Will more rest between games lead to increased ice time for the Oilers star players?

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 month ago
Over the years, one of the Edmonton Oilers’ biggest problems has been properly managing the ice time of their star players.
For coaches past with two of the best players in the world on a roster, sometimes playing together at five-on-five and always on the top power play unit, it’s been easy for those minutes to get out of control. After all, the “break glass in case of emergency” option of putting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl together has seen them play roughly 42 percent of their total ice time together during the past three regular seasons.
Regarding five-on-five, that number has sat around 31 percent, coming down ever-slightly to 29 percent since Kris Knoblauch took over behind the Oilers bench.
During the regular season under Knoblauch, McDavid averaged 21:14 in ice time, with Draisaitl at 20:27. As one could expect, those numbers have climbed in the playoffs, with McDavid playing 23:02 per night and Draisaitl 21:30.
All of this begs the question: could McDavid and Draisaitl’s numbers — and potentially others — increase even more with the Stanley Cup on the line?
First and foremost, here’s a look at the Oilers’ average ice time throughout the playoffs per round, and how it compares to their average ice time in the playoffs:
Oilers ice time in the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs, through Game 1 against Florida. Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
It’s no surprise who the big leaders are among the forwards and defencemen. McDavid, Draisaitl, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins lead the way up from, while Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm do the heavy lifting on the blue line.
What’s curious is the Oilers’ usage through the first two round, as the big guns played the least of their minutes against the Kings, while seeing a notable increase against the Canucks. Against Dallas, the Oilers relied more on their middle and bottom-six, wih Dylan Holloway, Mattias Janmark, Connor Brown and Corey Perry seeing big increases, and the same could be said for the blue line.
In Game 1 against Florida, the Oilers clearly wanted to load up the minutes for the top line, and the third line got fewer minutes as a result. Those numbers support my hypothesis of the big guns getting more minutes in this series with the Stanley Cup on the line.
It will be curious to see how this changes throughout the remainder of the series. One thing playing to the benefit of the Oilers adding top minutes for their top players is the additional rest time. Both teams had a week off before Game 1, and while there’s only a one day gap before Game 2, and a similar gap between Game 3 and 4 in Edmonton, there will be two days between Game 4 and 5, and any others that follow.
While there will be some additional travel time given the monumental length between Edmonton and Florida, rest is rest and it could benefit the Oilers. Of course, the Panthers will have the ability to gather similar rest for their players, but nobody in the world has players like McDavid and Draisaitl on their roster.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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