Oilers find new way to leave Connor McDavid out to dry

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It’s worth questioning the Edmonton Oilers captain after his failed effort to defend the interest in Evander Kane, but this is just another example of the organization failing its superstar.

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JUSTIN CUTHBERT: OK. It’s the “Yahoo Sports Hockey Podcast,” solo edition. It has been a little while. We had the break in the NHL season, short break. We had the holidays, another short break. But I also had a bought with COVID, which wasn’t particularly fun. And based on the sound of my voice, it’s still a bit of a factor here. But we roll on. We push through.

And we thank the “Zone Time” crew for keeping the “Yahoo Sports Hockey Podcast” feed somewhat populated over the last month or so, although there was a break on hockey. There was the holiday freeze. So excuse us for being a little bit dark in the last few weeks. But there were some reasons why. But it’s time to jump back in right now.

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And what better way to do it than by addressing Connor McDavid pissing off– well, many in the hockey community, I’ll say, for what was an antagonistic, mildly combative, self-interested stance on Evander Kane potentially joining the Edmonton Oilers? Now, let’s start with this.

I get the frustration. In a perfect world, those we idolize and lionize, they all stand for something. They are charismatic. They not only believe in what’s right. But they can eloquently deliver a point on something in a way in which it would provide maybe deeper impact than just their feelings alone. But the world isn’t perfect.

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We are all flawed, superstars in hockey included. And despite how brilliant he is at what he does, the situation that Connor McDavid found himself in when he was forced to talk about Evander Kane potentially joining the Edmonton Oilers was not one he was particularly adept at handling. No, he should not have shot back. He shouldn’t have openly stated without openly stating that fans and media opinions are not really anything that matters or moves him.

If he had a Mulligan, I am sure he would pull the second ball out of his pocket and place it on the tee. But before we start questioning the morality of every fiber in his being, I think we should at least take a second to consider why. Why is he OK with Evander Kane potentially joining the Oilers?

Now, for me, I think the success of the Edmonton Oilers is really the thing that encompasses his world. I’m not sure he’s on the Nate McKinnon level of drive, where it’s just obsessive at all times, or at least we’re led to believe. But this is his life. His legacy, who he is, everything will be judged based on, in the end and at least in this moment of time, the success of the Edmonton Oilers. So it’s literally the thing that encompasses his world.

And we probably all have something in our lives that fits that description. We all have something to consider, whether it’s job or family stuff, a passion or whatever, when making the decisions that chart out the path of the life that we are taking.

Well, this is it for him. The Edmonton Oilers, the success of the Edmonton Oilers is it for him. And what’s different for him is that this thing in his life and that we all probably have in our lives is that it plays out for everyone to see in a public venue. So I can only imagine, because the Oilers don’t just mean something to him, they mean something to so many people, and his legacy and what he’s trying to build means so much to him, that it all adds up to this immense pressure.

And at this moment in time, that immense pressure is coupled with the desperation that he, like the organization, is feeling. He knows he needs help, or he’s going to waste another year. Now, that’s sort of the context here. But then we go back to the issue of Kane and whether it’s even a good idea to bring in Evander Kane.

I think the idea of bringing in Evander Kane is totally misguided. But I also believe in a way that it’s the sort of desperation that they’re feeling right now which would allow someone like Connor McDavid to accept risk, to rationalize behavior, to welcome someone with legitimate problems into his world because he needs help himself.

Now, is that wrong? That’s the big question here. Is that wrong? Is it reflective of the bigger issues in hockey with winning superseding morality and the unthinkable consequences most recently revealed and reported on with the Chicago Blackhawks? Yes, it does. It does reflect that bigger issue in hockey.

There was immense pressure on the Chicago Blackhawks then. But of course, it doesn’t excuse it. But it explains why, context. So we’re toeing the line here clearly with what’s right and what’s wrong.

But what it boils down it comes down to, in some ways, a referendum on Kane’s transgressions, right? His self-sabotage, both personal and financial, his selfishness that we all know about, his idiocy that we all know about, let’s be honest, his baggage, the allegations that couldn’t be substantiated, the allegations that could very well still be true, is that all worth, does it all add up to never, ever being given another opportunity again? And when does the mantra of, it’s a privilege not a right actually take precedence? Is it just for players that aren’t very good, replacement level and lower?

All I can really take from this– and I don’t mean to sound like I’m defending Connor McDavid. And honestly, I think I have sounded like that to this point. But I’m just sharing my opinion and where I’m at. I think, and what I take from this, is this is just another example of the Oilers failing Connor McDavid. Maybe that’s too simple.

