Oilers rewarded for years of ineptitude with another No. 1 pick

Surely Connor McDavid will switch his jersey number to No. 99 now, right?

No, I suspect that’s the last thing No. 97 would want to.

But the reality is, not since Wayne Gretzky laced them up for the Edmonton Oilers will a player mean so much to that franchise, one which has languished in a decade of mediocrity and has embarrassed the great fans of that passionate hockey city.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it, that the Oilers can be this bad, this dysfunctional for nine seasons and still get this incredible prize?

They drafted first overall in 2010 (Taylor Hall), 2011 (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), 2012 (Nail Yakupov) as well as seventh overall in 2013 (Darnell Nurse) and third overall in June (Leon Draisaitl) before winning a generational jackpot Saturday with the keys to the most promising prospect since Sidney Crosby.

"Maybe they’ll take [Noah] Hanifin instead," quipped, via text message, one team executive not too thrilled that the Oilers won the lottery.

No, if the hockey gods existed at all, they would have been smiling their faces at a team like the Columbus Blue Jackets, one that didn’t stain the reputation of the league like a few others did by deliberately tanking their seasons to get a shot at McDavid.

The Jackets stayed put at No. 8 overall where they’ll get a very good player, but it would have been great poetry had the team that ran one of the best records in the league over the final two months been granted some sort of payoff for that.

Instead, you’ve got an Oilers team that has re-written the definition of ineptitude ever since thrilling their fans with a surprise trip to the 2006 Cup finals. They haven’t made the playoffs since, and are undergoing what, their third rebuild?

"Not fair at all," is how one NHL team executive responded via text Saturday night, his club not in the lottery.

Now, I will say this. General manager Craig MacTavish is a good hockey man and has only been at the helm since April 2013. Most of this mess, particularly the horrible drafting records in other rounds over the past decade-plus, is not on his hands. He made good picks, I think, in both Nurse and Draisaitl in his first two drafts and no question the latest rebuilt just got some rocket fuel.

It’s also worth pointing out that there’s been a new CEO at the helm in Edmonton for just a year in former Hockey Canada boss Bob Nicholson. Believe me when I say that Nicholson understands the problems at hand and his influence should hopefully be important in turning this ship around.

He was nervous as can be in the weeks into into the lottery, knowing just how huge it would be to get lucky and win it.

"Praying helps!" Nicholson texted in excitement after his team won it.

One has to wonder now if the Oilers might trade one of their other young forwards -- maybe Jordan Eberle? -- in an effort to beef up on defense where the team’s greatest need resides.

That’s a decision for another day. Right now it’s pure euphoria in that Oilers front office, deserved or not.

No matter whom you spoke to on this night, very few people around the league were thrilled that the Oilers won the lottery given their decade of misery.

I’m at least happy for their fans, some of the best in the game. They’re about to have a lot of fun.

And there’s something to be said for hockey’s next generational superstar plying his trade in his native country instead of some non-traditional market south of the border. There is at least some solace in that from my end.

Still, overall, the Oilers were about the last team anybody was hoping for on this night.

Deal with it folks, hockey’s savior is Edmonton-bound.