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The Nashville Predators celebrate a goal as the Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid skates to the bench on Nov. 4.Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

The more despondent a team, the thicker the metaphors. That’s a literary rule of sports.

So here’s Connor McDavid after the Edmonton Oilers lay down and died in front of another meh opponent to start the season.

“It’s just death by a thousand cuts,” McDavid said. “One mistake, and it costs us. Another little mistake and, y’know, it just snowballs. It’s tough to chase games.”

Impressive. About the only impressive thing the Oilers are doing right now.

Ten games in is a fair amount of time to assess where a hockey team is headed. Right now, the Oilers have the car slammed in reverse, the pedal to the floor and they haven’t bothered to throw an arm over the passenger seat. They’re just headed backward in whatever direction as fast as possible.

All the things hockey teams do, the Oilers are doing poorly. Zero offence, negative defence, indifferent goaltending. They’ve won two of those 10 games, and both wins now seem like flukes.

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Since hockey coaches are no longer allowed to be angry, Oilers boss Jay Woodcroft has been forced to go to the most urgent tonal extreme still permitted: concerned therapist.

“I thought we lost a lot of puck battles today. Didn’t like that. Don’t like seeing that. I thought our puck play wasn’t good enough today. To a man, not good enough from everybody.”

Calm down, killer. You don’t want to frighten anyone.

To a man, after Saturday’s 5-2 gazumping by Nashville, the impression given was of a team that doesn’t know why it’s bad.

“There’s no magic pill,” winger Zach Hyman said. “We just have to go out there and fix it.”

Great plan. Better get started Googling ‘magic pills.’

If you didn’t know that all hockey players have their internal motivator set to 11 every waking hour of every day, you’d guess the problem is ennui. The Oilers have a February look about them and it’s only November. They look tired.

If I’d played on the same team as Connor McDavid for a few years, I might be a little tired, too. Tired of the jibber-jabber that follows him wherever he goes, tired of hearing about how we’re going to win it all this year and tired of being reminded that it never works out.

People and storylines come and go in Edmonton, but one question that can never be said aloud floats above them all – ‘Are we wasting the greatest player in NHL history?’

Obviously, McDavid is not the best player in history. How could he be? He plays in Edmonton.

But he has that sort of quality.

When we think of the pressure that creates, we imagine it two ways – pressing down on his bosses and on him.

If you’ve worked in Edmonton this past decade, your holy purpose is justifying the club’s luck in drafting McDavid (though with each passing year, it seems less lucky). You’re fully focused on not becoming the guy who blew the lottery jackpot on Sea-Doos and a sports bar. No one’s managed it yet.

For his part, McDavid has been too good and not good enough. His regular seasons (no worse than second in scoring for the past seven years) suggest an all-timer. His post-seasons suggest a part-timer. It’s not entirely his fault – defence wins Stanley Cups, and McDavid can’t skate in goalie pads. But if you want to be under the glare, you have to prepare for sunburn.

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What nobody ever seems to talk about is what this must be like for everybody else on the roster.

You’re standing there beside the best in the game being told you can’t lose because of him, and you keep blowing it at the end. All everybody wants to know is what it must be like to play with – sigh – Connor McDavid.

However humble McDavid is and however large your own paycheque, it must be dispiriting. If it were happening in Columbus or Dallas, that would be one thing. You could escape from time to time. But it’s happening in what might be the most hockey-obsessive market on the planet. There is no getting away from it.

So if the best the players can come up with is magic pills and death by a thousand cuts, maybe it’s that. Maybe the Oilers are bad because they’re sick of being told they should be good because of – thumbs back that way – this guy. Is it possible that they’ve already given up?

McDavid may finally be feeling it, too. He’s always been older than his years, but he has an especially drawn look this season. He missed some time straight off the bat with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He has claimed to be fine now, but that’s what players say when they aren’t.

Given the level of local hysteria created whenever he’s out, it may be less painful for McDavid to play hurt than it is to sit at home and read about the sky falling.

Whatever the issue, the usual zip isn’t there. McDavid’s lack of get-up-and-go appears infectious.

If the Oilers end up turning it around, you know how this stretch will be presented. ‘We were lost, but then we were found. That’s when we learned how to be a team.’ In sports, every disaster is a miracle in semi-disguise. If no miracle appears, everyone gets fired and then you wonder if there ever was a disaster at all.

But coming straight out of the gate this way right after most experts picked them as Cup favourites feels like more than a blip. It feels like a mission statement.

For years, the Oilers have been told the same story about themselves – that because of who they start at centre, they have to win.

Maybe they’re tired of that story. Maybe they’ve decided on a new one. Even if it’s a story that no one in Edmonton wants to hear.

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