDavid minutes in 2017-18. Strome only played 56 minutes with McDavid at 5-on-5 that season.

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The Oilers badly need more quality forwards. Expecting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, along with Alex Chiasson and a European forward new to the NHL, to hold the fort while McDavid’s on the bench screams more hope than anything.

Being comparable to the 2018-19 Ottawa Senators in any capacity is not a good sign, but oh man, the Senators are in for a tough season without Mark Stone. Not to mention Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel either. Otherwise, the Oilers are next to some other bad teams: New Jersey, Florida, Buffalo, and Detroit.

Sabres fans, look away.

Dallas at the bottom without Tyler Seguin is interesting. Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry should help next year.

Colorado should be better with Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Buravosky.

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Sidney Crosby’s still got it.

I’m very surprised at Montreal with Phillip Danault on the ice. What an underrated player.

Sebastian Aho deserves more money.

Holland and the rest of Oilers management should be looking into why the Oilers were barely break even in goals, and just below in shot attempts, when McDavid was on the ice. The Oilers have a lot of work to do. McDavid is their nuclear weapon and they should dominate with him out there. Last season, without Draisaitl the Oilers were outscored 31-20 with McDavid on the ice. The Oilers were similarly outscored 29-17 with Draisaitl and no McDavid. McDavid had previously outscored the opposition comfortably with or without Draisaitl.

Holland’s talked about rebuilding the Oilers’ bottom six, but that leaves Nugent-Hopkins with little help if Dave Tippet insists McDavid and Draisaitl stick together. McDavid and Draisaitl can only play so much. They were pushed to the limits and the Oilers were still well out of the playoffs.


Feb 14, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Vancouver Canucks center Markus Granlund (60) takes a shot on goal in the first period against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We know Tobias Rieder and Ty Rattie will not return. Kyle Brodziak might spend more time in Bakersfield than Edmonton. Markus Granlund and Joakim Nygard will get a shot in the top nine. Gaetan Haas has a chance. Tomas Jurco could be this year’s Chiasson (emphasis on could be)

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Who will be on the ice when McDavid’s not? Barring injury, Nugent-Hopkins should play the most non-McDavid minutes, with some combination of Chiasson, Milan Lucic, Sam Gagner, and Nygard as his wingers. That’s asking a lot from Nugent-Hopkins.

Tyler Benson has the red carpet to an NHL spot laid out for him. Depending on if Draisaitl plays to the left or right of McDavid, Benson has to play better than Lucic, Nygard, Granlund, and Khaira. None of those players had more than 22 points or 12 goals in the NHL last season.

Cooper Marody had a great season in Bakersfield and could be the Oilers’ third-line centre.

There’s still time to alter the roster, though the NHL’s standard transaction period is usually around the draft and free agency. This Edmonton roster is very similar to the previous Oilers rosters that weren’t good enough. The Oilers will be over-relying on McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins once again. They don’t have the players to stay afloat when McDavid’s on the bench.

Follow me on Twitter: @chrispagnani.


After having such a blast over the past two years, we absolutely knew that we were going to organize another golf tourney for the summer and, after a few months of planning, we’re psyched to finally be able to launch our third annual golf tournament.

  • When – August 29th, 2019 (Thursday). Tee off at 2 p.m.
  • Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
  • How much – $1000/team or get in on the $900 Early Bird price until July 10th
  • Teams – Groups of Four (4)
  • How – Book your team here

As always, a portion of all proceeds from your ticket purchase will be donated directly to a local charity. This time we’ve partnered up with the Gregor Foundation to make sure that our kids are at their most handsome.

    • OilTastic

      Yup I’m very underwhelmed so far as to what this team will look like this coming season! I’m already planning other things to do on hockey nights this season, other than watching the Oilers!

      • Gravis82

        thats because there is nothing we can possibly do now except let contract run out and save money. But they didnt do that. We bought out our second best defenseman. Keep hall eberle, draft barzal, connor, debrincat or aho….so many. The list goes on. Its incredible the picks we missed on that were literally right there for the taking but we traded them for a goalie and a defenseman who are no longer playing for us. The best pick in the last few years in the first round was Darnell Nurse instead of the russian. Mac T nailed that one.

    • MrBung

      This should get no downvotes. This roster as it stands is going to get worked. Goaltending weak. D is sub par and beyond the top line or 2 … ouch. This season is going to be ugly and some delusional fans once again are going to get a wake up call.

