A look at Oilers previous slow starts in the McDavid era

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 19: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on October 19, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 19: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on October 19, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /
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With the Oilers going just 2-5-1 to begin the season, a look back at previous slow starts since Connor McDavid was drafted offers both hope and concern.

Fans are in a state of shock following the Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. The team is playing nowhere close to their talent level, looking nothing like the preseason predictions of genuine Stanley Cup contenders.

Entering Friday’s slate of games the Oilers are just 2-6-1, which is their worst start in the Connor McDavid era. They are tied for the second-fewest points in the NHL and have their league’s third-worst average goals allowed.

It seems ludicrous that the team can be playing so poorly with hockey’s best player on the roster. And yes, this is even when taking into account McDavid missed two games through injury.

One of the narratives which has been maintained since the beginning to the 2023-24 campaign, is that it’s still early. In addition, the Oilers are notorious for their slow starts.

Just last season alone, the Oilers began with a decidedly average 10-10-0 record. However, they then recovered and went on to have their first 50-win season since 1986-87.

This does offer hope, although with every passing game the concern is only growing; something just doesn’t seem right about this team. Regardless, here’s a look back through previous seasons of the McDavid era, to see what happened when the Oilers similarly endured slow starts:

2015-16

Hopes were high for the Oilers, as this represented the first season of the McDavid era. The belief was he would help turn the team around and end a playoff drought extending back nine years.

The Oilers started the 2015-16 campaign at effectively the same pace as this season’s team, with a 3-6-0 record through the first nine games. However, the team started to gel together, and helped by a six-game winning streak found themselves at 14-15-2 midway through December.

Unfortunately for the fans, the Oilers couldn’t keep the momentum going. It didn’t help that McDavid — who enjoyed a fine rookie season overall — missed 37 games after fracturing his left clavicle in early November.

Come season’s end, the Oilers had a regular season of 31-43-8. They finished seventh in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference and missed out on the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year.

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2017-18

The Oilers actually entered the 2017-18 campaign with the second-best odds to win the Stanley Cup. They had finally ended their playoff drought the season before, and just barely lost in the second round to the Anaheim Ducks.

This season is of (slightly) more significance and relevance in that like the current Oilers team, they struggled early despite being among the favourites, with a 3-5-1 record through nine games. Unfortunately for the fans, it was a start from which the team could not recover.

On an individual level, McDavid rose to the occasion with his best season yet with a then career-high 108 points, on the way to his second Art Ross Trophy and second Ted Lindsay Award. As a collective though, the team couldn’t handle the burden and pressure of being labelled contenders to go all the way.

By the end of the season, the Oilers had a 36-40-6 record, to finish sixth in the Pacific Division and 12th in the Western Conference as a whole. As a result, they missed the playoffs for the 11th time in 12 years.

2020-21

This will forever be remembered as the season of the Canadian division. Due to the travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, the Oilers would remain North of the border and play their fellow six Canadian-based rivals.

As with 2015-16, the Oilers began the season with a 3-6-0 record through nine games. However, the team would ultimately get going, thanks in large part to a phenomenal season by their captain.

McDavid took his game to another level, as he surpassed 100 points despite the shortened regular season of 56 games. As a result, he swept the board with his second Hart Memorial Trophy, third Art Ross trophy and third Ted Lindsay award.

As for the Oilers, they finished second in the North Division with a record of 35-19-2. Although their venture into the playoffs left a bitter taste in the mouth, as they were swept in the first round by the Winnipeg Jets.

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Overall, no matter how much the team is renowned for beginning seasons inconsistently and then getting going, they still need to show a greater sense of urgency than they have done thus far. Otherwise, this campaign will go the same way as two of the three previous times the Oilers started a season this slowly during the McDavid era.