Lowetide: Can the 'Connor McDavid will ask Oilers to be traded?'  group please sit down?

Lowetide: Can the ‘Connor McDavid will ask Oilers to be traded?’ group please sit down?

Early in Connor McDavid’s career with the Edmonton Oilers, the whispers began, and from there it wasn’t long until each season’s disappointing conclusion was met with the same refrain.

How long until he asks out?

A world-class player, who has developed into the world’s best player, McDavid’s brilliance has been in vain as the team around him couldn’t rise to NHL average for most of his first seven seasons.

It’s a perfect storm of brilliance married to and limited by mediocrity, or worse.

The resume of the Oilers captain includes eight major awards (with more to come), a summer spent recovering from a devastating injury in order to be ready for the following season and breathtaking displays of speed and skill that keeps Rogers Place full every night.

He’s the best entertainment available on the planet for hockey fans, and the team’s emotional and on-ice leader.

It’s safe to say McDavid’s stunning skills and impatience to win is a driving force behind the urgency to improve the roster.

This season, the team made the final four but was unable to get past the Colorado Avalanche.

How long until he asks out? At this point in his career, it’s unlikely Edmonton’s captain will ask for a trade. Here’s why.

Hockey players aren’t made that way

I asked McDavid in January 2017 about his role on the Oilers and about the impact he had on the Edmonton community. He deflected the question and brought it back to team goals: “We have a great group in there, we’re definitely driving toward something special and we’re working towards that,” was the response to a targeted question about his impact.

McDavid isn’t alone among hockey players who are more likely to talk about the team than themselves. He is a typical hockey player in that his team, and sharing success with them, is central to his enjoyment of the game.

Hockey players may change in the decades to come, but the loyalty to team McDavid expresses now is very similar to the way Wayne Gretzky spoke about his Oilers teammates or the way Bobby Orr detailed his relationship with various members of the legendary Boston Bruins team from 50 years ago.

The sport of hockey is about the ties that bind “in the room” and because of it McDavid’s view of team won’t change if Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and others remain with the Oilers.

Fred Shero’s famous quote (“win today and we walk together forever”) is as applicable to today’s teams as it was when he said it.

There is progress

McDavid delivered at supernova levels this spring, and led the team to the best season since 2006 and the Stanley Cup Final run against the Carolina Hurricanes. The captain’s performance was transcendent.

The real progress must happen when McDavid is off the ice. The five-on-five numbers over his career are incredible, and a lesser man may have surrendered to the burden and asked out. During his first seven seasons, McDavid’s five-on-five outscoring is consistently brilliant, and the rest of the team lagged at below 50 percent until Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson arrived from the Bakersfield Condors on Feb. 11 of this season.

Season McDavid Goal % Rest of Roster Goal %

2015-16

36-35 (50.7%)

98-135 (42%)

2016-17

77-47 (62.1%)

89-93 (48.9%)

2017-18

81-61 (57%)

82-115 (41.6%)

2018-19

77-75 (50.7%)

69-103 (40.1%)

2019-20

62-58 (51.7%)

79-99 (44.4%)

2020-21

64-48 (57.1%)

51-68 (42.9%)

2021-22

73-50 (59.35%)

108-123 (46.8%)

Woodcroft

39-23 (62.9%)

54-50 (51.9%)

There are two full seasons (2016-17 and 2021-22) in McDavid’s career that saw the team score 45-plus percent of the five-on-five goals, and both times the club enjoyed significant playoff success.

The real story comes right at the end of the seven-year run, with Woodcroft and Manson finding a way to spike McDavid’s goal differential and finally drag the “McDavid OFF” group into the daylight (above 50 percent).

That’s a major accomplishment, and with the coaching staff returning, and the roster tailored to their vision, things are headed in a good direction for McDavid’s Oilers.

Four more years

There are four more years on McDavid’s contract, but the truth is Edmonton’s next pressure point in keeping the band together is the Draisaitl deal. The big German center has three more seasons on his deal, and his re-signing might signal McDavid’s extension the following year.

If Draisaitl signs elsewhere in the summer of 2025, general manager Ken Holland will have an inkling and it’s possible we see a trade before or during the 2024-25 campaign. In this way, Edmonton management will signal the future without any request from the captain.

The truth is dealing McDavid now is impossible. There isn’t anything close to value available that resembles equal. That could change if the organization is unsure he’ll sign another contract.

That’s motivation for management to get it right, to push closer to the Stanley Cup, possibly winning it, before the summer of 2025.

Rick Nash

Impact players tend to stay put and become legendary figures in the city that drafted them. It is rare for top picks to ask out, and even then it’s long after the organization has shown an inability to contend during the period in question. Rick Nash was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets at No. 1 in 2002 and came right to the NHL. He would play nine seasons for the team, including two general managers (Doug MacLean and Scott Howson) and seven coaches.

Player Years NHL games Playoff Games

9

674

4

7

487

37

The two franchises involved in the early careers of Nash and McDavid were famous for not being able to build a strong team with sustain. News of the Nash trade request went public in February 2012; he played his final game for the Blue Jackets on April 7, 2012, and was dealt to the New York Rangers on July 20, 2012.

There’s no good news for either organization here, these are two careers that deserved far better. It does give us an idea about how much patience hockey players have before asking out.

McDavid in the future

Those who have been asking “how long until he asks out?” correctly identified a wildly unfair situation for the game’s most talented player.

The reality of the situation is that McDavid has never wavered in his loyalty to the Oilers and his teammates.

He has remained true to the long-held hockey tradition that players have the courage of their convictions, take on the challenge presented and give all effort to win the day.

Oilers fans have been injured dozens of times, and winning the 2015 lottery is only the latest, most blatant example.

The team will push again next season and if the Oilers win the 2023, 2024 or 2025 Stanley Cup, another contract for McDavid (and Draisaitl) is possible.

If not, McDavid will sign elsewhere.

McDavid’s NHL career is likely to give him more chances to win the Stanley Cup in his 30s than he will have had in his 20s. No one can claim he gave less than all he had through seven years, and he’ll deliver the same in the last four seasons of his contract.

It’s the job of Oilers management to populate the roster with enough talent for this version of the Oilers to win the Stanley Cup. The team is closer than ever, but there’s much work to do this summer.

(Photo: Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today)

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