West Coast Bias: Oilers should do the smart thing with McDavid

Oilers analyst Mark Spector says it makes too much sense to wait until after the all-star break for Connor McDavid’s much-anticipated return to the lineup.

Nobody ever cheers for a National Hockey League official — unless they slip and fall on the ice. And even then, they’d better not miss a call on the way down.

They don’t get name bars anymore, and the fans and media don’t even speak their names until they screw up — or we perceive that they’ve made a mistake, which is more often the case. So when 28-year linesman Mike Cvik worked his final game at the Calgary Saddledome on Tuesday, it was a humbling experience for one of the game’s most respected zebras.

“I knew they were going to do something, but it was a bit overwhelming,” the 53-year-old said. “The standing ovation from the fans (after a video presentation) and what Kelly Hrudey did at the end of the game. It was too much.”

Sportsnet’s Flames analyst Hrudey saw to it that Cvik, working his final game in his hometown, was named the game’s third star. The big linesman had no idea it was coming.

“They wouldn’t let me go to the room after the game,” he said. “They blocked the tunnel and said, ‘You have to wait. There’s something else coming.’”

After the game the Flames lined up and shook his hand.

“That was very humbling,” he said. “Mark Giordano made a point to come over, and the rest of the boys came over as well. Johnny Gaudreau was great. Ladislav Smid and I, us old warriors have to stick together.”

Cvik worked 1,868 games in total, and I am honoured to say I was in the house for his final puck drop. So was NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom, who flew into Calgary for the occasion.

Between the game speeding up and his slowing down, by the end Cvik is comfortable in hanging up the stripes. Life after hockey will begin with ACL surgery.

“I’ve been working for the better part of the year without an ACL,” said Cvik, who at 6-foot-9 travelled North America for more than a quarter century, packing his skates and uniform into a carry-on bag because no one would have his size if his luggage got lost on the way to a game.

“Those lovely little cabs in Vancouver, you can barely get half a guy in there, let alone a guy my size,” said Cvik, who doesn’t fit any better into an economy class seat on an airplane. He’d get business class or an exit row when possible, but over 28 years there have been plenty of three-hour flights in coach, with his knees at his chin.

“For me, it’s like jamming myself into the sardine can,” he said. “Then I usually get the guy in front of me, he reclines the seat right back like he’s the only guy on the plane.”

Remember, Cvik started in 1987 and worked through some pretty tough times in the NHL.

“Dave Brown. Bob Probert… Joey Kocur was a tough, tough guy,” he recalled, when asked about the meanest fighters he had ever stepped in between. “I remember I was breaking up a fight in Detroit one night. I can’t remember which one of the Russians had high-sticked Tim Kerr and cut him open, but Dave Brown went nuts. I ended up wrestling with him for five minutes, and Dave wanted to get at somebody, anybody. I say ‘Dave, I’ve got to get you to the bench.’ All of the sudden, Tim Kerr yells, ‘Dave!’ And he goes straight to the bench. Thank God.”

So, stepping into raging fights and boarding a plane are two things that Cvik will take a break from for a while.

“But I have to do something,” he said of retirement. “I’m not one of those guys who can go, go, go for 35 years, and all of the sudden just stop. When I was younger my Dad and I went fishing a lot. I want to get back into that, and get back into golf.”

He’ll play in my tournament, the Mark Spector Golf Classic on July 27 at The Quarry in Edmonton, with proceeds to Sport Central.

See you there, Mike.

Hey, Connor? You there?
So, when does Connor McDavid return from his busted collarbone? I’ve always thought he could be ready by mid-January, but now the crunch is on and I’m sensing it will be post All-Star break.

Here is why: The Edmonton Oilers have a longer break than most teams, with a nine-day stretch between games. It makes no sense to bring McDavid back for two games, and then have him sit around for nine days before playing again. Conversely, if we think that four games before the All-Star break makes sense, then he has to be ready to play next Saturday versus Calgary. I don’t believe he will be.

McDavid is practicing with the team and will travel with Edmonton on their upcoming road trip this Monday, but thus far he’s worn the light blue “no hit” jersey. He’ll need a CT bone scan, X-rays and testing before being deemed ready to return.

Personally, we can see Edmonton doing the smart thing, finding him ice to skate during the break — no trip to Cabo for McDavid — and taking care of the medical testing as well. Then he joins them post All-Star, with 32 games left in the season.

Kassian Claws Back
In a very strong interview on Edmonton radio with Jason Gregor, ex-Vancouver Canuck Zack Kassian talked about taking the ice in Bakersfield last weekend, where he had a goal in two games, his first since a rehab stint.

“It was a great feeling, just coming into a locker room again with the camaraderie with the guys,” he said. “Once that gets taken from you, you don’t know if you’re ever going to get it again — especially at the AHL or NHL level. Just waking up every day and going into the rink, I couldn’t be a happier person and I’m just looking forward to keep moving forward here.”

Doing the right things is tougher than saying the right things, and to Kassian’s credit, he’s acknowledged that his actions will speak louder than words. But if ever there was a team that needed a big, abrasive forward whose job is to make his team harder to play against, the perennially-soft Oilers are that club.

Kassian knows it firsthand — he used to do whatever he felt like doing when he was a Canuck playing against Edmonton.

“If anything … I want to be more in your face; I want to be harder to play against,” he told Gregor. “Especially with an organization like Edmonton … I think I could really help in that regard. My off-ice issues will never determine really what kind of player I am on the ice. If anything with the clarity came knowing what I have to do, and what I want to do to be successful, and I need to be doing that on a night-to-night basis. And if I’m not scoring I need to pick up the physical part of my game and do all of those things as well.”

Repo Man
Kassian always reminded me of Dustin Penner, big and strong with decent hands, but both distracted in their own way. Penner was a far better scorer, and could still be earning millions at age 33. But he walked away from the game after the 2013-14 season, and we haven’t seen him since.

That is, until this TMZ video hit the internet Friday — security camera footage of Penner allegedly among a group that was repossessing some equipment from a California gym.

Late Friday afternoon, Penner followed up with his own opinion of the events on Twitter. You can find his statement and more on his account (here) but be warned there is some foul language.

Whatever went on here, it doesn’t look great on Penner, who I always found to be a good guy with a sharp sense of humour. In my opinion, he simply didn’t love the game that much. He just loved that he could make millions playing hockey.