A number of fans, bloggers and pundits weren’t impressed when the Edmonton Oilers were announced as the winners of the 2015 NHL Draft lottery, aka “The Connor McDavid Sweepstakes.”
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, there was a blizzard of articles and blog posts whining over the Oilers getting the first overall pick for the fourth time in six years. Shouting heads took to the various airwaves to decry the Oilers getting yet another first-overall selection.
To which I say, that’s life. You don’t always get what you want and things don’t always turn out the way you expect, a lesson Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray learned the hard way on Saturday when he realized McDavid was heading to Edmonton.
Seriously, Murray looked like a spoiled little boy who didn’t get the action figure he really wanted for Christmas. I half-expected him to cry, “But I don’t WANT Jack Eichel, I wanted CONNOR McDAVID!”, throw a temper tantrum and then storm off in a huff to his room.
But I digress. I don’t have access to the inner workings of the NHL brain trust, but I feel safe in assuming Edmonton was the last place they wanted “The Next One” to go. The Oilers getting the first-overall pick was proof positive league headquarters didn’t rig the draft.
Of course, that didn’t stop some truly creative conspiracy theorists from claiming the NHL actually screwed up the selection. These are likely the same folks who still believe Jack Palance mistakenly announced Marisa Tomei as best supporting actress for her role in “My Cousin Vinny” at the 1993 Academy Awards. Enjoy your loony tunes, kids, maybe someday the aliens will tell you what they did with JFK’s brain.
Some observers complained Edmonton is a poor market for the NHL’s next poster boy to ply his craft. After all, it’s the league’s most remote market and among its smallest. Not the best city to showcase the supposed heir apparent to Sidney Crosby.
That, of course, is just more bitching. Yes, McDavid would undoubtedly be easier to market playing in, or near, a major NHL city like Toronto, New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. But it’s not like he’s going to outer Mongolia or Jupiter’s fifth moon. Thanks to modern technology, we can actually see McDavid’s wizardry happening in real time. His story won’t be the stuff of urban myth or tribal legends.
Wayne Gretzky spent most of his playing prime in Edmonton back in the 1980s when media wasn’t all-consuming as it is today and he became universally recognized as hockey’s best player. The fact he was playing in a supposed NHL backwater didn’t keep his record-shattering feats out of the sports pages or highlight reels. If McDavid reaches or exceeds expectations in today’s NHL, trust me, he and the league won’t suffer because of where he plays his home games.
Finally, there’s the bloggers, columnists and chattering heads claiming McDavid will be wasted playing on the moribund Oilers. Despite the haughty attitude of these critics, they do have a legitimate point.
Everyone knows the Oilers’ record over the past nine years and of the seemingly ongoing incompetence of its management. You’ll be hard pressed to find an Oilers fan willing to engage in a spirited defense of owner Daryl Katz, president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, former GM Steve Tambellini, current GM Craig MacTavish or most of the front-office staff.
It’s universally agreed the Oilers – despite selecting Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov with consecutive first-overall picks from 2010 to 2012, the presence of right wing Jordan Eberle and young blueliner Justin Schultz, and with promising Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl waiting in the wings – have been poorly managed over the last five years.
It’s not the fault of those talented kids. They’ve done their best, but management failed to provide them with a solid supporting cast and with coaches capable of tapping into their strengths. The Oilers enter the offseason lacking a true starting goaltender, genuine top-two defensemen, skilled checking-line depth and any idea who their head coach will be next season.
So it’s understandable why there’s concern they’ll waste this great gift of the first genuine franchise player to arrive in Edmonton since the great Gretzky over 35 years ago.
Landing the first-overall pick and therefore dibs on Connor McDavid could well be a pivotal period in Edmonton Oilers history. This can be the moment when the Oilers finally began to emerge from the pit of mediocrity they had buried themselves in for nearly a decade.
The Oilers will either build a truly great franchise around McDavid, or they will botch it so completely their fans will end up like New York Islanders fans a decade ago, wondering about what might have been with their riches of talent if only they had competent management. Now that they’ve got the NHL’s next great superstar, it remains to be seen if the current bunch running the circus sideshow of a hockey team in Edmonton can finally get its act together.
Steve Dangle said it best at the 6:17 mark of his live “periscope” video of the 2015 Draft Lottery:
“You got Connor McDavid. Do NOT….waste it!”