EDMONTON — “Sometimes,” Leon Draisaitl surmises, “it’s better watching Friends, than hockey.”
Now, you could ask if Draisaitl had been tied to a chair and forced to watch New Jersey Devils — The Jacque Lemaire Years, or if he caught a replay of one of those ’80s playoff games that drudged into the second or third overtime.
But the truth is … Well, two things:
One, it turns out that Friends, an American sitcom that began airing in 1994 — a year before Draisaitl was born in Germany — is one of his all-time favourite shows.
And two, watching old Oilers games — as Draisaitl did when he sat down for Edmonton’s Game 5 against the San Jose Sharks back in the 2006 playoffs — only reminds him of what he’s missing this spring, as we all isolate indoors in the wake of COVID-19.
“It’s a little bit of a tease, I have to say,” Draisaitl said of the NHL Classics that are airing on Sportsnet. “You start to miss it even more.”
There is much to miss for Draisaitl — the consensus Hart Trophy winner and likely Art Ross winner as the NHL’s leading scorer — given the league’s pause. Not to mention the excellent chance he and his Oilers teammates had at making a playoff run, with the first Battle of Alberta in nearly 30 years a growing possibility for Round 1, as Edmonton sits in second place and Calgary third in the Pacific.
He is as frustrated as the rest of us, but Draisaitl is also aware enough to know that there are plenty of people with a lot bigger problems than a healthy 24-year-old who has risen to become one of the stars of today’s game — and is paid commensurate to that stature.
“It goes for everyone playing the game. If we don’t get to play the playoffs, it’s frustrating,” he said. “But the health of people at this time is more important. They’ve made the right decisions so far.”
To the fans, Draisaitl says he feels your pain.
“Stay positive. Stick with it — just like we are,” he said. “We all want to get back to playing as soon as possible, but right now there is one important thing in the world going on, and we have to accept that. Hopefully, we can get back to playing soon, and bring this thing into the playoffs.”
Draisaitl is staying in shape with a variety of methods. “Try to do something different every day. Try to stay fit. Go for runs. Do stairs. All kinds of different stuff.”
But honing his hockey skills, with every rink in Edmonton closed and the outdoor rinks unattended, hasn’t been easy. That’s where his Cavapoo named Bowie comes in.
“I try to dangle around my dog once in a while. I have a stick in the basement,” Draisaitl smiled. “But other than that there is not much opportunity for me to work on my skills.”
So this is where we are in the sports world: Leagues are hoping not to be forgotten in the waning hope that they may return to complete their seasons. Meanwhile, sportswriters are sitting at home in dire need of content.
So teams such as the Oilers are putting together video chats like the one that included Draisaitl sitting at home Monday, fidgeting with what he jokingly described as “stress balls,” a pair of golf ball-sized balls he fumbled with throughout Monday’s “Zoom conference.”
What did we learn other than the gem about his dog’s hockey skills and his affinity for Friends?
“I’ve been watching a lot of ‘This is Us,’” Draisaitl revealed. “Gosh, I’ve got a lot of time to watch movies and shows right now. I feel like watched pretty much everything.”
And while Connor McDavid had singled out teammate Zack Kassian last week as the one guy he would not want to be quarantined with, we heard Draisaitl say quite the opposite Monday.
“He doesn’t need much to make you laugh out of nothing.”
Draisaitl had thought about going home to his parents in Cologne, but “I don’t think it makes much sense for me to go there right now,” he decided. “Especially since it’s probably worse over there than it is here. I’m in a good place right now.”
Maybe it’s the serious German outlook, or perhaps the fact he has been away from home since he was a teenager, but Draisaitl has always come across as a thinker. And he’s been thinking about this new coronavirus, while doing puzzles and whiling away his time like the rest of us.
“It teaches us a little lesson,” he began. “You think about how many things you touch, how many germs are being spread all over. It’s tough that people pass away, that that has to be a part of it. At the same time, it is good for us that we see what the world can do if we’re not treating it the right way.
“Right now, it’s a tough time. But on one hand, it might be good for us.”