Will Edmonton Oilers squander Connor McDavid’s greatest years? Relies upon the way you slice it

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Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid (97) wears a limited-edition Turtle Island jersey during the pre-game warmup on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. in Edmonton.  The jerseys were designed by Edmonton-based Indigenous artist Lance Cardinal.  The jerseys will be auctioned off at a later date. Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid (97) wears a limited-edition Turtle Island jersey during the pre-game warmup on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. in Edmonton. The jerseys were designed by Edmonton-based Indigenous artist Lance Cardinal. The jerseys will be auctioned off at a later date. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

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Will the Edmonton Oilers squander the best years of Connor McDavid’s career?

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I see myself as a patient fan. I almost never find myself asking this question. But I was asking it after a heated McDavid charged off the ice after Edmonton’s 4-3 loss to the lowly Anaheim Ducks, a game where the Oilers generated an amazing 23 Grade A shots, with McDavid making a major contribution to an even more amazing 18 of them by my count.

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And yet the Oilers lost.

And now the Oilers have 17 wins and 15 losses this year, good for a Wild Card playoff spot if the season were to end today, but not exactly the kind of record that shouts out, “Edmonton Oilers likely Stanley Cup champion in June 2023. ”

Instead such a record begs the question about whether the Oilers are failing to build on the promise of last spring when they made it to the Final Four of the NHL playoffs. The team looked good and ready to make a run to the Stanley Cup finals this year, especially after Evander Kane re-signed in Edmonton.

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As for McD, he’s well on his way to having his best season as an NHLer, both as a goal and point scorer and as a two-way player. But will the lack of strength in the Oilers line-up prevent him from playoff success yet again? And going forward to Edmonton?

The answer depends on how you slice it.

It’s true that many of the NHL’s very best players won Stanley Cups at much younger ages than McDavid, who will turn 26 in a few weeks and is now in his eighth NHL season.

Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy were just 20 at the start of the season that their teams won cups. Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Howie Morenz, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby were 21.

Drew Doughty, Maurice Richard, Red Kelly, Bobby Hull, Evgeni Malkin and Cale Makar were 22.

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Wayne Gretzky was 23.

By that standard, it’s past the time that McDavid should have led his team to a Cup.

But other great NHLers have taken much longer to win cups. Doug Harvey started his first Cup-winning season at age 28, same as Victor Hedman. Steve Yzerman was 31, Alex Ovechkin, 32, Zdeno Chara, 33.

Did Yzerman, Ovechkin and Chara squander their best years for naught? It doesn’t look like it.

Nathan MacKinnon, Niklas Lidstrom, Eddie Shore, Bill Cowley, Joe Sakic and Mario Lemieux were all 26 when they won their first Cups, a year older than McDavid was to start this year.

I can see McDavid getting anxious about winning. Maybe he’s super duper ticked off about losing but I can’t see how that’s a bad thing, as it’s a well known fact that there are only two things in the NHL: winning and misery.

If McDavid wasn’t experiencing misery after that loss to the Ducks, what kind of a player and team leader would he be?

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McDavid is having his best year. If some strange narrative isn’t embraced by NHL writers and broadcasters this year, he’ll surely win the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP.

He’s averaging 1.94 points per game, a career high, even better than the 1.88 per game he averaged in 2020-21, the shortened pandemic lockdown season. He’s making a major contribution to 7.0 Grade A shots per game, up from 5.9 per game last season. His even strength defense has been OK-to-good for a few years now and the team also has him killing penalties this year.

He’s never been a better attacker or defender. He’s at his peak. Will it be enough to win the Cup this year? Who knows? I think he’s got a good shot at it, but I’m a hardcore fan, one of the faithful.

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But I do know this: If McDavid sticks with it, he will lead the Oilers to the Stanley Cup. It may take him 14 years like it did Yzerman but he’ll do it. He’ll get there. And when he does it’ll be every bit as sweet to Oilers fans as Lionel Messi finally winning the World Cup at age 35.

team news:

The Oilers have signed veteran d-man Jason Demers to a two-way contract, which enables him to both continue playing in Bakersfield and also get called up to Edmonton. Demers has been solid in Bako this year and he may be needed here as both Ryan Murray and Philip Broberg are out the next few weeks at least, Broberg with a rolled ankle, Murray with back issues.

At the Cult of Hockey

LEAVINS: 9 things

STAPLES: The Oilers end up in Duck soup Saturday, Cult of Hockey Player Grades

McCURDY: Oilers lose focus, blow lead versus blues

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