Off The Top Of My Head
Photo credit:Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
It seems like no matter what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have said this summer about their desire to stay, play and sip from a Stanley Cup as members of the Edmonton Oilers, some people have difficulty taking their words at face value.
I’m not sure if that’s a product of off-season boredom, lack of actual meaty content, cynicism or all three. With McDavid and Draisaitl in the back-end of their contracts and the Oilers in win-now mode, I understand the questions about what the future might bring, and if that future includes Edmonton.
What I don’t get is the side-eye and what seems like reaching for something that isn’t there after they give what sounds to me like straightforward answers. With today’s media landscape being what it is, maybe it’s just a product of farming for clicks and generating page views. Sizzle over substance is part of the sports biz today, even if I don’t particularly like it.
WHAT HE SAID
Two weeks ago, there was doubt in some corners about the way McDavid answered a question about his future in Edmonton. More of the same last week as Draisaitl addressed the same topic for 32 Thoughts: The Podcast. He said in part: “I knew that question was coming. Of course, I do. But I’m gonna give you the most cliché answer right now. I’m in Edmonton right now. I want to win a Stanley Cup in Edmonton. We’ll see what happens.
“We talked about it, Connor and me. We want to win so badly. We’ve talked about it over and over again. We want to do it. Our organization wants to win, and that’s the feeling I love the most. Everyone that’s around, the feeling that we have is about winning. It’s hard. It will be really, really hard to win next season. But I got all of the belief and all the trust in the organization as a whole that we can get it done. And I get that same feeling from everyone in our organization. And that’s a great feeling to have. That’s the best starting point you can have to start a year.”
For full context, the entirety of Draisaitl’s answer is here. There’s also a clip of him answering questions from reporters at the top of the item. In that clip, Draisaitl says: “Obviously, there’s one goal here. Whether that pans out that way, we’ll see, but one thing’s guaranteed – that’s we’re going to do everything in our power to achieve that goal . . .”
I saw an online headline characterize Draisaitl’s response as “dodgy but direct.” Pardon? Call me naïve, but my take based on what Draisaitl said is he wants to stay. The same goes for McDavid. What are skeptics expecting, a promise? In the end, actions will speak louder than words, as they always do.
While McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman are coming into training camp after career seasons in terms of offensive production, Evander Kane is looking to put a difficult season behind him. How well Kane manages that stands to play a big part in how the Oilers fare this season.
Kane, 32, was limited to 41 regular season games last season and he scored just 16-12-28 before adding 3-2-5 in a dozen playoff games. Along the way, Kane sustained a terrible wrist injury and had surgery to repair it in November after being stepped on by Pat Maroon. He missed games in February with broken ribs and finished the playoffs vs. Vegas playing with a busted finger.
Kane is middle-aged in terms of hockey years, so how he well he heals and bounces back to play the productive, robust game that makes him such an asset will impact coach Jay Woodcroft’s top-six, as we discussed on The Jason Gregor Show Thursday. The Oilers need a return to form from Kane.
THE BIG SWEDE
The Oilers need a lot of things to go right if they’re going to put last season’s second-round exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights in the rear-view mirror and take a step toward contention.
At or near the top of that list for me – along with more consistent goaltending from Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell and how well Kane bounces back — is what impact Mattias Ekholm will have on the Oilers over the course of a full season.
The numbers after Ekholm arrived from Nashville for Tyson Barrie we know. The Oilers went 18-2-1 after Ekholm’s debut on March 1 and were significantly better defensively. Ekholm scored 4-10-14 and was plus-28. Along the way, he played a significant part in the growth we saw from Evan Bouchard, who got his turn running the power play with Barrie in Music City. I look forward to seeing what Ekholm’s impact looks like over 82 games.
WHILE I’M AT IT
A big tip of the cap to Howie Draper, who was named the head coach of New York’s PWHL franchise Friday after spending 26 years as head coach the Alberta Pandas – Draper is the only head coach the Pandas have had since the program started in 1997.
Draper, 56, was wrapping up his final season of a five-year stretch playing for the Golden Bears when I began covering the team in 1989-90. With Draper behind the bench, the Pandas have won 14 Canada West titles and eight U Sports titles, both are both records. Draper will be a big hit in the Big Apple.
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