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What We Learned: Are we really going to blame Connor McDavid for Oilers' problems?

Connor McDavid’s play is the least of Edmonton’s worries. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

I felt like I must have hit my head or something.

Surely only a person whose cognitive functions are not operating at 100 percent could see “The Oilers lost 6-3 to Dallas” and then also imagine they saw a bunch of Edmonton media types saying Connor McDavid — the best player in the world, reigning MVP, etc. etc. etc. — had to do better.

Especially because I checked the box score multiple times, just to put myself through a sort of de facto concussion protocol, and it turns out he scored a goal and had two more assists. By my math, and granted I might be a head trauma patient, that means he was in on all three of Edmonton’s goals while almost everyone else on the team was in on zero goals.

The argument, from what I can tell, is that while, sure, McDavid had three points including a power play and short-handed primary assist, he also turned the puck over a few times and that led directly to some Dallas goals. In fact, McDavid was on the ice for Dallas’s second, third, fourth and fifth goals. It’s not ideal, to be sure, but what people don’t understand — and probably don’t want to because it would in some way challenge how they’ve perceived the sport for decades — is that sometimes bad stuff happens to good players because they’re trying to do things most guys couldn’t even imagine themselves doing.

McDavid was in an especially precarious position when it came to feeling like he needed to do everything himself because this was the first game pretty much all season in which Todd McLellan shuffled Leon Draisaitl onto his own line as a means of theoretically spreading out the offense. After all, the Oilers, for all the expectation that they could be an elite offensive team, are 29th in the league in scoring. And that’s despite the fact that McDavid is on pace for another 100-plus point season. If McLellan felt like he’d put too many eggs in one basket on the top line, it’s tough to blame him.

McDavid has 25 points in 20 games. The next-closest guy on the oilers in total points is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, another guy the Edmonton media has lately been trying to run out of town, with 15 in 20. Draisaitl has 14 in 16. No one else has more than 12.

So when the lines got juggled, McDavid played most of the game with Drake Caggiula (who by the way was the forward who got torched for a couple of those goals against) and Patrick Maroon. If this starts to sound a lot like a few years ago, when Sidney Crosby was being criticized for not being able to get a couple of lower-end middle-six guys to score 70-plus a year, there’s probably a good reason for that. Because when McDavid doesn’t feel like he has a ton of help, yeah he’s gonna freelance a bit.

And yes, it resulted in three points, but also four goals against. That’ll happen sometimes and it’s not pretty. But it’s also so rare that devoting any of your time or energy wondering how Connor McDavid can “fix” something in his game while the rest of the roster crumbles around him and Draisaitl is well and truly idiotic.

Can McDavid improve defensively? Sure, but he’s also 20 years old, and it’s the same crap you’ve heard for years about Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban, isn’t it? If he’s “focused more on defense” in a way that is apparent to the rank and file, that probably comes at the expense of his production, and at that point, we get a lot of takes along the lines of, “Aren’t they paying McDavid to score 100-plus every year?”

Maybe a lot of people would trade 100 points from McDavid while the team sucks, for 80 if the team were good. But that’s not how it works. If McDavid isn’t on pace for 100-plus again, this Oilers team is dead last in the league.

I’ve said it a million times, but creative, high-skill players need the puck on their tape to make their teams go. And when they have the puck on their tape, they will try to do things that no one else can do. And most of the time, it’s going to work. And when it doesn’t, they’re going to look bad not only because it results in a goal or even a high-danger chance, but because we expect them to never screw up.

Put it this way: If McDavid tries the move that led to the second Stars goal 100 times, how many of those end up as a turnover that results in a goal against? And how many result in getting the puck in deep, as intended?

Now let’s say Milan Lucic tries that same carry-in 100 times. How many of those result in a turnover and goal against? How many lead to Oilers zone time?

You and I and everyone else understand fundamentally that any given McDavid carry-in is far more likely to lead to positives than not only with Lucic (who by the way almost never gets criticized in the Edmonton media despite being an expensive, slow, low-scoring bust of an investment), but literally any other player in the world. This isn’t a “defense” problem with McDavid, it’s an “every play is a gamble and sometimes even the best gamblers lose” problem.

Plus, this criticism is also a major dodge of the Oilers’ real issue, which is obviously the fact that their fourth-highest scorers are tied for 156th in points per game.

The Oilers have 29 goals in the 439:28 McDavid has been on the ice this season, across all situations. That means they have 21 in 501:18 when he’s not on the ice. Let’s run the numbers on that real quick: That’s 3.96 goals for per 60 when McDavid is on (very good), and 1.62 when he’s off (inconceivably pathetic).

So honestly, it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense that anyone looks at what’s going on with the Oilers either holistically or in the case of this one individual game and says, “Seems to me that the problem with the team is … the guy who could end up being a top-5 forward of all time.”

