The way he looked when the Oilers were revealed as the top pick -- was that despondency? The way he fumbled through an "anything can happen at the draft" answer when asked how it felt to be an Oiler -- was that regret?
When McDavid became an Oiler, we were looking for signs that he didn't want to be an Oiler, because none of us wanted him to be an Oiler. They had their fill of top draft picks, and were a purgatory for them. This was a once-in-a-lifetime talent who not only was going to end up with an inept organization, but one that couldn't be considered among the NHL's most prominent markets (especially for the casual U.S. fans).
McDavid is in his fourth season in Edmonton and has made the playoffs once, despite back-to-back scoring titles and being one Nikita Kucherov away from a third one this season.
"It sucks, obviously. It's not good enough all year. We let streaks drag on, times where we couldn't find ways to get wins drag on. You got to find a way to stop the bleeding quick. It's a slim margin of error in this league," he said after the Oilers were eliminated this week. "It's been an insane season -- coaching change, GM change, good times and bad times. It's been a roller coaster, it's been emotionally challenging, it's been hard mentally to kind of keep on going. But we were always kind of right there. We were close and then we'd drift away. It's frustrating. We want to play in the playoffs as a team. I personally want to play in the playoffs. I'm not happy about it. It's going to be a long summer."
These comments created another round of psychoanalysis. Justin Bourne of The Athletic went on Sportsnet 590 to declare that McDavid wants a trade out of Edmonton: "I'm sure he wants to get the hell out of there but there's not really a way to do it without creating some LeBron James-esque firestorm with the decision."
Elliotte Friedman said on his podcast: "What the Edmonton Oilers realize, what they haven't realized before, is that they have maybe two years to get this right or else there's going to be a very unpleasant conversation where Connor McDavid says he's done."
First off, it would take a miracle for the Oilers to undo all that Peter Chiarelli managed to bungle in the span of two years. Milan Lucic, Kris Russell and Andrej Sekera all have contracts with no-move clauses that run through at least 2021, for example. The organization is so depleted that there's speculation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be moved for a defenseman ... because trading one of your top forwards for a specific need on defense worked out so well last time, right Taylor Hall?
If McDavid really has the "two years or I'm out" mindset that some in the (Toronto) media have applied to him, then the Oilers should have but one response:
They should hold up the eight-year, $100 million contract he signed on July 5, 2017, while sitting between Chiarelli and CEO Bob Nicholson. They should say "you could have signed for three years. Or five years. You signed for eight, and there's literally no reason we need to acquiesce to your desires to move on. You are our franchise player. You remain the best solution to our many problems. And we have you, legally, through 2026. So while we appreciate your levels of frustration, we hope you appreciate that we're not Peter Pocklington, and this ain't 1988. Go get'em, number 97!"
Look, we're all frustrated. Connor is. The Oilers are. The NHL is, as it experiences the third postseason in four years without the best player in their league on the ice. The fans are frustrated, because it's becoming increasingly obvious that we might be watching a hockey version of Barry Sanders, putting up superhuman numbers on mediocre teams and watching the playoffs more than he's participating in them.
But "Connor wants out" is, in the end, projection. That's all. We've been doing it since 2015. We do it with every eye roll and sigh, with every comment about how his lot in life sucks. We treat his plight like it's some kind of unprecedented tumult because there's going to be a new general manager and (likely) his third coach in four years -- as if he wasn't aware of the Oilers' decade-long standard operating procedure when he signed his lucrative long-term deal in 2017.
I want to send Seal Team 6 into Edmonton to rescue this kid. That's my desire. You might share it. Too often, these desires are used to overwrite whatever McDavid's feeling. Until he gets up in front of a camera and declares "trade me right [flippin'] now," it's all speculation.
And even if he does, the Oilers can still just say "nope."
The Week In Gritty
It took almost a full season, but another NHL team got the courage to dunk on Gritty. Naturally, it was a team in the Western Conference, knowing their interactions with the orange nightmare would be limited to just one game in Philly next season.
Here are the St. Louis Blues doing their "lookalikes" bit on the Jumbotron.
Savage. Not "Dallas Stars honor Manti Te'o's imaginary girlfriend" savage, but still savage.
We don't hear enough from NHL referees, especially in proportion to what they hear from us. So it was with great interest that I found this Q&A with Minnesota fans and officials via Hockey Wilderness, in which four NHL officials -- my old friend referee Tim Peel and fellow ref Eric Furlatt, along with linesmen Vaughan Rody and Trent Knorr -- answered some interesting questions.
Most notable to me? Their thoughts on video reviews on calls, because video review essentially exists to show how terrible they are at their jobs. But they apparently dig it:
Rody: "If we go out and make a mistake and we're overturned by video review, as long as it serves the game, then we're fine with it. Things happen at the speed of sound out there, sometimes it looks like a skate was on the ice or that there might have been goaltender interference. But as long as it's good for the game and the right call was made at the end of the day, I think we all say that's the way it should be."
