You really could see the crushing disappointment in his face, and hear it in his voice.
This kid, along with every hockey fan, is not happy that the Edmonton Oilers have again won the NHL Draft Lottery, making it the 4th time in the past 6 years that they will get the #1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Normally, a Canadian kid would probably be pretty happy that a Canadian team won the lottery. But not when that team is the raging dumpster fire that has been an Oilers franchise that has missed the playoffs for the past 9 straight seasons (longest playoff drought in the league).
The hate of the Oilers began before the lottery even began. Nobody wanted to see them win, and this includes many of the fans in Edmonton. Sure, it is incredibly exciting that the future best player in the league will be coming to town, but it is also terrifying for many fans, because we have seen first hand what has happened with the other three #1s that currently litter the Oilers roster. Fans around the league would have preferred to see McDavid go absolutely anywhere outside of Edmonton. An Eastern team (aside from Carolina) where his profile would be massive, and he would help the game continue to grow. Or the Leafs, because even if their season was an absolute train wreck, they have someone in charge now who isn’t afraid to make the needed changes to get better. Or how about Buffalo, the team that tried the hardest to get him by giving up on this season two years ago?
Even Arizona, a team that everybody is simply waiting to move to Quebec City, would have been a better option than Edmonton. They have some great young talent coming up, and having McDavid down there would have helped the team as much as possible. If the Coyotes couldn’t make it with him, then it really is time to pack there things and head for La Belle Province once and for all.
There was a such a league-wide groan of disbelief when the gold Oilers placard was pulled from the envelope, signalling that they had won the lottery. Absolutely, there was a ton of excitement among fans. But it is also embarrassment that this is the 4th time they are doing this. Facebook messages and sports message boards all over the place are lighting up with renewed vitriol towards the incompetent Oilers management, that has brought them to this place of being so unbelievably terrible.
Most of that hatred, naturally, is focused on Kevin Lowe, the team president that has engineered the entire downfall of the organization over the past decade, and keeps getting promoted because of it.
Also, there is focus on Craig MacTavish, the General Manager that doesn’t seem to really get it, and what it takes to win in this league. He was even quoted as saying that “offense wins championships,” after winning the lottery. Does it really? Ask the last few Cup winners about the importance of their defense and goaltending in the playoffs.
Immediate calls are being made by the fans to finally see that there is a player to build around, and make some moves to help the poor kid out, so that he doesn’t need to be a part of the poisonous losing culture that exists in Edmonton until he is a free agent at age 27. Trade Taylor Hall, a dynamic offensive player with a long injury history, painfully obvious defensive flaws, and a divisive attitude in the community for a D-man. Package a couple of these guys, like Nail Yakupov, one of their other high picks, for a goalie that can at least be competent in the net to give the team a chance to win. Moves need to made, or Connor McDavid will be wasted.
Already, he is going to a market where the majority of the fans of the sport will never hear much from him. Edmonton loves hockey, there is little doubt about that, but they are buried deep in the West, and McDavid will not get the coverage that he deserves because he is in a small market. Think of how underrated John Tavares is, simply because he plays for the Islanders. If he was as good as he is on the Flyers, he would be a megastar. It will be the same for McDavid.
So what can this kid do? Does he have any options if he truly doesn’t want to be a part of this team that is eternally rebuilding, and seems pretty clueless about how to do it? Or does he just need to suck it up, come be an Oiler for the first 8 years of his promising career, and hope it doesn’t destroy him, like it has other top talent that are doomed to come to this team?
1. He can pull a Lindros. He can tell Oiler management before the draft that he never intends to play for them, so that they should trade the pick and get a massive haul for him while they can.
Pros: He would force the team’s hand, and he would be dealt somewhere else. The Oilers would probably get so much back for him that they could fill in the massive gaps in their roster with just this one move. There would be no shortage of trading partners that would drool at the idea of getting McDavid. Think that when the Nordiques traded Lindros after drafting him, they got the pieces that won them two Cups.
Cons: McDavid would quickly become public enemy #1 in Edmonton, not that he would really care. He would only need to see them once a year. And even still, if this happened, I feel that many fans would continue to hate the team management, and not really blame the kid for not wanting to come here. The perception of McDavid then would be that he was a whiner, but again, I don’t know that too many people would actually blame him for pulling a Lindros move.
2. He can go to the KHL for 2 years. If a player doesn’t sign with the team that drafts them, after two years they will either re-enter the draft (if they are still under 20), or become Unrestricted Free Agents. There have been cases of this before.
Pros: He would avoid the Oilers completely. He would still get to play pro hockey, even if it isn’t in the best league in the world, where let’s be honest, he is so good that he needs that kind of challenge. When he came to the NHL, if he was a UFA, he would get to choose where he would play, and it would create the biggest and most exciting bidding war in league history.
Cons: Upon entry to the NHL, he would be forced to sign a rookie contract. Not the biggest deal, but he would essentially be losing out on a lot of money (but would he? Some KHL magnate would be sure to pay him ridiculous money to go play in Russia). He wouldn’t be playing in the NHL, which is really the biggest drawback.
3. Count the days until he is 27. Being the good soldier, and then moving on, is probably the most likely choice.
Pros: He would be the most sought after free agent of all-time, assuming he lives up to the hype, of course. He would be starting his prime, at age 27, and could play anywhere he wanted to, including for his beloved Maple Leafs.
Cons: 8 years in Edmonton is a long time. If he hasn’t been broken by the losing, or tired from shaking his head at the incompetent managerial moves, or confused over the number of coaches he has probably had to work with, then he really might be the next Great One. In Edmonton, he will play in relative obscurity, while at the same time having to face the tough media and fan base here. If losing continues, how long until fans turn on him as well?
4. Hope the Oilers do something very Oilers-y at the draft. There is no question that the group running this team is incompetent. Are they incompetent enough to do something ridiculous before the draft, and not end up getting McDavid? They have arguably taken the wrong player with each of their previous #1 picks…could they do it again?
Pros: You never know with this team. You just never know.
Cons: Even the clueless MacT has to know that McDavid is a twice-in-a-lifetime player. Doesn’t he?
There really is no win here for McDavid. Surely, if you could get an honest answer out of a hockey player, he would say that he would rather be in Phoenix, or Buffalo, or Toronto, or anywhere but Edmonton. But he will never say that. He will be drafted by the Oilers, and come play here like a good soldier.
He will be awesome, and he will be a hero in the city.
But sadly, this is just giving this terrible management another life to live. MacT will keep his job, because he was the guy that got them McDavid. So will Kevin Lowe. Well, that, and the fact that he is best friends with an owner more concerned about money and hanging out with his 80s friends than money. The management team will soon forget that it is because they are so absolutely terrible at their jobs that they have been able to put this losing waste of a team together, which in turn landed them a stud like McDavid. No skill was involved in getting this kid. In fact, it is the complete opposite.
My heart genuinely breaks for this kid, having to walk into this complete mess, and be expected to be the savior of the whole thing. Even though what the management has done is put together some good players that barely look like a cohesive team on most nights.
Personally, as a citizen of this city, I am torn. My entire life, I have cheered against the Oilers, even during the dynasty years that nobody here will ever let go. I want them to fail and continue to be a laughingstock for the rest of my days. But I just feel bad for this kid, because I truly feel that elsewhere, he would have been one of the greats. That by no means that his career is over by becoming an Oiler, as some have suggested.
It just won’t be the same.
Welcome to Edmonton, Connor McDavid.