The Athletic rank NHL teams by pressure to win the Stanley Cup

All 16 playoff teams are dealing with a certain amount of scrutiny, but it's unsurprising that the Edmonton Oilers are under more pressure than most.
Boston Bruins v Edmonton Oilers
Boston Bruins v Edmonton Oilers / Codie McLachlan/GettyImages

It's that time of the year, when the intensity is ramped up for the NHL playoffs. As exciting as this is, it's also a period which can induce feelings of stress, anxiety and panic for fans and even the players, including anyone associated with the Edmonton Oilers.

In this respect, The Athletic have released their annual pressure rankings for how much scrutiny each team is under, to win the Stanley Cup. The criteria includes expectations, droughts, ticking clock and special circumstances.

So, for example, in this year's edition Sam McIndoe has ranked the Washington Capitals as under the least pressure at 16. This makes sense, when considering factors such as them not being expected to even make the playoffs, along with winning the Stanley Cup in 2017-18.

Pressure on the Oilers and the rest of Canada

It might be coincidental or not, given how passionate and ferocious the fan bases can be, but this year McIndoe has all four Canadian teams in the playoffs ranked in the top eight for most pressure. Further, three of those teams take up the top three spots.

The Vancouver Canucks are ranked eighth, while the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs are in third and second place respectively. This means the Oilers take up the top spot, which in truth isn't really much of a surprise, if at all.

The expectations and pressure on the Oilers have been there since before the 2023-24 campaign even started. For example, ESPN's Greg Wyshynski predicted during the preseason that they would win the Stanley Cup.

Now Wyshynski was somewhat self-deprecating, in acknowledging he also predicted the Oilers to win the Stanley Cup last season, which of course did not come to fruition. However, even the fact he picked them in 2022-23 as well, tells you how much pressure there is on the organisation to reach the Holy Grail.

McDavid's quest for greatness

This is now Connor McDavid's ninth season in the NHL and it's almost criminal that a player of his generational talent has yet to win the game's ultimate prize. No matter how talented he is, he needs help, and that's on the organisation for not doing a better job of surrounding him with a good enough roster.

Yes we appreciate that factors such as the salary cap, players not living up to their ability, injuries and just pure luck also come into play. However, you still need to do a better job of taking advantage of having McDavid, along with Leon Draisiatl, who is a top five-10 player himself.

Ultimately, for all McDavid has achieved in Edmonton -- and it's a lot -- it still isn't enough. Fair or not, he really needs to win at least one Stanley Cup in his career.

This season couldn't have started much worse for the Oilers. They had their worst ever record in team history through 12 games, which led to the firing of the unfortunate Jay Woodcroft.

However, the decision to bring in Kris Knoblauch has proved to be a masterstroke, with the Oilers returning to their position of one of the best teams in the NHL, helped by a near record-breaking 16 game winning streak.

The pressure of expectation returns

As a result, expectations have risen again to their previous levels, which in turn means increased pressure. There is also the reasonable claim that this is the best roster of the McDavid and Draisaitl era - there may never be a better opportunity for the Oilers to win it all with this current nucleus.

As McIndoe notes, the Oilers are also in a favourable position, at least in respect of their early round opponents. While the Kings should not be underestimated, Knoblauch's team are still favoured to advance past them for the third consecutive postseason.

Next up, the Oilers will face either the Canucks or Nashville Predators. As we wrote on Tuesday, Thatcher Demko's injury has potentially opened the door in the quest to make just the second Western Conference Finals appearance since McDavid arrived in the NHL.

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McIndoe ends his article with these almost ominous words: ' This is Year 9 of McDavid’s spectacular career. It has to happen sometime. If it ever will.' Overall, the pressure on the Oilers is justified; they do have the team to finally win a first Stanley Cup since 1990, but whether they actually do remains to be seen.

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