Peel: "Back in the day, there was nothing worse than leaving a building before video replay came in when we missed a call that resulted in a game-winning goal, to read about for the next three or four days in the newspaper. The fans sometimes don't realize, sometimes we couldn't eat or sleep for days (thinking about the call), so it's nice in 2019 when all the leagues are using technology. There are pros and cons and good things and bad things, but, like Vaughn said, it's the right thing to do."
I also found this significant: When asked which current player would make the best on-ice official, Knorr said Sidney Crosby. So, for the record, the NHLPA thinks he'd make the best GM and the linesmen think he'd make the best ref.
Rody, however, threw some shade:
"It's funny, we go on the ice and call a penalty or an icing that wraps around the corner and now it becomes a race for the puck. We blow the whistle and some of these players and coaches don't know the rules," he said. "I think the real problem stems from when the announcers and the people in charge of broadcasting these games to the public don't know the rules and misinform people. That, I think, is a bigger issue."
While I don't think he's wrong, is that more an indictment of the rulebook and it's lack of clarity?
From Long Island, where they're still working through their John Tavares angst:
The irony here, of course, being that Tavares never gave the Islanders a chance to trade him.
Meanwhile, in Denver:
First, no Claude Lemieux FrankenJersey is complete without a Devils sweater. Second, no Claude Lemieux FrankenJersey is complete without the letter I.
Three things on the NHL and women's hockey
1. The Canadian Women's Hockey League is not the Alliance of American Football. It has not been around for, like, 30 seconds. The Montreal franchise won its first Clarkson Cup in 2009. The Calgary Inferno and Toronto Furies were founded in 2011.
This league had real, dedicated fans whose hearts have been shattered by this, on top of the people who saw their jobs disappear in an instant this week. Don't lose sight of that.
2. It was a confusing week for the NHL and its role in women's hockey. It seemed, at times, that the same voices who were declaring they wanted no part of Gary Bettman running a women's pro league were also outraged that the NHL had contributed only $50,000 to the NWHL and the CWHL, respectively. (The NWHL announced it was now getting $100,000 from the NHL.)
Is this just semantics, where it's OK for the NHL to invest in a product but not own it? Or is it a mixed message?
3. Ultimately, it's in the best interests of women's hockey to have an NHL-affiliated league. That's the best scenario for promotion, for revenue potential and for stability. My concern is that the NHL won't give it proper attention; the best model would be for the NHL to give someone the reins and have her run with it, like Triple H and NXT in pro wrestling.
My other concern is that "return on investment" will remain a lingering issue for the NHL, when there are countless ventures they pour money into simply to expand hockey's demographics that don't return a profit. Women's hockey is important. Growing it is vital. 'One League' can work. But first, let's see how this next season of NWHL hockey pans out.
Listen to ESPN On Ice
Off the top, Emily Kaplan explains how she landed an interview with Scott Foster, her "white whale." Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill joins the show to talk about his contract extension, and the future in Detroit (10:07). The CWHL announced on Sunday that it would be folding; we talk about how this will affect women's hockey (19:46). We also talk to hockey broadcaster Leah Hextall, who became the first woman to call a men's NCAA Division I tournament game this past weekend. Leah offers her thoughts on women in hockey, and the now-defunct CWHL (31:20). Stream here and grab on iTunes here.
Protecting your top seeds remains a logical fix for the playoffs, so naturally the NHL isn't making it.
The complicated Vezina Trophy case for Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars. ($) "Bishop has been the NHL's best goaltender this season. If the Vezina is truly an individual award he should win it, especially when you consider his performance on a team that wouldn't even be close to the playoffs without him."
We always have time for another telling of the legend of Taro Tsujimoto.
Nice timeline look at the demise of the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
David Bolland is selling his Boca Raton home for a cool $4.35 million. You're not going to believe all the bells, whistles and yacht clubs this thing has.
Ryan Lambert on why the Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team ever assembled. "They can't hit 132 points, and whether they hit or miss 62 wins, this Lightning team is the best ever assembled. They just gotta win a Cup, I guess."
Fun story from Isabelle Khurshudyan on the coffee obsession of NHL players.
Bob McKenzie on the NHL draft. "American Jack Hughes is the unanimous No. 1 pick. Ten out of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN this week -- on the eve of next week's (Tuesday, April 9) NHL draft lottery -- put Hughes in the No. 1 slot, just as they did in TSN's preseason rankings in September and midseason rankings in late January. So, Jack Hughes, slam-dunk No. 1 prospect for the 2019 NHL draft, correct? Well, not so fast."
Make time this weekend to watch this from E:60.
April 6th 2018, the world mourned for a hockey community after a horrific bus crash killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos. One year later, those affected by that fateful day share their stories of pain, unity, and strength. pic.twitter.com/AHy6mMR3Xx - E:60 (@E60) March 31, 2019
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)
In praise of Glen Sather: "He used to terrify me. But that was OK. Because he terrified pretty much everyone, at first."
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Dmitri Filipovic on the playoff teams that are rising and falling.