And this isn’t a difficult illness to diagnose. If it looks like a thinned-out forward group, that’s only because it is, and all the blame for that lies squarely at Peter Chiarelli’s feet. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are now plying their trades elsewhere, having been dealt for guys who are currently playing like garbage. Adam Larsson has just three points and middling underlying numbers among any regular defenseman on the team, while Ryan Strome has eight points and sits 10th among regular Oiler forwards in possession.

Moreover, that Lucic contract looks like a disaster already. Moreover, Kris Russell has been terrible. These are the guys the Edmonton media, and many old-school hockey guys stanned for, and any smart person could have told you was going to end in tears. The fact that it’s already starting with both these guys is a bit of a surprise, but not so much of one that anyone should be in any way appalled.

So much of what Edmonton does runs through Connor McDavid — who by the way has a 60.7 CF% right now despite only playing top competition, while the Oilers are just 51 percent without him — that it’s easy to sit in judgment when he does something wrong, and in this particular game, he definitely did some things wrong. But the fact that the knives were out from people eager to criticize him for what, his second or third bad game of the year, while half the guys on the roster have had the majority of their games come in way worse than “three goals for and four against” without any real criticism of either those players themselves or the, ahem, savior GM who acquired them.

The Oilers’ problems are very apparent, but anyone who ever tries to even vaguely imply they start anywhere — especially anywhere related to McDavid — besides the front office has an agenda. Or, I guess, a brain injury.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Cam Fowler has been out for a few weeks, but he’s almost back now and that’s good for the Ducks. Man, they need the help.

Arizona Coyotes: Oh yeah, Anthony Duclair was supposed to be good this year. Huh.

Boston Bruins: Say it with me, gang: Goalie controversy.

Buffalo Sabres: I dunno about you, but it seems like the Sabres might be very bad.

Calgary Flames: Feels like Sean Monahan should have had a few hat tricks before this one, but that’s life I guess.

Carolina Hurricanes: Let’s not all look at once but the Hurricanes have points in six of their last seven games, and won four of them in regulation. Could mean good news for December.

Chicago Blackhawks: Two teams that have a very real chance of missing the playoffs this year in another stupid outdoor game. Cool. Great.

Colorado Avalanche: All future Avs/Preds games will be henceforth known as “The Girard Bowl.”

Columbus Blue Jackets: Really not sure how I feel about this Cam Atkinson extension. The money isn’t out of control, but do you really want to sign Cam Atkinson until he’s 35?

Dallas Stars: This should result in like a 10-game suspension. Really dirty play.

Detroit Red Wings: You don’t say.

Edmonton Oilers: It’s almost like, I don’t know, Chiarelli screwed up the freest lunch in the history of hockey.

Florida Panthers: Thank god Dale Tallon is back to fix this team after it made so many mistakes in his absence.

Los Angeles Kings: Playing the Panthers is a great way to not worry about a losing streak any more.

Minnesota Wild: Hey, it happens.

Montreal Canadiens: This is really and truly incredible. The Habs might soon choose to rebuild, but a 30-plus expensive defenseman like Shea Weber is untouchable? But he also hasn’t wanted to trade roster players for futures? What a world.

Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne is, inexplicably, having himself a season.

New Jersey Devils: There’s a really good Curb episode about this.

New York Islanders: This is a very good little win for the Islanders.

New York Rangers: What year do you suppose this column was written in?

Ottawa Senators: The Senators can’t win at home. That’s where you’re supposed to win. They give you last change and everything.

Philadelphia Flyers: How many times are we gonna let Radko Gudas try to murder someone? Twelve strikes and you’re out, buddy!

Pittsburgh Penguins: This Crosby guy sucks!

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks can’t catch a break on goal reviews but hey, that’s why they have goal reviews and get them right almost all the time. My suggestion? Try scoring or preventing goals legally.

St. Louis Blues: I wonder how the Flyers feel like that Brayden Schenn trade is working out for them.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Yeah, this has to be the best team in the league. Even when they lose, they’re scary as hell.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Not sure why you wouldn’t keep Matthews and Marner together. Their skills seem perfectly suited to each others’ games.

Vancouver Canucks: Remember when people thought the Canucks were good or something? That was a weird couple of weeks.

Vegas Golden Knights: Ah, finally, the Golden Knights have an AHL goalie again.

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin took a puck in the face but he was fine but it was scary but don’t worry about it.

Winnipeg Jets: My big rowdy boy is at it again.

Play of the weekend

This USHL goalie is living his absolute best life.


Gold Star Award

Connor McDavid, I support you when no one else will.

Minus of the Weekend

Marc Bergevin is not having a good 18 months!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Myers888” has it all figured out.

Kane (50%) & signed Chad Johnson , Jake McCabe, 2nd for Sam Bennett, Brodie, Eddie Lack

Signoff

Well Seymour, I made it, despite your directions.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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