Will 2017-18 NHL season see more stars align for Edmonton Oilers?
'If you’re a free agent, I think it would be hard not to look in Edmonton,' says Connor McDavid
Was Milan Lucic the gate-crasher?
Was the big guy the one who kicked down the door in Edmonton, then helped mould the Oilers into a playoff contender in a hockey-crazy northern city where other free agents may now be a little more eager to sign?
His teammates and head coach certainly appear to think so.
"I think you're going to be seeing more unrestricted free agents sign here," forward Patrick Maroon said Friday as players cleaned out their lockers at Rogers Place and got ready to head out for the summer.
"With Connor and Leon here ... I mean, those are probably the best one-two punches in the NHL right now, besides Crosby and Malkin," said Maroon, who scored a career-high 27 goals this season, mostly playing on a line with the Oilers 20-year-old superstar captain.
Veteran forward Mark Letestu, who signed with the Oilers as a free agent two season ago, agreed with the assessment.
"Players want to play for winners," said Letestu, who toiled for two-plus seasons in Pittsburgh with a couple of stars named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"If they see Edmonton as a clear path to winning a Stanley Cup, people will come here, for sure."
Remember Chris Pronger? The Oilers signed the big defenceman to a five-year, $31-million contract in 2005. He helped the team traverse a path to the Cup final in the spring of 2006, then promptly announced he wanted out of Edmonton ASAP.
That was then. This is now.
Asked to reflect on his personal season, Connor McDavid had almost nothing to say.
"It doesn't really matter now, the games are over. I don't really know what to say about that."
But the man who won the NHL scoring title in his first full season in the league also thinks his team may now be a go-to place for players looking for success.
"If you're a free agent, I think it would be hard not to look in Edmonton," said McDavid.
"I think we're well on our way to being a spot where many players want to play," he said.
The players and their coach also agree that expectations for next season will be higher.
"We had a good run this year," said McLellan, who met individually with many of his players on Friday. "But this should become what the standard is. That's our goal, to make this type of year the standard, and then push it from there."
Letestu said the goal for next season is not simply to hit repeat.
"The bar's gone higher now," he said. "The expectations have gone up. We're not expecting to sneak into the playoffs. We're going after division titles. The Stanley Cup is the goal here. It's no longer a hope, it's the goal."
Maroon summed it up in one line.
"Everyone knows the Edmonton Oilers are no joke anymore."
'It's not in my hands'
There was, of course, much talk about the season that ended Wednesday with a 2-1 loss against the Anaheim Ducks.
Surrounded by a gaggle of reporters, forward Jordan Eberle was asked to assess his 2016-17 season. He scored 20 goals in the regular season, his lowest full-season total since his rookie year, and followed that up with no goals in 13 playoff games.
"The chances were there," Eberle said of his season. "I watched a lot of video this year, and they were there. You've just got to finish and put the puck in the net.
Asked about his future, Eberle made it clear he wants to be an Oiler next season.
"It's not in my hands," he said.
McDavid didn't want to talk about the season just passed.
But his coach had plenty to say about the league's youngest captain.
First McLellan listed some McDavid highlights, including the fact that he led the NHL in scoring and helped lift the franchise out of an 11-year playoff black hole.
"When you think of it that way, as a 20 year old, basically playing first full year in the national league, I think that's remarkable," McLellan said.
Both coach and captain saved some of the credit for the Orange Crush that filled the city's new arena every night, including for playoff games when the team was thousands of kilometres away.
"I think the fans are more important to us than we are to them," McLellan said. "They've proven that for 10 years."
To which the captain added. "After 10 years of being a bad hockey team and still having the fan base that we do, I think all the players really appreciate that."
Questioned about his seeming reluctance at times to shoot the puck more often, McDavid allowed he has heard the criticism, if that's what it can be called.
"I think I know what I'm doing out there," he said with a grin. "I have a pretty good idea at least. I do understand that people have that image of me. And I should shoot more, I think. But at the same time, I'm always trying to make the right play out there."
Let's leave the last word to Letestu.
He was asked about Leon Drausaitl, the team's No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, who at 21 years of age notched 77 points in the regular season and added 16 more in 13 playoff games.
"He wants to be the best," Letestu said. "He wants to be better than Connor."
Something for Oilers fans, and opponents, to ponder over the summer.