But whether it was his idea to bring in Evander Kane, whether it was something greenlit, because let’s be honest, if they’re not bringing every idea to Connor McDavid’s office, assuming he has an office at Rogers Place, if it wasn’t a conversation he was a part of, whether it was his idea, again, or whether it was something he greenlit, maybe he wasn’t involved at all.

Regardless, it was McDavid’s job as the captain and the leader of the organization to help facilitate a potential addition, whoever it is, right? It was his job, with his answers and his words, to back Evander Kane because the Edmonton Oilers, the team he captains and represents, have decided in their desperation that that’s what they want to do. McDavid is the vocal leader of the organization which has made a decision, right?

What I learned from this is that McDavid needs protection from the organization, not to be doing the protecting for the organization. It seems like the Oilers have once again hung him out to dry on multiple levels here. Had McDavid been prepped– hello, PRT, what are we doing here? What are we doing here, public relations?

Had he been prepped to say something like, hey, we don’t like the situations that Evander Kane has found himself in. We don’t take these situations lightly. We condemn this and that. You could name it if you wanted to. But we also see the opportunity to help someone, to give someone the resources they need to not only play hockey again but to grow as a person, to mature.

And again, this might fall on deaf ears and probably should fall on deaf ears because it isn’t, like Ken Holland said, a second chance. This is the second or third or fourth or fifth second and third and fourth and fifth chances for Evander Kane. But if McDavid said, this is an opportunity to help someone, to reach out to someone that we believe we can help and give them the opportunity to play hockey again, well, then maybe it’s more palatable, right? If he was trained the way he was supposed to be in that situation, it would be more palatable, or at least McDavid’s character wouldn’t be getting destroyed right now.

The Edmonton Oilers have open themselves up to this very valid criticism. They’ve opened themselves to being the new poster organization for the very valid questions about morality and deep-seated issues in the sport. They’ve opened themselves up to the risk, in a vacuum, of employing someone like Evander Kane, who has chosen himself over the San Jose Sharks, who has chosen himself over the Buffalo Sabers, who has chosen himself over the Winnipeg Jets, and who’s chosen himself over his family time and time again.

They’ve also opened themselves up to the potential benefit of having a player with so much talent on the roster. So we will see how it goes.

All right, let’s move on to two more teams before the power five. And those two teams are both performing far better than the Oilers. They’re actually recent Stanley Cup foes, I believe, 5 and 1/2 years ago, maybe, 2016. Might have to get fact check on that. Those teams are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.

Let’s start with the Penguins, who recently brought Evgeni Malkin back into the fold this week after a long rehabilitation period to start the year. Now, there’s a saying in hockey, or at least hockey media, hurry up and wait. Well, I thought Evgeni Malkin might have been hurrying back to get dealt or to see his entire team get dealt because he is an unrestricted free agent. He started the season on the shelf. And this year could have went one or two ways for the Penguins, who could have been staging or getting ready to stage a fire sale right now.

But the Penguins are going back to the playoffs. We know that because there’s zero intrigue among playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. We know who the eight teams are already. Look at the standings. And not only are they going back to the playoffs, but they might have another run left in them. And that’s not because Sidney Crosby was all-world in Gino’s absence, though he has been very good recently.

No, it’s because of the standout individual performances at other corners of the roster and the depth of contribution, despite so much uncertainty entering the season, both at the individual talent level and when just assessing team. This team lost a lot in expansion, did not have a particularly good summer.

Well, listen to this. Tristan Jarry, Vezina Trophy form, a goals against average under 2, a 0.932 save percentage, the league’s second-best goals saved above average. Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang really the only star players that were with this team through the entire year so far. Guentzel, well, Guentzel’s’ been hurt too. But Guentzel leads the team in goals and points, performing well above a point per game. And Letang is averaging almost an assist per game, playing his best hockey in a long time with the Penguins, outscoring the competition almost two to one in his minutes.

But it’s deeper than that. Evan Rodriguez, who shouldn’t have had a job with the Penguins due to having so many injuries to start the season or lose Brandon Tanev and Jared McCann through the expansion process, 15 goals and 15 assists for someone who’s basically out of work. It’s found money. That’s Mark Donk-level stuff.

But Mike Sullivan, head coach of the Penguins, lots of Jack Adams candidates out there right now. But Sullivan should be chief among them. Dominant five-on-five team all season long, despite no Malkin, despite no guarantee of Sid, no Tanev and McCann, as I mentioned. He’s done a tremendous job.

