Oilers and Maple Leafs may end Canada’s Cup drought

Oilers and Maple Leafs may end Canada’s Cup drought

If any of Canada’s seven NHL teams are going to bring the Stanley Cup back north, the smart money should go to either the Edmonton Oilers or Toronto Maple Leafs.

Based on preseason odds, a lot of people tend to agree with that, creating high — and perhaps unreachable — expectations.

The Oilers head into training camp with the second-best odds to win the Cup this season (behind only the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins). The Maple Leafs are not far behind at 14-1, currently the seventh-best odds.

The preseason hype should not be a huge surprise.

Both teams are coming off playoff appearances, with the Oilers coming within one game of the Western Conference Final. Together, Edmonton and Toronto have a collection of the best young talent in the league. Connor McDavid might already be the best player in the league regardless of age. The Maple Leafs have an embarrassment of riches at forward with Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner leading the way.

They are also similar in the sense that while they have great young talent, they also both have flaws that still need work, particularly on their blue lines.

They will also both deal with the pressure that comes with added expectations.

A year ago both teams were the new kids on the block. They were adding excitement to rabid hockey markets that had known nothing but losing for most of the past decade. For the first time in a long while, they were offering real, legitimate hope.

Which team is facing more pressure heading into this season?

The instant reaction to that question is almost always Toronto, simply because that is the nature of the beast in Canada’s largest city, especially when the local team is still trying to end a championship drought that extends back to the Original Six era.

There is an expectation that this Maple Leaf core will eventually end that drought and finally bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto.

But there doesn’t seem to be a belief that will happen this particular season. Maybe it’s because the Maple Leafs play in a conference with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Or because they barely snuck into the playoffs a year ago and did not get out of the first round (though they did give the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals quite a fight).

With the Oilers, there seems to be an expectation that it can happen this season. You do not have to look any further than the preseason 9-1 odds for them to win the Stanley Cup.

The optimism is understandable for all of the reasons mentioned above — having perhaps the best player in hockey, having another emerging superstar in Leon Draisaitl, and already having some postseason success (Game 7 of the second round).

There is nothing wrong with having expectations. For a team like Edmonton that has been a cellar dweller for more than a decade, it is a pleasant change to enter a season when people think they have a chance to do something special.

There is also a dangerous aspect of expectations: too much, too soon.

As good as the Oilers look, and as good a season as they had a year ago, there are still some very significant questions surrounding this team.

The defense, despite its top-10 finish in goals against a year ago, still looks suspect on paper. Oscar Klefbom is an outstanding and extremely underrated player, but is he a No. 1 defender on a Stanley Cup team at this point? If not, who on Edmonton’s roster is?

There is also the question of how good the Oilers are when McDavid is not on the ice.

There was a noticeable difference in their play last season when he was on and off the ice. Of course, any team will be better when its best player is on the ice, but it seemed to go far beyond that. When McDavid wasn’t on the ice a season ago, the Oilers were a mediocre team at times.

One superstar player can make a huge difference as McDavid has shown, but in a sport like hockey where the best player plays only 20-25 minutes a night at most (and for a forward it is probably only 20 minutes … or fewer), there is only so much they can do. There will always be a point where somebody else has to step up and produce.

Do the Oilers have that secondary threat?

For years the Pittsburgh Penguins had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin but went nowhere in the playoffs because they had no quality depth behind them. Once the depth improved, the championship level of play returned.

The Oilers still need that depth, but their biggest roster move this offseason was to trade Jordan Eberle for what seems to be a lesser player.

This is not to suggest that the Oilers are in trouble. They are not. They are a playoff team. They will likely be one of the top teams in the Western Conference. But if the expectation for this season is a Stanley Cup, that might set the bar too high. If they do not reach that bar, it could create the perception that they took a step backward, whether it is fair or not (it would almost certainly not be).

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Source : https://www.fanragsports.com/oilers-and-maple-leafs-may-end-canadas-cup-drought/

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