Monday, 20 April 2015

Connor McDavid is apparently not overjoyed at being an Edmonton Oiler.

Connor McDavid's muted joy when the Oilers won the NHL Draft lottery was a good indication of the malaise going on in Edmonton, how that organization is viewed by the rest of the hockey world. Clearly, despite being chipper and upbeat prior to the draft, and indicating that he'd not "be that guy" who balks at being drafted by specific teams and demands a trade, he had a mental, unpublicized wish list, and in that ranking Edmonton was at or very near the bottom.

Sure, the city itself is not all that appealing, relatively.  It's not that Edmonton is without charm, or not a good 'hockey town', but if you're a teenager blessed with boundless hockey talent and opportunities, it's easier to envision maximizing these, and benefiting from them, in other areas, like New York or L.A., and yes even Toronto.

Still, Edmonton isn't condemned to be the NHL's Siberia by its small size and northern locale with attendant cold-weather drawbacks.  Calgary has much the same geographic and climatic issues, but isn't seen as negatively as Edmonton or Winnipeg.  In the NFL, many (Southern-born) players dread being drafted by Green Bay or Minnesota, and then quickly learn to love it there, playing for a great organization and passionate fans.

We also saw how Bobby Ryan, after many rumours of he not being happy at being traded out of balmy So-Cal, and his girlfriend fretfully asking when the news broke whether Ottawa was "north of Detroit", choosing to sign an extension to stay in that environment.  The dénouement remains to be seen, whether Mr. Ryan will play out the full contract term with the Sens, but it's not hopeless for smaller Canadian markets to attract and retain quality players.

Heck, we actually saw, no more than a couple years ago, college free agent Justin Schultz decide to sign a contract with the Edmonton Oilers, rather than any other team, rather than his hometown Canucks, based on the youthful talented squad amassed by Kevin Lowe, and a chance to play on a winning team.  Obviously that hasn't panned out yet, but this instance shows that hockey players may overlook unfavourable details like weather if they're offered a chance to be on a strong organization, on a talented team that can win a Stanley Cup.

So Connor McDavid lands in Edmonton, and struggles to contain a bitter, devastated pout while sitting across from Strombo.  Some have tried to explain the moue away.  Horrid Sportsnet's abysmal Nick Kypreos downplayed the reaction, saying it was due to "emotion".  Well, yeah, genius, no one's arguing the opposite, the whole entire issue is that he was emotional at the news, and not in the good way.  If you discount the emotion, then there's no story, but again, you're missing the point.

Michael Farber made the observation that of all the destinations he was slated for, Edmonton was the worst in terms of hockey, in terms of the attendant pressure, since the comparisons to Wayne Gretzky will be unavoidable.  Whether a teenager who never saw Wayne play will feel that pressure is arguable, it won't be self-generated probably, but it may come from all the fans who remember the days of glory from back in the eighties.

Aaron Ward made a different point, that the Oilers aren't a great 'fit' in terms of what he brings, contrary to what an Aaron Ekblad would have for example, or a Seth Jones.  There is already a good centre there in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, one who is viewed as a #1 centre, if somewhat more slender than your prototypical Joe Thornton or Ryan Getzlaf.  The Oilers also drafted centre Leon Draisaitl third overall last June, so they weren't necessarily crying out for another centre.

Now, any team will gladly take on Connor McDavid no matter who they already have on their rolls, they'll make any adjustments necessary, but the natural fit isn't quite there, as it would have been in Toronto or Arizona, for example, teams with a great big chasm in the middle of their top line.

Maybe that's what Connor reacted to, not just the bitter January cold, but the fact that he spent the last few months envisioning wearing Leaf blue and playing in his hometown, or in sunny Arizona playing next to Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, but couldn't picture himself in the Oilers lineup.

In any case, I was quite ready to pile on the NHL and come up with a conspiracy theory of how the lottery was ginned up Patrick Ewing-style to gift the generational talent to a major media market, or a struggling franchise.  Instead, Gary Bettman perfidiously fixed it so that I couldn't attack his credibility and honesty any further.

Which is a really crooked way to operate Gary.

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