West Coast Bias: Connor McDavid finds his voice

Connor McDavid talks with the media about the ‘classless’ actions of Brandon Manning of the Philadelphia Flyers. Courtesy: Oilers TV.

For those who have lamented Connor McDavid’s refusal to “let the hockey world in” when speaking to the cameras and microphones, complain no longer. It seems he has found his voice this week.

It started in Edmonton last Sunday night when McDavid took on the concussion spotter in New York who pulled him off the ice in a game versus Minnesota.

“I was pretty shocked, to be honest,” McDavid said that night. “Obviously the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling. He pulled me off.”

OK. That was the first time we recalled McDavid actually taking an authority figure to task. Then came Thursday in Philadelphia, where McDavid outed Brandon Manning for telling him on the ice that the play that caused last year’s broken collarbone was somehow intentional. (McDavid’s accusation, not ours.)

“I guess we can put the whole ‘if he did it on purpose’ thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” McDavid said after a 6-5 loss to Philadelphia. “Shows what kind of guy he is when he doesn’t step up and fight some of our guys.”

Wow. Twice in one week.

Personally, we’re more than pleased to see McDavid speaking his mind, rather than simply repeating words learned at media training sessions. There’s a smart, well-spoken young man here who is going to become a major voice for the game of hockey, if he isn’t already. He should have a strong opinion, and fans are better for hearing it.

“It’s good to see he has that emotional fight in him,” Wayne Gretzky told reporters at the board of governors meeting in Florida. “It’s good to see he’s combative, he wants to excel and wants to win. That’s what makes him a great player — he has that competitive spirit.

“He probably felt like he had some liberties taken at him by the young man (Manning), and he spoke out against it. That’s part of being a professional athlete.”

This one is a bit confusing however, because someone appears to be fudging the truth here. I simply can not see McDavid making up the fact that Manning said something to him on the ice. There is just nothing in that for McDavid.

However, after the game Manning denied having said those words. I do not know Manning but people close to the Flyers say he’s a stand-up guy with no reason to fib.

So, we are left to wonder — all the way till Feb. 16, when the Flyers visit Edmonton. Get your tickets now.


No (Trade) Means No

The big news out of Vancouver this week came from general manager Jim Benning, who told the Vancouver Province that he would not ask Canucks veterans with no-trade clauses to waive prior to the trade deadline on Feb. 28.

“I’m not doing it. I’m not going to any one of them to ask them to waive their no-trades,” Benning said. “If they come to me, I will accommodate it and find a trade. But otherwise I’m not going to ask any of them to waive.”

The names with NTCs that Vancouver would move under a rebuilding scenario are Alexandre Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Alexander Edler and Ryan Miller. But that presumes that the Canucks are in rebuild mode — and not in “make the playoffs” mode.

“We need (Edler) in this lineup,” Benning said. “We need Hansen’s speed. And you’ve seen what Burrows has done playing with (Bo) Horvat and (Sven) Baertschi. He’s been really good for them.”

OK — the Canucks think they’re a playoff team and are acting as such. The only problem? If they’re seven points out on Feb. 15 and still sticking to those guns, the Canucks fan base will be apoplectic.


200-Foot Conscience

Nail Yakupov is basically attending Ken Hitchcock Hockey School in St. Louis these days, where you simply do not get put on the ice if you don’t conform to Hitchcock’s rigid style of play.

Yakupov was scheduled to be in the lineup Friday in New Jersey, but was a late scratch. He’s dressed for just six of the past 17 games, counting just an assist and averaging 10 minutes of ice time per night. He is basically the 13th forward in St. Louis, waiting for the inevitable injuries to occur.

When that happens, knowing Hitchcock, Yakupov will either impress the coach and become a genuine member of the Blues, or fail and be pushed to the edges the way another former Oilers first-rounder, Magnus Paajarvi has been.

Hitchcock told me he likes Yakupov’s improved “200-foot conscience” more today than when he arrived from Edmonton in exchange for a third-round pick and 22-year-old Zach Pochiro, who has spent the season in the ECHL.

The third-round draft pick becomes a second-rounder if Yakupov scores 15 goals. Sounds like a distant dream for Oilers fans — he has two to date. But the stat that stands out to me is 15 shots on goal in 18 games.


Owner For A Day

In order to truly appreciate the “Olympic Decision” being made by NHL owners, you must put yourself in their shoes. Pretend you own an NHL team:

• You’re risking your star players’ health. Someone’s best guy — as when John Tavares injured his knee in Sochi — may well come back injured and miss the playoff run. If that costs a team a playoff berth, that’s literally millions of dollars of direct cost to you as an owner.

• Your schedule is compressed. That leads to an inferior product, more injuries, and customer fatigue. In many cities, it puts a dent in your walk-up. Plus, February is when the NFL is over and baseball has yet to start. In the U.S., it is the NHL’s best month to make an impression.

• And here’s the kicker: Pyeongchang, South Korea is 14 time zones east of Eastern Standard Time, and 17 hours removed from Pacific. So when Team Canada or Team USA has a 7 p.m. puck drop, it starts at 5 a.m. in Toronto and 2 a.m. in B.C.

TV ratings will not justify all of the above, and worse, returning players will take a good week to recover from the jet lag.

One more point: As Gary Bettman tries to use Olympic participation to extend the CBA, remember where that was born. It was then-union head Bob Goodenow who agreed to send his players to the Olympics, in exchange for a more player-friendly CBA being extended.

I’m not so sure the NHLPA won’t extend; the players as a whole love the Olympics. There are the 15 per cent of players who get a chance to enjoy the Olympic experience, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for some. But it’s the other 85 per cent that know they’re getting most of two weeks off mid-season — and a warn winter vacation somewhere — who really support the Olympic concept.


Head Qualifications

A quick follow-up on a couple of columns on the NHL’s concussion protocol, with some info on the four central league spotters hired this season. Up to four of the spotters work out of the department of player safety room at the NHL’s New York headquarters every game night.

• All four are certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA).

• All four have bachelor’s degrees from U.S. colleges in sports medicine/athletic training. Three have masters degrees in those fields.

• Two were the head athletic trainers for the hockey program at U.S. colleges.

• Three have been head athletic trainers for teams in U.S. developmental leagues (USHL, ECHL, NAHL).

As deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated, these spotters aren’t there to diagnose concussions, but only to identify when one may have occurred. It’s up to team doctors to diagnose.

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