SAN JOSE – At one point during the proceedings during all-star media day, Connor McDavid faced 14 consecutive questions about the state of the Edmonton Oilers until someone finally lobbed a softball his way and asked him about the 3-on-3 format in the All-Star Game. The newly coiffed McDavid welcomed the reprieve. “I was going to get off the seat it’s so hot,” he said.
Even when he tries to get away from the tire fire that is the Edmonton Oilers of late, the flames are never far away. In reality, though, the all-star break and the five days that follow it until the Oilers play their next game could not have come at a better time for McDavid. For the next couple of days, the game will be fun again for him and his biggest concern will be which players will try to steal his crown as the NHL’s fastest skater. Brayden Point isn’t here this year, but Jack Eichel will likely be his most serious competition.
So for a couple of days, McDavid will be able to take his mind off the situation back home, one that came to a head on Tuesday night when the Oilers relieved GM Peter Chiarelli of his duties. Team president Bob Nicholson followed the next day by saying, “there’s something in the water” in Edmonton, which indicates he’s also at his wit’s end when it comes to this organization. “Character-wise, it’s easy to think that we have turmoil in our locker room or we have this and that,” McDavid said. “We don’t have that at all. We’re a tight group. Guys love to play for each other.”
There are far more questions than answers in Edmonton, but the one constant is that McDavid has been outstanding. The fact that he was introduced in San Jose as a player who, “has had points on more than half of Edmonton’s goals this season,” is telling. McDavid finished third in voting among members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association behind Nikita Kucherov and Johnny Gaudreau in mid-season voting for the Hart Trophy. (Full disclosure: I had him first on my ballot. The reasoning? The Oilers would have trouble competing in the German Bundesliga if not for McDavid this season.)
So things are not exactly coming up roses for the Oilers, but McDavid went out of his way to point out that it’s not 24-7 bleakness, either. As bad as the Oilers have been, the bottom half of the Western Conference has been worse, which is why the Oilers still find themselves with a very real chance of making the playoffs this season.
“The positives? I would say three points out of a playoff spot,” McDavid said. “I think that gets lost. I think that really is lost. We’re going through a lot of changes and we’re three points out. We have a chance to make the playoffs. I look forward to…trying our best to prove everyone wrong. We have an opportunity here, people seem pretty down on us, there’s a sense of negativity in the media, with everyone around the team and we get to prove people wrong. We get to decide how we’re going to finish the second half and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
McDavid steadfastly believes the Oilers are going to make the playoffs this season and he might be right. And if they get in, they’ll know that whomever the opponent, they will be armed with the best player in the series. There is certainly a sense that the Oilers, as an organization, are in real danger of frittering away the best years of one of the best players to ever play the game. There is no doubt that McDavid has done his bit. The organization has failed to build around him and help him exploit his talents. But, to his credit, McDavid did not shy away from his part in the situation. “I’m just as much a part of this group as anyone, if not more,” McDavid said. “It’s on all of us as players. It’s on me, being a part of that. It’s on me being the captain.”
One bright spot for the Oilers is the impending return of defenseman Oscar Klefbom to the lineup after missing almost two months with a broken finger. “I’m not looking to give us excuses or anything like that, but my second season when we were very good, who were out two best D-men?” McDavid said. “It was probably (Andrej) Sekera and Klefbom. We’ve missed those guys for the better part of two years. Having ‘Klef’ back will be great for us. He was great for us at the beginning of the season and we expect him to pick up where he was and Sekera will come back when he comes back.”
McDavid has never, ever given any sign that he is not all-in when it comes to the Oilers, who made an eight-year, $100-million commitment to him when they signed him to an extension that kicked in this season. Outside the organization, thought, there has been speculation that all the losing has to wear on a player, particularly one as competitive as McDavid and that he would not be vilified for wanting out. “That’s just not the case at all,” McDavid said. “I want to be part of the solution.”