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Connor McDavid Is Fun To Think About But The Oilers Just Aren't Bad Enough

It would be fun but it's not very likely.

Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

By all accounts Connor McDavid is a very good hockey player, the kind of player that any NHL team would be happy to select in the upcoming entry draft. Read any scouting report and it becomes instantly clear that almost everyone in the hockey world thinks he’s a near lock to be a superstar in the NHL, probably sooner than later. And because the Oilers are currently just a single point removed from last place, talk of a future with McDavid playing in an orange and blue uniform has intensified of late. I can’t deny that it’s a nice thing to think about, and because of the draft lottery anything is possible, but unfortunately the Oilers just aren’t bad enough to have a real shot at making it happen.

The biggest reason for this is the changes to the draft lottery rules, changes almost certainly intended to prevent a tank battle for McDavid. Since the Oilers, sadly, have a long draft lottery history, you may recall that the last place team used to have a 48.3% chance of winning the lottery, that’s been reduced to 20% now. And if you can’t get to last your chances are reduced to 13.5%, 11.5% 9.5% and 8.5% as you move up the standings. Tanking just doesn’t have the same payoff that it used to, and for what it’s worth, that’s a good thing for fans across the league.

But if the Oilers are practically dead last right now, why can’t they finish dead 56 games from now? For starters, they’re just not as bad as their record would suggest. They’re bad, very bad, but not this bad. Right now they’re on pace for 53 points this season, but a lot of that has to do with some numbers that are going to regress at some point. The Oilers’ FF% is 49.6% (20th) and their CF% is 50.6% (18th) but the goals haven’t been there for this team yet; GF% is second last league wide at 39.8%. Those numbers should be much closer than that. Perhaps the shot metrics don’t accurately reflect this team’s true skill level, but I’d be willing to bet that the goals don’t either. The truth likely rests somewhere in between, and in between is a lot better than the team we’re watching right now.

PDO tells us pretty much the same thing: that this team has, for whatever reason, had a lot of bad luck this season. And despite what I tell myself when I’m playing craps, runs of luck don’t last forever. Much like the shot metrics above, the truth about the Oilers could easily be somewhere between the last two seasons, I wouldn’t suggest that the Oilers should be expected to regress to 100% this season, but they should be expected to improve.

2014/15 2013/14
SH% 6.69% (26th) 7.69% (11th)
SV% 90.08% (30th) 92.53% (14th)
PDO 96.8% (30th) 100.6% (12th)

I know what the results have been but Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth are not an ECHL level goaltending tandem, and there is absolutely no reason to think that their numbers are not going to improve. With nothing more than average goaltending this team is four wins better right now, in which case we’re not even having a conversation about McDavid. The past is done, nothing can change that, but as we look ahead we should expect performances from the goalies – and really the whole team – that reflect their true skill level, not what we’ve seen this season.

For fun though, let’s say that I am totally wrong and that the team’s number don’t improve at all. Are the Oilers worse than Buffalo? No, nobody is worse that Buffalo. Sure they’ve won six of their last seven games, but they’ve done it with an unbelievable amount of luck. The graph below is the Sabres five game rolling PDO. To say that they’ve been lucky of late would be putting it nicely, and even with 12 points in seven games they’re still just four points ahead of 30th. The Sabres are a very bad hockey team, they were built to be a very bad hockey team, and the Oilers won’t be able to compete with them on that front.

The only hope that the Oilers have of finishing behind Buffalo would be to move out almost everything of value. Two of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle would likely have to be moved out in a trade to make it happen, and that would only give the Oilers a one-in-five shot at actually drafting McDavid. I don’t have a particularly high opinion of Oilers management but that’s not a risk they’re going to take because it would potentially kill the franchise. The season ticket holders have put up with a lot, more than they perhaps should have, but that would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The risk simply is not worth the reward.

The Oilers might well end up with McDavid, but like they did with Nail Yakupov, they’ll have to come from somewhere other than 30th place to do it.

***All stats from***