The fire sale in Pittsburgh would have been tremendous. But one last ride for the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of the teams, maybe the team of the salary cap era, that’s better. That’s more befitting of a team of that caliber.

OK, quickly, the Nashville Predators. And if the future markets are still available to you in the NHL, I’m not sure the predators can go unrewarded if they keep their current form as one of five teams to have crossed the 50-point threshold at this point in the season. Tanner Jeannot, Juuse Saros, John Hines, all three might be worth a look if the odds haven’t caught up.

Jeannot leads all rookies in goals. Saros has been the best goaltender in the NHL, probably for the last two months. And John Hines is doing the most with the Leafs right now behind the bench, getting top of their range performances out of guys we had written off like Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund. Roman Josi not on that level but also at the top of his performance range.

You’ve got to keep an eye on the Nashville Predators. It’ll be interesting to see what they do before the deadline, if they’ll look to add or they’ll have that patient approach. [CLEARS THROAT] I’m not sure David Poile can have too much more patience, given where he’s at on his career timeline. But we shall see on that note as well.

OK, let’s go to the power five here, because I might only have about five minutes left of voice, given the COVID concerns. It has been a bit, but nothing has really changed. The Predators have not broken through yet, but the Penguins, who I just talked about, they have. 11 wins from their last 12 games. As I mentioned, Geno Malkin back in the mix.

Ron Hextall and probably Brian Burke too, they probably want to burn the world down in a good way right now, given that we’re just coming off Ron Hextall being torched by Bobby Clark, I believe, on the “Cam and Strick” podcast. We shall see how those two respond here and how that team responds, now that they’ve got to this point where they’re in striking distance of maybe the division, clearly a playoff team, clearly intentions are outlined for them. One last ride maybe.

We’ll see what happens there. I think Pittsburgh, one of the teams to watch here. And they have broken in here into the top five.

Number four, the Tampa Bay lightning. It was a little sketchy there with Max Legace and Hugo Alnefelt. I believe it’s Alnefelt, when those two were holding down the crease there for a little bit. But Andrei Vasilevskiy is back, back to doing the Andrei Vasilevskiy things. And really, the goaltender there and their number one defenseman, Victor Hedman, those two help the Lightning, like basically by themselves, survive the Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov absences.

Of course, Steven Stamkos is very good as well. But those two, there could be Hart Trophy consideration for both of them, given how well they’ve played so far this year.

Number three is the Florida Panthers, a mainstay here on this list. I think I used up all my Kodak Black essence jokes on “Zone Time.” So track back and have a listen to that, not that I’m a funny person by any means. But I still think Florida has some issues that they’ve got to deal with. But they’re constantly outscoring them, especially on home ice, where they have been, well, worth the private party in a private box.

Number two, Colorado Avalanche, they’ve kind of been just trying to break through here for most of the season. But now they’re clearly solidified in the top five in this list here, in this Power Five. Just the number of insanely brilliant performances from an individual standpoint on this team is truly wild. I mean, Cale Makar could score 40 goals, could be Hart Trophy candidate. Throwing a lot of candidates around.

But if he scores 40 goals, I mean, only a couple of defensemen, I think in history, have done that. And it’s very, very– not likely– but very possible that he does just that, based on how he’s playing.

Nathan MacKinnon has the best per-game production in the league. And he’s got one of the worst shooting percentages you will see league-wide. So we can probably expect a little bit more from him, even though he’s giving us a lot right now.

Kadri on pace for about a billion points. Mikko Rantanen is doing the same. It’s just been a crazy productive stretch here for the Colorado Avalanche, who are who we thought they were coming into this year, despite a tough start. But the team, the standard so far and the team that’s just been pretty much at the top of this list all year is the Carolina Hurricanes.

And maybe there’s hope here for the Edmonton Oilers, because we haven’t heard a peep from Tony DeAngelo. Again, not defending the Oilers or the Carolina Hurricanes based on that move. But I’m not even going to say that it’s paid off. It just hasn’t blown up in their face just yet. And that’s because probably the rest of the organization is near-bulletproof, on pace for 124 points. 2/3 of their games so far won in regulation. If you’ve been betting regulation wins for the Carolina Hurricanes this year, then you are doing quite well.

The Hurricanes still the standard, still the number one team on the Power Five. This has been the first solo edition of a long time, the first post-COVID solo edition of the “Yahoo Sports Hockey Podcast.” My voice almost made it through, stumbled just at the end. We’ll try better next time. And we’ll be back on the weekend with Julian McKenzie. See you.

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