Toronto sports commentators predict doom for Connor McDavid in Edmonton. Huh!?

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It would be a sad thing indeed if the Oilers continue to suck and replicate what we’ve seen in Toronto since 1967

The city of Toronto has many great people, many most excellent fans of their beloved Maple Leafs, and a number of outstanding sports writers as well.

In the Golden Age of sportswriting there were Toronto wordsmiths and characters aplenty at newspapers and on TV such as Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes, Scott Young and Allen Abel.

These days, when information is king, TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman set the standard for credible and sober reporting. They are equal parts well informed, driven, conscientious and meticulous.

There’s also another kind of Toronto sportswriter. In Edmonton, they rarely come to our attention, save when they comment on one of our favourite Edmonton Oilers captains of all-time. Not Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier, but Connor McDavid.

If this group of Toronto commentators isn’t implying they can read Connor McDavid’s mind and that they know he wants out of Edmonton, they are ordering him around and pronouncing it will be best for him, the National Hockey League and the world as we know it for McDavid to leave Edmonton.

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These writers and commentators are, of course, a great source of delight and entertainment for us all, and just now we find them in the finest of form.

Their latest eruption comes on the occasion of the Winnipeg Jets sweeping the Edmonton Oilers out of the playoffs, a series where each game was decided by one or two bounces, and where McDavid was essentially interfered into submission by Jets players empowered by an NHL that refuses to consistently call penalties on mediocrities mauling superstars.

First, we have Breakfast Television host Sid Seixeiro of Toronto, who used to be on the Toronto Sports Network, saying: “Connor McDavid’s not going to put up with this much longer.”

Then there’s the imperious Cathal Kelly of Toronto’s national newspaper, the Globe & Mail, pushing McDavid to do his bidding:  “If McDavid wants out of Edmonton, it’s on him to make that happen. He should do that. He’d be doing everyone involved a favour.”

And if McDavid should reject the command of The Cathal? It will apparently be McDavid’s doom: “As long as they have the best player in the known galaxy, the Oilers can continue being operatic failures. People will still pay to see him play. Maybe becoming the new Marcel Dionne and making eight figures is enough for McDavid. Let’s hope so. Because that’s where he’s headed.”

Is a history lesson is perhaps in order?

Toronto hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. From 2005 to 2016, it had its own ghastly Decade of Darkness+, out of the playoffs ten out of 11 seasons, this record of hideous ineptitude ending only with the good fortune of winning the 2016 draft lottery and selecting Auston Matthews. Toronto is on the verge of winning its first playoff series in the Matthews Era, which is exactly how many series the Oilers have won in the McDavid Era.

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Toronto Maple Leafs record, 1967 to 2020
Toronto Maple Leafs record, 1967 to 2020

Of course, this curious groups of Toronto commentators isn’t just giving us a chuckle now, they’ve been doing it for many years, since Edmonton won the draft lottery in 2015 to select McDavid, kicking off an astonishing episode of mass extrasensory perception in Eastern Canada. A number of men reported they could read Connor McDavid’s facial expressions and ascertain his innermost thoughts, namely that McDavid was unhappy with the result.

Toronto Sun sportswriter Steve Simmons said: “There is a reason that he looked unhappy, it’s because he was unhappy. He did the stiff upper lip, ‘I’m not going to say anything and I’m not going to come out and say what’s on my mind.’ This isn’t where Connor McDavid wanted to be drafted to.”

And long-time Montreal sportswriter Michael Farber added: “He just looked so unhappy, he couldn’t even fake being happy about the Oilers.”

When they weren’t claiming to read McDavid’s mind, they were telling us it was a bad thing for McDavid to come to Edmonton.

The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur said, “This franchise is now being rewarded for the old-fashioned kind of tanking — the incompetence sort of tanking.”

And Farber: “It’s not a good thing for the NHL because Edmonton on a global scale remains a smaller Canadian market outside the mainstream of the league.”

Jeff Blair, a sports radio host in Toronto and Sportsnet columnist, came up with an immodest proposal that the NHL should have rigged the draft lottery to gift Connor McDavid to the Maple Leafs.

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Toronto is rich hockey market, it deserves McDavid, Blair offered up: “The Maple Leafs have bankrolled the NHL for a long time. … It would have been nice to get a McBone thrown in their direction, you know? Professional sports is about entertainment and marketing and money and TV and such. Fairness sometimes sucks. Connor McDavid should be a Maple Leaf, and everyone knows it – including McDavid himself.”

