The Edmonton Oilers are taking part in like a group that nobody ought to have doubted. But let’s be trustworthy, all through the season, there was loads of doubt.
When the Oilers misplaced 13 of 15 video games between Dec. 3, 2021 and Jan. 20, 2022, it appeared like this was a group that may not even make the playoffs. Sure, it had two of the perfect gamers on the planet in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, however the stoop gave the impression to be proof that the supporting forged wasn’t ok. The temper in Edmonton on the time, just like the climate, was frosty and bitter. As McDavid and Draisaitl sparred with media members over the incessant questioning after each loss, a berth within the Western Conference Finals was only a far-fetched dream.
So how did we get right here?
It’s too straightforward to say that the Oilers have reached Round 3 of the playoffs merely due to McDavid. After the second-round Oilers’ victory, Calgary Flames head coach Daryl Sutter was requested if the perfect group gained the collection. His reply: “The best player won the series.” Yes, McDavid was spectacular (as was Draisaitl), and he in all probability deserves singular credit score for a win or two, however hockey is an excessive amount of of a group sport for one or two gamers to realize something alone.
The actual reply is that the Oilers have obtained contributions from a complete bunch of people who had been doubted at one time or one other throughout the season. Go again to that darkish time in January, when the consensus was that the Oilers wanted, amongst different issues, a brand new coach, a brand new goalie and extra offensive help for his or her two all-world first liners.
General supervisor Ken Holland went out and addressed two of these three issues instantly. First, he fired coach Dave Tippett and changed him with Jay Woodcroft. Holland then signed Evander Kane following the San Jose Sharks’ termination of Kane’s contract, going in opposition to all the pundits who stated to not contact Kane after his rocky tenure in every of Winnipeg, Buffalo and San Jose. As for the goalie, Holland definitely made some inquiries, however he in the end put his religion within the talents, and well being, of then-39, now 40-year-old Mike Smith.
All these selections had been met with criticism. Woodcroft was too inexperienced as a head coach, Kane was going to smash the dressing room and counting on Mike Smith to get well from accidents as a substitute of buying a brand new goalie was certain to bury the group.
It seems Holland was proper on all three of his bets. Woodcroft has proven to have an incredible deal with on his gamers (to not point out the media), Kane has match like a glove and leads the NHL in playoff objectives with 12 in 12 video games and Smith has backstopped his group to eight wins and two collection victories. He has had some jaw-droppingly shaky moments for certain, however you count on slightly of that with Mike Smith. The backside line is that he outplayed former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick in Round 1 and present Vezina Trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom in Round 2 to earn the collection wins. Smith seems to be taking part in higher than his subsequent collection matchup, Darcy Kuemper of the Colorado Avalanche.
Some different strikes that had been criticized within the second have additionally paid off for the Oilers. Zach Hyman was broadly thought-about to be one of many high free brokers obtainable this previous offseason, however most groups had been cautious of the long run that Hyman wished, provided that he was on the cusp of turning 30. So what, stated the Oilers, and promptly signed him to a seven-year, $38.5 million deal. It was paying homage to the eight-year, $41 million deal that they had simply given Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was additionally flirting with 30 years previous. Those offers could not look pretty much as good in a number of years, however in the intervening time, they give the impression of being simply fantastic, thanks very a lot.
Hyman had a profession 12 months statistically throughout the common season and has adopted that up with eight objectives in 12 playoff video games. “The Nuge” has chipped in 11 factors in 12 video games. More importantly, their contributions can’t solely be measured by their objectives and assists. They have for essentially the most half been matched up in opposition to the highest strains of the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames and have saved them very a lot in verify. Hyman particularly has been a noticeable difference-maker, a spark plug who by no means quits on pucks and brings the type of power and energy that rubs off on teammates. He’s a playoff-style performer in each manner.
Then there’s the play of 38-year-old defenseman Duncan Keith. Many thought he was accomplished as a participant after his standout profession with the Chicago Blackhawks and questioned why Edmonton would commerce for him. To elevate extra doubt, Keith began the season with drama over vaccination protocols, and it simply appeared like he can be nothing however bother for the Oilers. Fast ahead six months and people doubts have been erased. With his management, regular defensive play and first-pass proficiency, nobody is questioning the Duncan Keith commerce now.
Think in regards to the different Oilers that we’ve heard doubts about at one time or one other. Jesse Puljujarvi goes to be a high-draft-pick bust. Tyson Barrie can’t play protection in his personal finish. Darnell Nurse isn’t price $9.25 million. Nobody desires Cody Ceci again. Zack Kassian goes to scrub out of the league. Warren Foegele couldn’t make the growth lower in Carolina. Sound acquainted? Almost everybody on the roster appears to have confronted criticism in some unspecified time in the future and now has one thing to show.
It’s by no means straightforward to play in opposition to somebody with a chip on his shoulder, so when a complete group of men have chips, look out. Not that anybody wants further motivation within the playoffs, however you’ll be able to’t underestimate the facility of these emotions in a gaggle of men bonded along with a typical aim. And in fact it doesn’t harm to be led by two generational abilities.
Note to the Colorado Avalanche. Doubt the Oilers at your peril.