Puck Lists: 7 people to thank for the Oilers' playoff return

PUCK LISTS are lists of hockey things. They run every Thursday on Puck Daddy.

Have you heard? Have you heard the Oilers are in the playoffs?

Did anyone mention this to you in the last few days?

I don’t know if you heard about it, but the Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs. In the NHL. The NHL’s playoffs. The Oilers will be in it.

Not sure if you saw that in the news.

And to David Staples’ point about how people will say it’s because they’re a one-man team, well, that’s obviously not the case. It’s the case that people will say that, but those people are wrong, and that Staples seems awfully invested in shouting down fanboy arguments which are at least based in reality about a team he is paid to cover. But there was a lot that went into getting this particular club into the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

It was a lot more than just nice little Connor McDavid who guided this team there, and won’t it be so good to think about all those various contributions? Here are some people worth thanking

8 – Taylor Hall

Just give him this one, okay? Please? He could really use the win here.

7 – Craig MacTavish

Craig MacTavish was the GM at the draft lottery when they found out they would get Connor McDavid, let’s not forget. He was also the GM who helped put together much of the team as it’s currently constituted.

While I’m not going to give him credit for the 2013 draft since he wasn’t the GM or even with the organization for most of that season, you have to say that the Draisaitl pick at No. 3 is working out pretty good. MacTavish also cut a lot of dead weight from the roster around the 2014 deadline to acquire plenty of picks.

Did that big sell-off help to fuel the race to the bottom that led to McDavid? Who’s to say, folks?

6 – Peter Chiarelli

This is the guy who drafted McDavid, but a small child — who doesn’t even have to be particularly smart — could have done that.

Where Chiarelli really made moves was on the trade market. Cam Talbot, anyone? Patrick Maroon? Adam Larsson? Okay, I’m kidding about that last one.

That’s a lot of solid swaps (and Larsson!), plus he signed Andrej Sekera and a few other useful role players in the past year or two (and Kris Russell!) to really help flesh out the team.

As with any GM, there were missteps (such as the Hall trade, the Reinhart trade, and the Lucic contract) but if his job is to get this team to take a step or two forward, tough to say he hasn’t accomplished that. The Oilers of 2016-17 are better and deeper than they were when he took over. Part of that is all the high picks, sure, but also Chiarelli’s done some really good shading around the edges.

5 – Kevin Lowe

Folks I gotta tell ya: The Oilers wouldn’t be where they are today if Lowe weren’t so bad at running a hockey team for so long. Sure, you had to sit through years and years and years and years of crap to get there, much of it fueled by that one Cup Final appearance that sent everything off the rails, but here you are.

How many of those lottery picks do the Oilers snag without Steve Tambellini as GM as GM for five years? How many do you get without Lowe setting the table with a horrible draft record over eight? I mean, he was terrible at his job but kept failing up because of the cronyism in that city and organization, but without him you don’t lay the foundation for McDavid. Pretty simple.

4 – Leon Draisaitl

Now that we’re actually talking about players making a big difference, it’s worth noting that Draisaitl is up to 71 points in 76 games. And yeah, he plays plenty with McDavid, so it’s understandable to say, “Okay, come on here,” but watch an Oilers game and you see what he does what Lucic and a few other Oilers couldn’t: Actually helps the best player in the world play better.

McDavid’s game is predicated on speed and explosiveness and having the puck on his stick. Draisaitl allows him to succeed with that approach to an extent well beyond reasonable expectations.

It really isn’t an issue of “It’s hard to play with elite talent like that” with Crosby, because he plays such an NHL-ish style that he can get guys like Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary, perfectly alright players, to be next-level. Crosby is the perfect hockey player for the modern NHL.

But McDavid’s game is hard to work with because it’s not like anyone else’s in league history. The way he approaches the game is unique and you have to be able to keep up at a million miles an hour. In a decade, when McDavid is almost 30, plenty of kids will be playing like that because they’ll be the ones who grew up watching McDavid and improving on his approach in much the same way McDavid did with Crosby. But right now, there’s one guy who plays like McDavid because only one player can do it.

To be able to keep up with that next-gen approach, well, it’s incredibly valuable.

3 – Todd McLellan

McLellan was one of the low-key best coaches in the league when he paid the price for the Sharks’ playoff collapse against the Kings, and now that he has actual talent to work with throughout the lineup, look at that, the Oilers are good.

I had a lot more time for the one-man-team arguments in November and December, but as this season has gone along, the Oilers have gotten much better with McDavid off. That’s because McLellan has always been a good coach and it just got a little hidden with the whole “The Oilers Are Terrible” thing he had to deal with for that first season.

Quite frankly, he maybe wouldn’t have had to deal with that if McDavid had stayed healthy last year. A full year of this kid will do wonders.

2 – Cam Talbot

Is Talbot getting ground into dust by McLellan’s overuse of him? Sure he is. But you gotta say he’s delivered. That’s a .920 save percentage in 68 games. Saved the Oilers about 14 goals versus what an average goaltender would have.

That’s about five points in the standings. Without Talbot this team probably isn’t in the playoff conversation.

1 – Connor McDavid

Just kidding, it’s Taylor Hall again. We love you Taylor!

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.


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