Connor McDavid grew up idolizing Sidney Crosby.
On at least one issue, he’s at odds with his childhood hero.
A day after Crosby and Alex Ovechkin said they would be in favour of the NHL going right into the playoffs whenever the league gets the all-clear from public health and government officials in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, McDavid came down on the other side of the ledger.
“A fair season’s a full season,” the captain of the Edmonton Oilers said on a video conference call Friday. ”That’s what we’d obviously prefer.”
If the NHL were to go straight into its usual 16-team playoff format, the Oilers and Calgary Flames would be pitted against each other in a post-season Battle of Alberta for the first time since 1991.
While the potential matchup is mouth-watering, McDavid believes it would be a mistake to venture down that road without ramping things up beforehand.
“I don’t think we can just step into playoffs and Game 1 (have) Calgary come to Edmonton and have guys just run around killing each other (when we) haven’t played a game in two months,” added the 23-year-old, who sits second in the overall scoring race behind teammate Leon Draisaitl. “We want to keep guys healthy and we want to make sure that everyone’s up and ready to play some playoff hockey.”
The NHL, along with most sports leagues and tours, paused its season earlier this month amid the novel coronavirus outbreak that’s killed thousands worldwide, brought economies to their knees, and ushered in an era of social distancing and self-isolation.
Crosby and Ovechkin said in separate video conferences Thursday they wouldn’t have any qualms if the league went straight into the playoffs when it does eventually gets the green light.
“You try to get in as many games as you can,” said Crosby, who captains the Pittsburgh Penguins. ”But I wouldn’t mind starting right at the playoffs.”
Mileage on the body probably plays a part in the differing views.
At the time of the NHL’s pause, McDavid’s Oilers sat second in the Pacific Division with 83 points through 71 games. The 34-year-old Ovechkin’s Capitals occupied first in the Metropolitan Division with 90 points from 69 games, while the 32-year-old Crosby’s Penguins were four points back in third.
“We don’t want to play extra games,” said Ovechkin, Washington’s captain, before adding later to the other three players on his call: “I’d rather start playoffs right away. Sorry guys.”
Every team in the NHL has played at least 68 games, which deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last week in an interview with The Canadian Press constitutes “a meaningful season” in the league’s eyes.
There were a total of 189 contests left on the docket when the pause button was pressed, but each club is in a slightly different position.
Canucks captain Bo Horvat, for example, finds his team out of the Western Conference playoffs based on the standings with 78 points from 68 games. But Vancouver is slightly ahead of the Calgary Flames — 79 points from 70 games — for third place in the Pacific based on points percentage.
“To make it completely fair, you’d want to play regular-season games,” Horvat said. “It’s tough to make that call.”
Vegas Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who like many NHLers is doing his best to stay in shape with limited resources at home, said on his video conference call he’d appreciate some time to work out the kinks.
“The biggest thing as a goalie is timing,” said the 35-year-old. “The speed of the game is something you have to catch up on.”
Calgary captain Mark Giordano said if the NHL does resume in time to salvage the season and playoffs, fans could be in for a treat.
“If we can ever get back to playing, I think this is going to be one of the best playoffs ever because every team’s gonna have all their guys healthy and ready to go,” said the 36-year-old. ”You’re truly going to be playing the best version of every team.”
The NHL organized the sometimes-awkward video conferences, with reporters submitting questions to the league beforehand. Representatives from each team in the Atlantic and Central divisions are scheduled to go early next week.
Giordano pitched an idea for 24-team playoffs post-COVID during his online session, but Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who won the Stanley Cup in 2007, said during a separate call later Friday the NHL has to be careful with whatever it ultimately decides.
“You hear all these different ways of doing things,” said the 34-year-old. “Getting back on the ice would be a great thing to be able to finish the season out properly and make sure we protect the integrity of the game.
“You can’t just throw out some weird playoff format.”
Speaking of playoffs, the Flames-Oilers rivalry boiled over in January when Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk delivered a couple of crunching checks on Edmonton’s Zack Kassian, who responded by jumping the winger to earn a two-game suspension.
“Both teams were in those playoff spots, and for a lot of my career, it wasn’t like that,” Giordano said. ”This is so much better. It’s so much better for the game and it’s a lot more fun. We’ve had some good ones.”
The teams also engaged in a line brawl that included goalies Mike Smith and Cam Talbot dropping the gloves in the next meeting.
“This year (the games) have been pretty wild,” McDavid said. ”Maybe we’ll even see them in the playoffs.”
Like many of the players, Edmonton’s superstar closed his video conference by tipping his hat to front-line health-care professionals as they continue to battle the coronavirus.
“What they’re doing is amazing,” McDavid said. ”The numbers that they’re dealing with is just crazy.
“A big thanks.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2020.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press