  • Ass Eatn Szn 69

    Chia “we need to free up cap and hope Strome will be a good replacement for Eberle”

    Ice time, “Sorry Ryan, we have no reason to want to see you succeed and play along side Connor, you know in case you do help we don’t want you getting a raise. So go play with Milan and create on your own.”

    • fasteddy

      Just saying, but I wonder if Drai playing with Mcd is part of why Mcd has given up a lot more goals…..Mcd production same with and without Drai, but taking Drai production out of the “others” category results in 20 less GF 5×5……I have felt for a long time that I’d rather see Nuge with either of those two, and one of those two on their own with others.

  • FutureGM

    Im not sure playing Conz and Drai is the best thing for a team that is not deep. Sure they had career years but were barely positive players (I know nobody likes this stat but fact is, your team is all + and you win games). Barzal had a PPG in his rookie year and sacrificed his offensive game for wins in year two. They didn’t increase team offence, just went from worst GA to best GA. The same thing has happened for many stars. Yzerman, Modano, etc.
    Player points are nice. Team points are better. I couldn’t care less if Conz and Drai only score 60 points a piece playing on separate lines as long as they drive possession and the team is winning. Neither should they.
    Tippet has a history of improving team defence, but he has also stated he likes the dynamic duo. Will be interesting to see what happens

    • Kevwan

      That’s fine but then who do they play with? Chiasson? Lucic? Granlund? Kassian? If they are only scoring 60 points each then where is the decline in production coming from? When Holland acquires top 6 wingers or Benson, Yamo or Lavoie develop into them then we can split up Connor and Leon. Until then let’s get the 2nd and 3rd line producing some offense and at least neutralizing the other teams.

      • FutureGM

        Fair point, but who does Crosby play with? If Conz can play with scrubs and drive possession and his line is a positive it would allow Drai to play on 2nd line with Nuge or have Nuge on the 3rd.
        You said you want the 2nd and 3rd line producing, it seems a far more likely situation having Drai and RNH available on those lines than them playing with Connor

  • TKB2677

    Here is a tough question and in Oilersnation because they think he walks on water, it’s almost a swear word for me to say it.

    When is Nuge going to step up? He was a first overall pick. He’s got 539 games of experience. When is he going to take a step without McDavid and lead a line? People build in the excuse that “Well he doesn’t have anyone to play with. ” Fair but at the same time, if the only way you can produce is to have stars on your line, I don’t call that a good thing. He had a career year this past season. Well he did play a lot with McDavid so his points were up. 17-18 season, he was having a crap year, got hurt. Came back, got put on McDavid’s wing and he took off salvaging his crap year.

    A better indication of what Nuge has done and has been is the 16-17 yr. Playoff year. The Oilers were good. What does Nuge put up not with McDavid. 82 games, 18 goals, 43 pts. Diddly squat in the playoffs. Previous year, 76 games, 24 goals, 56 pts with HALL on his wing.

    So if you have a superstar on his wing, he looks like a decent 2nd line center. If you put just a decent winger on his wing like that happened in 16-17, Nuge had 2 – 20 goal wingers on his side, he produces as a low end 2nd line center at best.

    So for all the love that Nuge gets, when will this guy step up his game and be more than just a low end second line center who has to be propped up by star players?

    • TKB2677

      For the record, I watched Nuge in junior and I am a fan but this whole notion he walks on water is ridiculous in my books. The notion that Nuge is this great 2 way guy is false. He’s an OK 5 on 5 scorer and player, real good PP guy but not that great defensively and a lousy PK guy. Hard to be a real good 2 way center and good PK guy when you can’t win a face off. Career 44% on draws, 45.12% this past season.

      • TKB2677

        I think he can be an OK second line center but he’s a complimentary guy who has to be flanked with really good players. As good as Leon and McDavid is, I think Leon is a much better center and player than Nuge. NO disrespect to Nuge but if Nuge was on McDavid’s wing the whole year, he wasn’t scoring 50 goals or 100 pts. Also, when Leon wasn’t on on McDavid’s wing and he had guys like Rieder and Chiasson on his wing, Leon was producing. Not at the clip that he was with McDavid but it didn’t dry up. Really good players mind ways to score no matter what. They don’t rely on their linemates like Nuge does.

