'Cup or bust:' Oilers look to next season after earlier than expected playoff exit
EDMONTON — After taking a step back in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, Edmonton superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl say it's "Cup or bust" for the Oilers going forward.
The Oilers made it to the Western Conference final in 2002 before being defeated by the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche. This year, Edmonton was knocked out in the second round, losing to the Vegas Golden Knights despite holding leads in all six games of the series.
While the disappointment was clear as the Oilers talked to the media Tuesday as they cleaned out their lockers, so was the optimism that this team is very much on the cusp of a Cup.
“It’s Cup or bust for this group,” said McDavid, the Oilers' captain. “With where everyone is at in their career, that is the expectation.”
“He said it, we are all here to win,” added Draisaitl. “When you don’t, it is disappointing, but we will talk about it within our group and we have to use it in a positive way and come back next season and make the changes we need to do. It is Cup or bust.”
Edmonton forward Evander Kane, who was reportedly dealing with a hand injury in the playoffs, said the team joins the city's fans in being down.
“Everybody in that room feels that we should have got the job done this year," he said. “We understand that we have a window of opportunity as a group to do something special."
Although they bowed out a round earlier, McDavid believes the team is stronger now than it was a year ago.
“Maybe it doesn’t feel like it today, but I think there has been progress. I think we’re a better team than we were last year,” McDavid said. “When you look at the group here, everyone is signed on for the next number of years. Everyone is in the prime of their career. I think we have the opportunity to knock on the door as much as we want. Ultimately it is going to be up to us to put it all together.”
Forward Zach Hyman agreed there are positives to take away.
“Especially in the second half, I think we had the best record in the league. We finished off with 14 wins out of our last 15 and the only one we lost was in overtime.
"We are returning the majority of our core. There is an opportunity to win. It didn’t matter if we had lost in the third round or the finals, it would have been the same feeling, just because with this team, either we are going to win, or we are going to feel like this."
Defender Mattias Ekholm, who made a noticeable impact coming in near the trade deadline in a deal with Nashville, said tweaks can be made to make the team better, but the Oilers are already blessed with talent.
“What this team has, you can’t just go out and find it,” he said. “A good structure defensively, that is something you work on and get better on as a team. But finding the best two players in the world, you don’t just go around the corner and find them. We have them. This is as great an opportunity for a team as I have ever been (on).”
McDavid and Draisaitl, who finished the NHL season first and second respectively in scoring, said they remain committed to winning together in Edmonton.
“Obviously, Leo and I have been here our whole careers and been through some bad years and some disappointments, another disappointment this year," McDavid said. "But at the same time I look at the culture we have built here and where the organization sits today and I take a lot of pride in it.
"I think our core here has really built something here, really from scratch, from the ground up. We take a lot of pride in that. And to see it through with the guys who I have been with the whole time like Leo and (defenceman Darnell Nurse) and (forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), that is what it is all about.”
Draisaitl was on the same page.
“We want to win here. There is nowhere else we want to win." he said. "Expectations are there and you have to deal with them your own way at times. We’re all here to win and want the same things."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2023.
Shane Jones, The Canadian Press