Just before McDavid signed a new contract in 2017, the fun continued. This from Simmons of the Sun, him heading in a new direction with a new argument, that Edmonton’s money was never going to make McDavid happy, the same narrative that The Cathal has now picked up on: “Connor McDavid will sign a contract soon that will pay more than $100 million, which will make him the highest paid player in hockey history. But when he’s finished, and he’s set for his life and on his own island, what will matter more? The money or the number of Stanley Cup rings he has won…,” Simmons said. “Being set for life is wonderful: But can you place a price on winning, or in this case, not winning. It’s something the McDavid team needs to think one more time before coming to terms for the best years of McDavid’s career.”

In 2019, just before the Oilers hired Ken Holland, Simmons was back at it, with some advice for McDavid. “Challenging authority doesn’t come naturally to Connor McDavid — it’s just not his way — but if I was him I would request a meeting with the eventual general manager of the Edmonton Oilers to set a few things straight right away. I would put the GM on the clock from the first time they first met and basically say if there’s not a winning team around here in a year — or a plan that looks like it could lead to winning — then plan on moving me elsewhere. McDavid won’t say anything like that of course. Not right now. Certainly not now. But around him there is all kinds of wonder and worry about how long he will put up with losing and how all this pressure and difficulty is affecting his enjoyment of the game.”

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This time there was something to the smoke coming from Toronto, as the credible Friedman, who is no Edmonton basher, also weighed in with words of warning for any new Edmonton Oilers GM: “If I’m the Oilers the biggest question I have is, how long until he gets fed up?… I think he’s going to give you the chance to get this hire right and work this out. So you know that you have to get this right because if it continues this way for another year or two, eventually he is going to say, ‘I’ve had enough.’”

A few months earlier at the 2018-19 All-Star game, when asked if he wanted out of Edmonton, McDavid had told reporters: “That’s just not the case at all. I’m here to be part of the solution. That’s all I’m going to say on that… I look forward to coming back from the break and trying our best to prove everyone wrong. We have an opportunity here. Things seem pretty down on us. There’s a sense [of] negativity with the media and with everyone around the team… We get to prove people wrong and we get to decide how we finish the second half…I think it’s easy to think we have turmoil in our locker room or we have this and that. We don’t have that at all. We’re a tight-knit group. Guys love to play for each other.”

Since that time, Edmonton has twice now finished second in its division, before getting bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. They’ve had success in the regular season, but not success in the playoffs.

When asked by Edmonton media just now if he wanted out, McDavid said, “That’s not the case at all. We have a great core here. Leon and Nursey, Nuge, Lars, these are all guys who I’ve kind of grown up with. We want to see this thing through together. We want to do this thing right as a group… It’s special to be able to play with these guys. It might feel like we’re light years away (from playoff success), but we’re a lot closer than I think it feels today.”

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I should say that one of the most astute opinions on McDavid in these playoffs also came out of Toronto from Rachel Doerrie, of BMO Analytics.

“I watched every shift he played in 4 games. I counted over 30 infractions against him. The fact he didn’t draw 1 speaks to what the NHL wants from its officials – and it is not good for the game. If your solution is McDavid needs to change his game, you’ve lost the plot. The solution is the NHL needs to mandate the rule book be called and if 97/87/29 draw 8 a night, then so be it. Others will have to adjust or get better. You can’t punish the stars.

“The officiating mandate is garbage. We see it in every series. It is more obvious with superstars. Call it right and let the stars showcase themselves. Stop catering to depth players who clutch and grab.”

Doerrie also had a few choice words for the Oilers organization:  “The main point is this: In all seriousness, it is criminal that hockey fans don’t get playoff 97/29 more because of the organization’s inability to surround them with competent players & goaltending. A team with those two shouldn’t be in this position.”

All good points from Doerrie.

NHL officiating is a bad joke. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman should be fired for his ongoing lack of action when it comes to fixing this problem.

As for the Oilers, they do need to start winning, not just in the regular season but in the playoffs. it would be a sad thing indeed if the team were to continue to lose and replicate what we’ve seen in Toronto since 1967.

Finally when it comes to McDavid and his future in Edmonton, the same rules apply to him as anyone else in a free country.

We’re all free to decide where we want to live, though not all of us have the means to move around freely.

We’re all bound by our commitments to friends, family and our employers.

If people want to move, and are free to move, they should move.

This applies to Connor McDavid, but also to Auston Matthews.

McDavid is signed in Edmonton for five more years. Matthews has three more years left on his contract.

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