TORONTO — The last meaningless game of Connor McDavid’s hockey career injected all the meaning in the world to another long summer that, frustratingly, might not be long enough.
In the early days after the long-eliminated Edmonton Oilers captain-slash-wizard drove hard to the net and crashed shin-first into the Calgary Flames’ post, the club announced McDavid would not require surgery for his left PCL tear and that he would be ready for training camp.
Now? Four-and-a-half months later? McDavid says he’s “progressing well,” but there is no guarantee.
Still rehabbing, with the aid of a team of doctors and specialists and second opinions, from the first significant lower-body injury of his life, McDavid is unable to participate alongside Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and the other NHLers at Toronto’s BioSteel Camp, his annual pre-training-camp ritual. He had to skip the PowerEdge Pro Camp this summer as well.
Meeting with reporters Monday at Varsity Arena to talk hockey for the first time in months, McDavid kept details of his rehabilitation tight to the vest. He said he has not suffered any setbacks and is lucky to have support from some of the best in the business.
McDavid, 22, did skate Monday morning with his usual off-season trainer, Gary Roberts, and has been hitting the ice, trying to push himself for a couple months.
“Just working hard to get to camp and focused on that,” said McDavid, withholding a timeline on a return to contact. “It’s been different. I’ve obviously just been focusing on that. It’s been taking a lot of time, but it’s been good.”
Later adding: “It’s mentally tough. It’s challenging.”
So with sun shining and the St. Louis Blues proving how quick a struggling NHL team can flip its fortunes and the Oilers shoring up its GM and head coach seats with some of the best candidates available, McDavid sounds like a man hesitant to embrace October’s clean slate — at least until his knee is 100 per cent.
He’s chatted with new GM Ken Holland, of course, and sat down to dinner a couple weeks ago with new bench boss Dave Tippett, who plans to cut McDavid’s penalty-kill usage in order to keep his most potent weapon fresher for even-strength and power-play shifts.
But over everything looms the damaged ligament behind his kneecap and the strength of the muscles that surround it.
“Just focusing on my rehab and the injury itself. It’s tough to focus on anything else,” McDavid said. “It’s coming back together and everything like that, but ultimately you don’t want to come back too early, and make sure it’s fully healed and you’re not going to get hurt again. But I’m not too worried about that.”
McDavid did, however, touch on a number of topics, both Oilers- and league-related:
• On the Milan Lucic-for-James Neal trade: “It’s obviously disappointing to see a good friend in Looch go. He’s someone I got close with on the team. Great guy. Great family as well. I’m definitely going to miss them. Nealer’s got a lot of upside. He’s a guy who’s won a lot in this league, he’s scored a lot in this league. A down year last year, but he’s training up at Gary’s and he’s working as hard as I’ve ever seen him work. So it’s good to see.”
• On watching the Blues’ championship run: “They go from last to winning the Cup. It says a lot about them — it says a lot about our league. Turnarounds can happen quick, so that’s what we’re hoping for.”
• On his generation of players speaking up during the next round of collective bargaining: “It’s very important. We’re the guys that it’s going to affect the most. We’re the players who are going to be here throughout the next CBA, so we’ve got to step up and come to an agreement that works for both sides. I’m sure we’ll get a deal.”
• On the Oilers’ hiring of Holland: “My initial reaction was excitement. He’s a guy who’s been in the league a long time. He’s put together some great teams, those Detroit dynasties, so I was definitely excited by it.”
• On why he didn’t push his RFA negotiations past contract expiry, the way so many stars are doing this summer: “Because I didn’t want to be sitting here not going to training camp. That was my biggest fear. I didn’t want to be in that situation. And ultimately it was a pretty easy deal. Peter [Chiarelli], at the time, was great to work with, and my agent did a great job as well. It was a quick process. It wasn’t anything we needed to wait over.”
McDavid, who has ripped off three consecutive 100-point seasons, each more dominant than the last, prefers to let his play do the talking for him.
Which is why McDavid finds it so disappointing that he’s not out there with his teammates and his peers already. Despite his best efforts.
“I’ve known Connor for a long time, and he’s a very quiet, hardworking, passionate kid,” Max Domi said.
“He’s one of the best hockey players in the world for a reason — and I know for a fact he’s been working his ass off all summer. He’s going to have an unbelievable year.”