The Edmonton Oilers made the postseason for the first time in a decade last season on the backs of Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid and Vezina finalist Cam Talbot. They seemed poised for a Stanley Cup run this season, and many more in the years to come.
McDavid's been his stellar self this season, but Talbot it's in the midst of his worst season, after starting 73 games last year. This, simply, is not the team that eliminated the Sharks in April.
Given their last two summers, though, their fall has been entirely predictable.
In the last two offseasons, the Oilers sacrificed skill for sandpaper. Out went former first round picks Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Nail Yakupov, and in came Adam Larsson, Milan Lucic, Kris Russell, and Ryan Strome.
Hall (11) and Eberle and (13) would be fourth and first, respectively, on Edmonton in goal-scoring this year, while Yakupov has more than, or as many goals as all but five Oilers.
Those moves have left Edmonton's depth decimated, forcing them to rely on McDavid, whose scored or assisted on about 38 percent of their goals this season. With McDavid on the ice during five-on-five play, the Oilers have scored 55.77 percent of the goals, according to Corsica Hockey.
With him off of it, that drops to 46.25 percent.
After years in the league's basement, the pressure to get rid of the Oilers' "underachieving" top picks was strong, especially from the Edmonton media. In the pursuit of being tough to play against, though, they've gotten worse.
Under Todd McLellan, they're one of the league's best possession teams, but they don't have nearly enough skill outside of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Without a Vezina-level performance from a likely exhausted Talbot, they don't have the defense necessary to mitigate his down year, despite trading away a top winger (Hall) to shore up the blueline.
McDavid's in the third and final year of his rookie deal, meaning Edmonton's window to surround him with high-end, highly-paid skill players was limited. The Oilers have essentially wasted one of the best team-building opportunities in recent memory, and sit eight points out of a playoff spot as of this writing.
That's left open a window of opportunity for the Sharks, as well as the rest of the division, this season and potentially beyond. McDavid will make $12.5 million against the salary cap next season, and the Oilers already have at least $52 million in salary commitments each of the next three seasons.
A postseason run through the Pacific Division looks far less daunting without the game's best player involved. Now, it's up to the Sharks to take advantage.