Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals, and why Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers’ time is coming
By Woz8 months ago
When Sidney Crosby was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins and began to win Stanley Cups with the franchise a blueprint had been created. It was a blueprint on how to win with a generational talent.
The same could be said about the Chicago Blackhawks and their early success with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. We’re in year eight of Connor McDavid and that hasn’t yet been the case with the Edmonton Oilers. McDavid hasn’t catapulted the Oilers to Stanley Cup victories like Crosby with the Penguins. But that’s okay as it also took Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals nearly a decade and a half to win a Stanley Cup — and there were doubts that would ever happen, just like Connor McDavid with the Edmonton Oilers.
Let’s take a look at how patience eventually paid off for Ovechkin and his Capitals and how McDavid’s Oilers have had similar narratives surrounding them.
After the Capitals were eliminated in the second round by the Penguins in 2017, Ovechkin’s future with the franchise came into question. At the time, ESPN analyst Barry Melrose said: “but I really think it’s time for the Capitals to look at moving Alex Ovechkin.” One year later, Ovechkin hoists the Stanley Cup.
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That season the Capitals had +1000 odds to win it all going into the 2018 playoffs. The Capitals were still a top team at the time and finished the season strong with 105 points and topping the Metropolitan Division. They weren’t considered heavy favourites to win the Cup that year and it happened anyway. Prior to that Stanley Cup victory, the Capitals would consistently dominate the regular season. That success would never translate into the playoffs and they would be eliminated in either the first or second round. Typically to the Penguins or an underdog that would cause an upset. Regardless the franchise would continue to retool each season and stay competitive.
While the Edmonton Oilers haven’t had similar regular season dominance as the Capitals, there’s still been a narrative surrounding Connor McDavid which has been “He will never win a Stanley Cup in Edmonton”. This was also a common narrative with Alex Ovechkin as the team struggled to go deep in the playoffs regardless of how good they had been prior to the post-season. Many had doubts that Ovechkin would ever see a playoff game past the second round. Eventually, the Capitals would exorcise those demons in 2018 and go on to win the Stanley Cup.
How about the team that was around Ovechkin in 2018? How did their defence stack up compared to this current Oilers roster? Well, they had one top pairing defenceman in John Carlson who received 311 Norris Trophy votes with three of them being first-place. After him, the defence wasn’t fabulous with two notable names at the time being Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov. This season the Oilers have two defencemen who are in the realm of John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov with Darnell Nurse and Mattias Ekholm. Maybe Carlson at the time is slightly better than both but regardless it’s safe to say the Oilers have an all-around steady defence with the addition of Ekholm.
Goaltending is a little bit more difficult to compare. The Capitals had Braden Hotlby who in the 2018 regular season posted a 2.99 goals against average and .907 save percentage and didn’t register a single Vezina vote. Come playoff time, none of that mattered as Holtby went on to have an incredible playoff with a 2.16 goals against average and .922 save percentage. This year, the Oilers have had hiccups with Jack Campbell while Stuart Skinner has stolen the crease from the organization’s big free-agent signing. Fans outside of Edmonton still say the Oilers don’t have good enough goaltending even with how well Skinner has played.
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Yes, there’s more uncertainty around the Oilers’ crease compared to the 2018 Capitals however we’ve yet to see what Stuart Skinner can become in a playoff run. We’ve seen rookie goalies help win Stanley Cups in the past. Cam Ward in 2006, Matt Murray in 2016, and Jordan Binnington in 2019 are just a few examples. The Capitals in 2018 just like the Oilers now, had their offensive weapons in Alex Ovechkin, TJ Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. They had eleven players score ten or more goals and only three with twenty or more. The Edmonton Oilers after 66 games have had nine players reach the 10-goal plateau and four with 20, three with 30, two with 40 or more.
This shows that the Oilers have more than enough offence to go on another deep playoff run considering they have two juggernauts in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid alone is an X-Factor that no other team in the NHL has. Now one thing the Caps had at the time that was key for them was their head coach, Barry Trotz. He was a great motivator for the Capitals and one could argue his coaching style is a big reason why they won the Stanley Cup.
The Oilers aren’t built perfectly but they have their strengths as to why they can win the Stanley Cup this year. They are an improved team and their top six forwards are putting up career highs. No team in the 21st century has had a player like McDavid putting up the offensive numbers that he is. Who knows how far the Oilers can go if McDavid’s production continues to skyrocket the way it has? And as we saw last year he took his game to another level in the playoffs.
The Western Conference doesn’t have the same juggernaut it did last season either with the Colorado Avalanche who was nearly unbeatable in 2022. The Oilers over the past two-to-three seasons have gained valuable playoff experience which could serve them well going into the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s possible the Oilers create their own blueprint to winning a championship which would be using their offensive prowess to an advantage over other teams.
Defence typically wins championships but what happens when you can’t score in seven-game series like the Edmonton Oilers? Right now, Edmonton leads the NHL in goals scored, which could be a curse in itself as only two teams in recent history have won the Stanley Cup that finished the regular season with the most goals scored. The Penguins in 2017 and the Lightning in 2020. But as the Capitals have shown us, anything can happen even with years of consistently making the playoffs. Remember when the Tampa Bay Lightning got swept in the first round after recording a 62-win season?
It’s hard to sit here and say Connor McDavid will never win the Stanley Cup in Edmonton. I find it hard to believe. Success is not guaranteed and not certainly not linear. It happens for a reason. History has shown us that franchise stars, and generational talents end up winning it all with their respective franchises. Sometimes it takes longer. Yzerman entered the league in 1983 and didn’t win until 1997. Stamkos entered the league in 2008 and didn’t win until 2020 and Alex Ovechkin entered the league in 2005 and didn’t win until 2018.
Three players are all considered generational, franchise-altering superstars, who had long paths to Lord Stanley. Mario Lemieux had to wait eight seasons. We’ve also yet to see Auston Matthews win the Stanley Cup, two players also regarded as generational. None of them left when it seemed most unlikely, none of them gave up. In Edmonton, Connor McDavid can win a Cup and with the way this team is, there’s a high chance it could happen sooner rather than later. And it won’t be because he had the perfect team around him. It will be because the players around him bought in and elevated themselves.
It’s like the old saying, expect the unexpected. Anything can happen and the same could be said about the Oilers winning the Stanley Cup with Connor McDavid. Just like Ovechkin and the Capitals in 2018. It’s only a matter of time, whether it’s year eight, nine or twelve. Connor McDavid’s name is due to be on the Stanley Cup alongside his Edmonton Oilers teammates.
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