The Warning Signs Were Evident for the Edmonton Oilers’ Downfall

You’ve heard it all before. 

The first overall picks. The stars. The busts. 

At some point, they have to figure this all out, right?

The Edmonton Oilers were swept in the Western Conference final by Colorado, surrendering a 4-2 third-period lead in an eventual 6-5 overtime loss. The Oilers were battered and bruised, with Leon Draisaitl playing with about half a leg throughout the playoffs, only to be amplified in the second half of Game 4. Connor McDavid couldn’t do it all, and the Oilers paid the ultimate price.

It’s another year of “what ifs?” for an Oilers team with two of the best players in the world. In all fairness, some of the team’s top stars were playing hurt. Darnell Nurse was never the same after an injury early in the playoffs. Draisaitl was in serious pain every time he touched the ice. There’s not much you can do with that, especially against an Avalanche team most pegged to be serious Stanley Cup contenders from the get-go.

This team had the ability to be special. Two of the best players playing at 200 percent, even as Draisaitl dealt with injuries. Jesse Puljujärvi seemingly ran into a brick wall. Darnell Nurse was playing injured the whole time. Duncan Keith was a liability more often than not. Derek Ryan, Zack Kassian and Warren Foegele had meager offensive impacts. Just five Oilers had four or more goals all post-season – Colorado had nine. When the Oilers needed to add depth at the trade deadline, they stayed mum with the team’s wonky goaltending, brought in a pair of veterans in Brett Kulak and Derrick Brassard and while Ken Holland believed in his group, the warning signs were fully apparent.

Like, Mike Smith had his moments throughout the playoffs. Let’s not forget how he seemingly outplayed a Vezina Trophy finalist in Jacob Markstrom. But, again, there were red flags everywhere, and the team with a 40-year-old inconsistent netminder in the pipes ultimately lost.

Would the Oilers have won Game 4 with Evander Kane? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have changed the fact having the playoff’s leading goal-scorer didn’t change the team’s course in the first three games. In those three games, Draisaitl didn’t score, Kane had just one and if you remove that wild 8-6 opener, only McDavid and Ryan McLeod scored. So while depth was so important for New York and Colorado – two teams that actively brought in help at the trade deadline – the Oilers stood pat.

It’s hard to make the Stanley Cup final, everyone knows that. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve got two of the best players of their generation playing together either if they can’t get the proper help they need. Had they not signed Kane – who was let go from San Jose after a barrage of controversies – who would have scored for this group outside of 97 and 29? Kailer Yamamoto had as up and down of a playoff run as you could ask for, and Puljujärvi was invisible from the get-go.

Holland needs to take a serious look at this group this off-season and truly decide what he wants this group to look like. Smith has another year on his contract – does he elect to retire early? Is Stuart Skinner a realistic goalie option for the future? It’s a tough free agency market, and while getting a goalie like Marc-Andre Fleury would be a boost, would it be enough? We’re expecting him to slow down at 38.

They’ll have a fairly open slate up front to work with. Only eight forwards are signed next season, and Ryan McLeod, Puljujarvi and Yamamoto won’t be too expensive to bring back. Kane will definitely be an interesting off-season story. Mikko Koskinen isn’t expected to return in net, so there’s at least one goalie spot to deal with – if not two if Smith retires in the final year of his deal. And that defensive core… it needs help, and six players are already signed. Hopefully, Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg will take another step forward, but it’s going to get worse for Keith in the final year of his deal.

The Oilers have two bars of gold. They’re still just maturing, in a sense, and have many years to go. But you can’t help but feel like it’s being completely wasted with patchwork to make this all come together. The Oilers only have one pick in the first four rounds, and it’s going to be a late first-rounder. There’s some help on the way in the system, but will it be enough? 

They just can’t keep wasting the prime years of McDavid and Draisaitl. They’ve had so many chances with different people at the helm. At some point, they’ve got to figure this out to help ignite the City of Champions. This could have been their year. They beat the Flames, so what was stopping them?

Their own decisions, apparently. And Holland and Co. will have to live with that.

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