Eight and a half months after they reported for training camp, the Edmonton Oilers’ NHL season came to an abrupt end on Monday night. After so long and coming so far, they lost four in a row to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference final.
It was a chaotic campaign with a phenomenal start, an awful slump, a coaching change, and an impressive run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
On the day after, Connor McDavid sat before a room packed with journalists with a ball cap pulled tightly on his head.
“I haven’t gotten much sleep,” the Edmonton captain said quietly on Tuesday. “It is still fresh. It was a step in the right direction. I firmly believe that.”
McDavid just concluded a year in which he scored a combined 156 points in the regular season and playoffs. He is done, but may still end up as the leading scorer in the postseason. He finished with 33 points in 16 games. That is one more than his teammate, Leon Draisaitl, who is so badly hobbled by an ankle injury that all he needs is a patch over one eye and a parrot on his shoulder. Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers is next with 24.
“I think we did take a step forward, but we also took one in 2017 and missed the playoffs the next year,” Draisaitl said. “Maybe we thought at the time that it would be automatic every season. We learned from it the hard way. We have to come back next season and be hungry for more.”
Five years ago – could it be that long ago, already?– the Oilers lost to the Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the second round. It took until this year for them to win a round again, and then a second, for the first time in 16 years. That shows how hard it is, even if blessed to have the greatest hockey player in the world and another who is pretty close to it.
“We have grown up from that point,” Draisaitl said, referring to 2017. “We are ready to win. We want to win.”
The Oilers got huge contributions from others.
Evander Kane had 23 goals in barely half of a season and then 13 during the postseason. He arrived with lots of baggage and now looks clean as a whistle. His talent has always spoken for itself, but his teammates in Edmonton praise him for his presence off the ice as well.
It is not certain if the Oilers can retain him but they will certainly try now that Kane is a free agent. He was polite but would not tip his hand about whether he will return.
“I thought [the season] went really well, probably better than I expected,” Kane said. He sat out Monday while he served a one-game suspension for a hit from behind on Nazem Kadri. “There are so many different variables and lots to sort through and figure out before I make a decision.”
Zach Hyman is locked up through a long-term deal. The former Maple Leaf had a career-best 27 goals and then 11 more during the playoffs. He is happy in Edmonton.
“I thought I would be a good fit here,” he said. “Honestly, as it has turned out, it was one of the best decisions of my life to come here. I am just really happy to be here a long time.”
Hyman get his first taste of success in the postseason this year after annual disappointments in Toronto.
“The unique thing about hockey is that the margins are so thin,” Hyman said. “If you want to win, you have to put yourself in the position every year. You have to do it over and over again. We are not satisfied with being in the final four.
“It is only a step forward if you progress the next year.”