In the midst of a playoff race, the Edmonton Oilers got hit with bad news on Tuesday.
Connor McDavid will miss some time with an injury.
Now, it’s the worst kind of news, in that the best player in their lineup — if not the world — will miss the next two to three weeks. But an even worse update would have involved a longer recovery timeline and an aggravation of the knee injury McDavid spent all summer rehabilitating.
This is being labelled as a quad injury, not at all related to the knee issue. And while the recovery time is pinned at two to three weeks, GM Ken Holland also noted that the hope was McDavid would be back before then.
“The good news about having the MRI is not only did we see the quad injury, but the doctors had an opportunity to look at the injury from the summer and everything looks great,” Holland said.
So, in the grand scheme of things this isn’t bad news.
But it certainly isn’t good news either.
While the Oilers have been playing well this season, looking more like a playoff team than in the past, their spot there is anything but assured. They are just one point clear of the Arizona Coyotes, who sit outside the wild-card picture, though it should be noted Edmonton has three games in hand. That may be a big hurdle for the Coyotes to leap under normal circumstances, but McDavid’s loss will put the weight of the Oilers on Leon Draisaitl.
McDavid hasn’t missed much time in his career, with most of his man-games lost coming in his rookie season. But it’s clear that this is a much different team when he’s not on the ice.
Sportsnet Stats has accumulated a stats pack breaking down how the Oilers have performed with McDavid in the lineup versus without going back to his first season in 2015-16.
Adding to the challenge for Edmonton is that, over the next three weeks, six of their 10 games are on the road, with a three-game trip to Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina coming up later this week. At least those are out-of-conference games that won’t give points to playoff-race competitors.
Their three home games between now and the trade deadline are against Chicago on Tuesday night and Boston and Minnesota next week. So, even on the schedule, while the news isn’t good, at least Edmonton isn’t facing a stretch of games stacked against direct competitors over the time McDavid is expected to miss.
All eyes will now turn to Draisaitl who, while in the midst of a terrific season, will have even more attention paid to him by Edmonton’s opponents. If Edmonton is following Pittsburgh’s game plan — and it’s sort of forced to lean on two superstars in the same way, given the team’s make-up — then can Draisaitl pick his team up the same way Evgeni Malkin does when Sidney Crosby is out? It’s not the biggest ask in the world. He does lead the league in points, after all.
Just this season we got another example of that. In 28 Crosby-less games, Malkin put up 38 points (he played 26 of those games) for the Penguins, and the team went 18-6-4 — the third-best mark in the league. Granted the Penguins are a more polished outfit than the Oilers, but can Draisaitl have the same impact?
He hasn’t played much without McDavid in the lineup, but there is a historic dip in his production when McDavid is missing. With McDavid, Draisaitl averages 1.07 points per game and without him, that average dips to .58. Now, those numbers are skewed by the strong season Draisaitl’s having and the fact that most of those games sans McDavid came four years ago, before the German broke out as an elite scorer.
But it remains a big question as to what level of production he’ll be able to maintain as the 1C.
It’s crunch time for Edmonton, and while every team has to deal with injuries at various points, we’re about to find out what this team is really made of.