The Edmonton Oilers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers by the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, losing 3-2 in Game 4 of the best-of-5 series at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city.
The Oilers were the No. 5 seed in the West after finishing the regular season with a .585 points percentage (37-25-9).
Here is a look at what happened during the 2020 postseason for the Oilers and why things could be better next season:
Potential unrestricted free agents: Riley Sheahan, C; Tyler Ennis, C; Patrick Russell, F; Mike Green, D; Mike Smith, G.
Potential restricted free agents: Andreas Athanasiou, F; Matt Benning, D; Ethan Bear, D.
Potential 2020 NHL Draft picks: 4
What went wrong
Third-period problems: The Oilers and Blackhawks split the first two games, and Edmonton led 3-2 after two periods in Game 3 but allowed two third-period goals on deflected point shots. Game 4 was tied 2-2 after two periods, but Chicago forward Dominik Kubalik scored the only goal of the third period and Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford stopped all of Edmonton’s 20 shots in the period. Defensive coverage issues hurt the Oilers late in those games.
Inexperience in big moment: Having missed the playoffs in 13 of the previous 14 seasons, Edmonton was thin on postseason experience and didn’t muster intensity at enough important times throughout the series. “Our team competed hard,” coach Dave Tippett said. “We’ve got lots of try. We’ve got a lot of growing to do because what we think is competing hard isn’t hard enough to win in the playoffs yet.”
Lack of balance: The top players did their share in the series. Captain Connor McDavid scored nine points (five goals, four assists), center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored eight (two goals, six assists) and center Leon Draisaitl scored six (three goals, three assists). But much like the regular season, it was a struggle to find production from the supporting cast. Edmonton scored 15 goals in four games but had five forwards (Sheahan, Athanasiou, Zack Kassian, Jujhar Khaira and Kailer Yamamoto) who did not score a point despite playing in each game.
Reasons for optimism
Star power: With McDavid and Draisaitl, Edmonton has an enviable starting position to build for the future. McDavid has scored 469 points (162 goals, 307 assists) in 351 regular-season games in his first five NHL seasons, has twice won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in the NHL (2016-17, 2017-18), and won the Hart Trophy as League MVP in 2016-17. With 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games this season, the 23-year-old center finished second in the League scoring race to Draisaitl, who scored 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games and is a finalist for the Hart. The 24-year-old has scored 422 points (168 goals, 254 assists) in 422 games through his first six NHL seasons.
Clear direction: General manager Ken Holland and Tippett made progress during their first season in charge. Edmonton was the fifth seed in the West for the Qualifiers and almost caught the Dallas Stars (.594) for a place in the round-robin portion of the Qualifiers. Now, management is looking as much long-term as short-term for stability and growth. Patience and consistency will be imperative, according to Holland and Tippett, in finding the road to success.
Help on the way: An area of major concern in the past has been depth on defense, but progress is being made. Bear made an impressive full-season debut as a rookie. Several defensemen are each on the cusp of an increased role, including 23-year-old Caleb Jones, 21-year-old Dmitri Samorukov, 20-year-old Evan Bouchard and 19-year-old Philip Broberg.