The Edmonton Oilers are not in a good place right now.
Despite the presence of superstar center Connor McDavid, the Oilers entered the first full week of 2019 having lost eight of their last 10 games. As of Jan. 5, they sat four points out of a wild-card berth in the Western Conference.
So far, the Oilers have done a lousy job providing McDavid – the NHL’s best player – with a suitable supporting cast. The fact they’re even within striking distance of a playoff berth is due to his efforts. Without their 21-year-old captain, they’re jockeying with the bottom feeders to win the Jack Hughes sweepstakes in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery.
Since last season, the Oilers’ struggles prompted some observers to wonder if they risk wasting McDavid’s best years. Toronto Star columnist and TSN contributor Bruce Arthur was the latest to weigh in on this problem.
Bruce Arthur on TSN1050: “Connor McDavid is generational, all of us know it, it’s never been a secret, we only get one of this guy in the history of hockey and he landed with this stinking franchise and if he had any kind of self preservation, he’d demand a trade but he won’t”
— NHL Prospects Watcher (@Prospects_Watch) January 2, 2019
McDavid, of course, is a team player who really wants to help the Oilers return to Stanley Cup glory. Demanding a trade probably hasn’t entered his mind.
Nevertheless, Arthur’s comment raises some interesting questions. At what stage would McDavid entertain the notion of a trade? If management, be it current GM Chiarelli or his successor, fails to significantly improve the Oilers, would McDavid request a trade before his contract expires?
When Arthur called the Oilers “a stinking franchise”, he wasn’t slamming the city of Edmonton or Oilers fans. He’s referring to how poorly they’ve been managed for the past decade. Nearing the halfway point of this season, there’s little sign of improvement.
McDavid, meanwhile, is a former Hart Trophy winner and two-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s scoring leader and of the Ted Lindsay Award as the league’s top player as voted by the players.
With 23 goals and 61 points in 40 games, McDavid is the Oilers’ leading scorer and entered this week sitting fifth among the NHL scoring leaders. At his current pace, he’s within range of a career-best 50 goal, 130-point performance.
McDavid is also in the first year of an eight-year contract, giving management until 2026 – when he becomes eligible for unrestricted free agent status – to build a contender around him.
Most observers will consider a McDavid trade before the expiration of his contract a remote possibility. In response to Arthur’s comments, some cited Hall-of-Famers like Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman as examples of superstars sticking with their teams despite lean early years and eventually being rewarded for their loyalty with Stanley Cup glory.
Lemieux and Yzerman, however, played for teams whose management eventually surrounded them with quality talent. The same cannot be said right now for the Oilers and McDavid.
Perhaps like Lemieux and Yzerman, McDavid’s loyalty will be rewarded in time. But what if it isn’t? What if the Oilers fail to develop into a Cup contender? What if, in three or four years, McDavid realizes he’s wasting his time and talent on a perennially mediocre franchise? What if he wants to join a contender while he’s still in his prime playing years?
If so, what would be the asking price for the league’s best player?
We discussed this during last week’s Face Off Hockey Show. The last time the best player in the league was traded while still in his prime was Wayne Gretzky in 1988 when he was shipped by the Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings in a multi-player deal.
Taking into account how much the league has changed since the Gretzky trade, including the implementation of the salary cap, we guessed the Oilers’ asking price would be a first-line center, a top-four defenseman, one to two first-round draft picks and one or two top prospects.
To ensure the best possible return, we also suggested trading McDavid before his no-movement clause kicks in on July 1, 2022. That allows the Oilers to send him wherever they wish without his approval, assuming they’re willing to be that coldblooded or McDavid doesn’t care where he goes.
All of this, of course, is mere speculation on our part. Feel free to pitch your hypothetical trade proposals in the comments section below.
For now, there’s no indication McDavid wants out of Edmonton. He’ll probably remain the good soldier like John Tavares was with the New York Islanders. Tavares spent nine years with the Isles but had little to show for his efforts and finally departed via free agency to Toronto last summer. McDavid could also opt for greener pastures when his contract expires.
The longer the Oilers remain “a stinking franchise,” the more questions will be raised about McDavid’s future in Edmonton.