Oilers taking patient approach in diagnosis of abrupt elimination

NHL insider Mark Spector joins Gene Principe to decipher GM Ken Holland’s year end media availability, and discuss what the team’s two superstars need to develop in order for this group to advance to the next step.

EDMONTON — Fans, they’re not like players. Neither are the media, who like fans have spent the past week with their scalpels out, simultaneously carving the Edmonton Oilers and conducting exploratory surgery to try and diagnose a Qualifying Round loss to the 12th place Chicago Blackhawks.

Case in point: Connor McDavid has not.

“Quite honestly, I haven’t looked back,” the Oilers captain said on a season-ending teleconference Friday. “It’s been less than a week. I’m just trying to refresh. There’s lots of time to look back. Haven’t spent too much time looking back.”

So we dug in on that, with McDavid being asked to let us into his world just a bit.

When does he debrief on a series as disappointing as that four-game loss to Chicago? How long until he begins the process that the fan base began when the final horn sounded?

In fact, it was the most fulsome answer McDavid gave in the interview.

“It’s easy for fans and media to sit back, to want to diagnose and get right down to it,” he explained. “As a player it’s a little different. You need a break. You need to relax, and try to look at it with more of a clear head. When it’s so sudden, it’s very easy to be frustrated. You’re just not thinking clearly. You need to clear your head first, look back, take the positives and take the negatives. And figure out what went wrong.”

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McDavid, and assistant captain Darnell Nurse, answered many of the questions that a disappointed Oilers nation is asking. Some, like when will they become a legit contender, were left unanswered.

“I wish I had an answer for you,” McDavid said. “Obviously we’re missing something. I don’t know what it is and I’m sure everyone is going to regroup and try to figure it out.”

Nurse needs to know also, and has been more on the side of the fans, trying to crack the code these past few days.

“You sit down the first couple of days, try to solve the issues of the world,” Nurse said. “Look, it didn’t go how any of us wanted it to go. Do [we] sit here, week after week, beating ourselves into a hole? Beating ourselves up over it? Or we can learn from what we went through.

“Everyone is pissed off about it, and you can beat yourself over the head with it for weeks. Is that going to bring you back in a better mind-frame?” he asked. “There’s a taste in everyone’s mouth that no one likes. We’ve had it four out of five years here. We need to be better.”

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Most disconcerting was the lack of emotion exhibited by the entire lineup. Physical players like Nurse and Zack Kassian weren’t nearly physical enough. Skill players like McDavid and Leon Draisaitl brought their skill, but their battle level wasn’t near where it has to be.

“I wish I had an answer for you, I really do,” McDavid said. “There’s no good explanation, excuse, or anything. I’m not sure why it wasn’t there.”

It can’t be denied that the team made strides this season, locking in second place in the Pacific when the pause hit in March. The goals against were down and wins were up, so the fact they did not qualify for Round 1 of the playoffs is an unfortunate, pandemic-related bit of syntax.

“We’ve definitely made strides, brought in some pieces, have a little more stability,” McDavid said. “Last season we didn’t have a GM, and there were lots of questions about … the coaching spot.

“In terms of the players, we took a step in the right direction. We [had success] most of the regular season, and the time where it mattered most, we dropped the ball. But we’ll learn and we’ll grow from it.”

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It’s funny, the Oilers of March 1 were a pretty good team. One that would have beat August’s team by three goals per night, we’d wager.

For a team that averaged four goals per game in the Qualifying Round and still lost, clearly defensive play is what is being questioned.

“Obviously it’s not where it needs to be,” McDavid agreed of his club’s defensive game. “We haven’t seemed to figure that out yet. I thought we took some big steps defensively during the season, and it just wasn’t there.

“Personally, obviously it could be better. Could be better.”

When you go down the way the Oilers went down, everything can get better.

But for now, it’s another long off-season in Edmonton.

Too long, whether you are a fan, a player or a scribe.

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