EDMONTON — The most dynamic player in the world faced the cameras on Monday, and did his best to describe the team that has been painstakingly constructed around him over the past four years.
"We’re not going to out-skill anyone," Connor McDavid declared. "We’re not going to beat anyone 6-5. We’re a team that needs to find a way to win games 2-1, 3-2. We can get two or three every night, but we need to find a way to keep goals out of our net."
A team led by McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. And they are "not going to out-skill anyone."
When pressed whether some of his Oilers teammates may not believe they are the right group to get the job done, McDavid offered this stern response:
“Well, if there’s guys that believe that, they should get out of the room,” he said. “If you don’t believe in this group, and you’re in the locker room, you need to leave.”
So it was in Edmonton Monday, on the day that the Jordan Eberle trade tree spread its roots into the waiver wire — Eberle for Ryan Strome, who was traded for Ryan Spooner, who was waived Monday — several Oilers players and the head coach took their turns grilling on the media spit, answering questions that really should be addressed by someone up the organizational ladder.
It’s not fair, really, that the Ken Hitchcocks, the McDavids or the Adam Larssons face the music every day. While the folks who probably could have saved some time by just waiving Eberle in the first place — yes, we stole that line from Twitter — are ghosts inside Rogers Place.
Larsson, as honest a player and person as we’ve come across in this game, says, "I’ve got my own game to focus on. It’s so bad right now. I’ve got to fix that first, before I look left or right."
He answers for his own work, and the work of others, day after day after day in Edmonton. The reality is, Larsson’s game is failing because of roster issues that have him being force-fed more responsibility than he can handle.
Hitchcock talks about fixing the five-on-five play the way your mechanic changes out an alternator. But at some point, you have to ask the question: Does the coach have enough NHL talent on his roster to fix anything?
"That’s none of my business," Hitchcock said, falling on his GM’s sword. "This is 100 per cent on the players and coaches. I don’t care what the roster is. We’ve got one injury. There are teams that are playing better five-on-five who have six, seven guys out.
"(Critiquing the roster) is not my job. My job is to get the team playing at a much better rate."
They stunk the joint out this past weekend in losses to Calgary and Carolina, and with one game left before the All-Star break the Oilers’ 2018-19 season has boiled down to this best-case scenario:
Snare a wild card spot, and play a team that will be favoured to beat them in five games.
Four years into the Connor McDavid-era, it’s supposed to be better than this.
On Monday, GM Peter Chiarelli put Spooner and Ty Rattie on waivers, leaving Hitchcock to explain how a player the GM traded for on Nov. 16 had been healthy-scratched seven times, offered up as trade bait, and inevitably waived. Oh, and Spooner has another year left on his contract, which will cost Edmonton $3.1 million next season.
What about that acquisition?
"It’s more on what guys like (Jesse) Puljujarvi and (Kailer) Yamamoto do give us," said Hitchcock. "We’re happy with the way they play, they’re both getting better daily. They won spots on the hockey club, so they get to play.
"Peter (Chiarelli) and his guys decided … those two young guys are here. They’re staying and they’re playing. Their improvement has allowed us to give them spots."
Yamamoto accomplished little to nothing in two weekend games, going pointless without a shot on goal and playing about 9:30 per night. Puljujarvi, as we have written, is not an NHL player currently. The two 20-year-olds should be in the minors learning their craft, yet here they are, two not-ready-for-prime-time players deemed to be better alternatives to the veteran guys the front office brought in to help.
Like McDavid said, the Oilers aren’t going to out-skill anyone.