Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

By this time tomorrow, fans of the Edmonton Oilers might be breathing a huge sigh of relief. If so, this article may have been premature. That said, if it is discovered that Connor McDavid’s injury is anything serious, the Edmonton Oilers have a huge problem. Some are arguing that a long-term McDavid injury could be a blessing in disguise — suggesting it will force others to step up and come together as a team, or LTIR cap space becomes available — but there’s no replacing the greatest player on the planet. That said, McDavid out shouldn’t change the team’s desire to go for it this season and they are not, all of a sudden, a lottery club.

There are a few things the Oilers can do if it is learned that whatever “muscle issue” that forced McDavid to sit the last few shifts of the third period against the Winnipeg Jets (and miss overtime) is serious.

Run Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins As Top Two Centers

The easiest move is to move Leon Draisaitl into the top-line center spot and bring Ryan Nugent-Hopkins up to the second line role. With Ryan McLeod on your third line, the depth on the roster and top nine is not nearly what it was, but it’s not terrible. Yes, both Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins will see a reduction in points as a result of McDavid not being on the ice, but both Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins are good players. Both can handle the responsibility of driving their own lines and both will likely step up.

Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This will be Draisaitl’s team in the absence of McDavid. He’s already elite, but now the rest of the world can learn how elite without the aura of McDavid overshadowing how good he is.

You can mix and match wingers in the hopes that you find the right mix, but Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Connor Brown, Warren Foegle, and Dylan Holloway are not terrible options. The Oilers should then go out and get an inexpensive option to add to that mix.

Try to Sign Patrick Kane or Phil Kessel

Patrick Kane is about ready to make his free agency decision. There are a number of contenders for his services, including the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, and Dallas Stars. If McDavid is out, the Oilers just got a very good reason to get back into the Kane market and make a pitch for the right-winger.

Edmonton is going to need a bit more firepower in their top six to make up for a serious loss at center. While Kane won’t be incredibly cheap, the Oilers can add him at a price higher than most teams can afford and deal with dumping a contract later, when McDavid is ready to come off of LTIR. If for some reason it’s really bad, the hope is that McDavid is ready for the playoffs. When he returns, his cap hit won’t count.

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Phil Kessel is also looking for an opportunity. He’s going to be cheap and while he’s not what he once was, he can play a top-nine role and still knows how to score. Bring him in to help Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins work with a winger who can finish. He shouldn’t cost more than $1 million, so the cap situation won’t be problematic down the line.

Some will argue that veterans are already not working for this roster. There’s some truth to that. If the better fix is someone younger, go for it. The point here is that another winger might be needed.

Look for a Fourth-Line Center

Moving Nugent-Hopkins up takes him off the wing and that means moving other pieces around. The Oilers didn’t really address their need for a fourth-line center in the off-season, so it’s imperative they do so now. Even if McDavid’s injury is short-term, this is still an area of concern.

Related: Oilers Insider Labels Evan Bouchard a “Tire Fire”

Sam Gagner isn’t the guy (at least not yet), so finding that player on the market or via trade is key for Edmonton. If the Oilers can make a move for a guy like Shane Pinto, that would be ideal. Ottawa still wants to sign him, but the longer things drag out there, the more likely he’s dealt.

Give Dylan Holloway His Shot

Many were surprised Dylan Holloway was demoted to the fourth line against the Jets. The argument by optimists was that in an 11-7 deployment, he gets a rotation with Draisaitl or McDavid. Now is the time to put him in the top six and let him shine.

He’s been better than Kane and Brown, and he’s one of the few players keeping up with the pace of play and creating scoring chances — Holloway is producing 9.4 shots per 60 (at five-on-five). Quit messing around with this youngster and give him a shot to be the prospect the Oilers were hoping he would be prior to a rash of injuries that set him back.

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