        • The Whispererer

          I’m a big Nuge fan too, but i confess that i think he is over-rated. Until this past season when he got a lot of production on McDavid’s LW and on the 1st PP with Connor and Leon, his offense was rather pedestrian; his career 44% FOW doesn’t scream elite.
          I would offer him to Columbus for Jenner (53% career FOW, heavy Dzone starts incl. 64.8% this year, still puts up decent offense) plus Bjorkstrand; their response will tell us what we need to know about how Nuge is perceived outside of our dome.

      • IRONman

        Nuge will stay. Longest Oiler on the team other than Klefbom. I hope they make the playoffs 8th seed. But next year they have cap space to improve. Kassian and McDavid and Leon. That’s it. Nuge still needs a winger

        • Willfkk

          I think the better question, is do we want to keep him?

          I’m in agreement with TKB2677 that RNH isn’t as good as some Oilers fans would like to believe and relies heavily on others. For RNH to be successful he needs as line mate that can carry the line as he can’t.

          Also the style a team needs to play to be successful in the playoffs, is a style that does not favor RNH. So I seriously doubt we would make it very far in the playoffs with RNH as our 2C.

          If we weren’t in such bad shape with top 6 players (we really only have 3) I’d say trade him while his value is probably as high as it ever will be.

          • Torgerson

            Well sure any player becomes tradeable if you have enough depth, but RNH is a quality NHL forward and if you traded him you would immediately have to start looking for his replacement.

        • OilTastic

          It’s too bad we didn’t still have Hall and Ebs to play with Nuge because we had a built in 2nd line right there, and we could have kept Leon with McD. What could have been….

    • HelpMeBabyJesus

      Thank you! I agree 100 %! Nuge has been overrated since he was drafted. This is the year to trade him as he has 2 years left on his contract. My guess is that he was shopped but there wasn’t much interest in a 3rd line center making 6 million a year. Love the guy and love his attitude but management needs to learn to realistically evaluate talent and treat it like the commodity they are.

    • FutureGM

      You missed 17-18 where he scored 48pts in 62G. Prorates to 27G and 63 pts. So for his career he put up about 22G and 60pts, except for last year when he had some, but far less time than Drai, with Conz. Seems like pretty solid production for a 6 million$ player that always gets defensive zone starts and plays against the other teams top lines.
      Is he a star, no? Is he paid like one, no. The Oilers top two centres should be Connor and Drai due to size, faceoffs, and distribution skills. That would leave a competent 6 million $ man in Nuge to flank one of them. Keep him rested by keeping him off the PK and allow his smarts and shot to flourish with our two supremely talented centre ice puck distributors.

  • Beer

    Conner McDavid is not a wussy. He signed for eight years. Austin Mathews for five, Nylander five. Franchise player is what McDavid is. Those guy’s are not! I am not a TO fan, but I’d trade them all. Tavarres is a keeper. Should be the Captain.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    The whole problem was outside of maybe 5 players there wasn;t any secondary scoring and guys that never really had any steady line mates to generate anything because the blender was in effect so much the last two seasons. I believe Holland wanted to fill the wholes with guys who aren’t afraid of making plays and have some offensive instincts with the budget he has.

    Nuge hasn’t really had any steady linemates for a while now, but yet has still managed to put up some decent point totals, with Tippet at the helm I think we will see guys get some time to gel together and Tippettt has always been one of those coaches who gets more out of his players, so we just may see a different make up on the ice and pushing the pay a lot harder.

    We will see how lines start to get thrown together in camp and the preseason and how they perform. Holland isn’t done, I think we will see a couple players moved out to bring one or two in and they way things have gone so far I would say Holland is still looking to bring a couple offence minded players.

  • Dave Marks

    It can’t just be all give, give, give on McD’s part ALL the time … some other Oilers need to pick up the slack before McD demands out of Oil Town …

  • blobbo

    This is just another way of saying the roster is weak aside from the obvious. I have low expectations for this season besides seeing how the young guys develop and what the new Europeans do. Keeping expectations low eliminates disappointment. Holland hasn’t made any mind numbingly stupid moves so that’s a positive.

    A guy smarter than me once said that you maintain a positive mental attitude by assuming a negative result. That way, if something actually ends well, it’s a pleasant surprise. That’s where I am as a fan.