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Tuesday Musings: McDavid, Ovechkin, Crosby and little things

There is almost a sensory overload when it comes to the NHL right now.

Everything is happening. There is lots to discuss about playoffs, coaching and management changes, and free agents. And I learned a really cool tidbit about Sidney Crosby and a little thing he does that resonates with his teammates.

Let’s start with the postseason.

1. The playoffs have been good, but the second round is shaping up to be excellent. The Jets/Preds series has been great and the animosity is rising, which will only make that series better. It’s amazing to think since NHL hockey arrived in Winnipeg in the fall of 1979, Jets fans had never witnessed a round two victory until Friday night. The Jets had only made the second round twice, and both times they got swept by the Edmonton Oilers in 1985 and 1987. Good for the Jets and their fans, they have waited a long time to taste a little playoff success and I hope they get some more.

2. I’ve never understood the Alex Ovechkin “needs to do more” refrain. His Capitals have lost to the Penguins three times in the playoffs, and ironically all three years the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, 2016 and 2017. Here are his numbers straight up against the Penguins in the playoffs.

In those 20 games he produced 12-14-26, while in 19 games head-to-head Sidney Crosby scored 11-11-22. In case you’re curious, they are even in 5×5 points, 14, and Crosby actually had more powerplay goals, four to three.

In those three series, Ovechkin scored 21.8% of Washington goals and was involved in 47.3% of their total goals. Meanwhile, Crosby scored 15.9% of the Penguins goals and was in on 34.9% of them. Crosby’s supporting cast has been the difference in their head-to-head meetings, not a lack of production from Ovechkin.

This year, in two games Ovechkin has 2-1-3 and Crosby has 1-1-2. These two superstars have been very equal head-to-head, but Crosby’s teammates have been better.

3. I understand Oilers fans are upset Connor McDavid wasn’t a finalist for the Hart, but he is far from the first player to win the Art Ross and not win the Hart, or even be a finalist. But even if he was a finalist, I’m curious what argument you make that says he was clearly more valuable than Nathan MacKinnon or Taylor Hall. I think those two will be in a close race to win, while Anze Kopitar, Claude Giroux and McDavid were battling for third. I can see arguments for all three finishing third. Claude Giroux had 102 points and wasn’t a finalist. People in Philly are equally upset, and I can see why, but I believe it is really a two-horse race this year.

4. It likely won’t make Oilers fans feel better, but I’m not sure anyone got snubbed more than Wayne Gretzky in 1994. With the Los Angeles Kings he led the NHL with 130 points. He received no votes for the Hart. Five goalies received votes.  I’d argue this was the unofficial start for some inside the NHL, and for some of those covering it, deciding it was more important to prevent goals than score them. How asinine was it that the league’s leading scorer, by ten points, didn’t receive one vote? Not surprisingly we saw a big dip in goals-per-game across the NHL after 1994.

5. Seriously, the league’s leading scorer, who had 10 more points than Sergei Federov, who won the Hart, and 44 points more than any other member of the Kings, didn’t get one measly vote? I firmly believe this was where hockey people got sick of offence. They looked more for “two-way” play, which of course is the polite way of saying a guy isn’t great offensively, and found ways to eliminate offence. Goalie equipment grew exponentially. Hooking, holding and obstruction became the norm and in the 24 years since the NHL still seems hell bent on finding ways to eliminate offence. Hello offside review.  I’m sorry, just because goals-per-game went up this year doesn’t mean the overall mindset has changed. It hasn’t. Hockey, and sadly many who coach it, manage it, cover it and watch it will find more ways to critique a gifted offensive player than they will a player who can’t makes the simple, easy play.

6. Did you watch the pre-game intro for the Vegas Golden Knights game v. San Jose in game two. It was unreal. The best I’ve seen, and this is a first-year team. You don’t need to constantly bring up past franchise success in a video to get fans riled up. Be creative. Be expressive. Be bold. That was awesome and of course the place was going wild. I’m sorry, but the Edmonton pre-game intro isn’t even in the same league.

7. For the first time since 1991 all four second-round playoff series were tied 1-1 after two games. That is crazy. I’d love to see four game sevens this round, and I don’t think it is unrealistic.

8. I heard a great story for former NHL Tyler Kennedy, who was in Edmonton for the Alzheimers tournament this past weekend. He was the youngest alumni in the tournament. He is only 31, but back issues forced him to retire after the 2016 season. Despite the early retirement, he still played 527 and won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. He shared this story about Crosby.

“The guys loved him, because he does little things. When he felt a guy needed a boost he would give him a handwritten note. He’d take the time to write it out, not just say it. His notes would vary, but often it was just reminding the guy why he was important to the team and what he did well. He did it in private, not in front of the team and that’s why he is such a great leader.”

9. I also asked him about Evgeni Malkin and if he is underrated, which I believe he is. “The gap between Sid and Geno is smaller than people think. He does everything. He is so skilled, he’ll play physical and he’ll even fight. I know when he fought Wheeler this year, his teammates loved it. He is also a very funny guy. Just like Sid, he is well respected.”

10. Kennedy thought about a comeback last fall, but after three weeks of training his back got sore and he knew he couldn’t do it. He plays in a few tournaments and works in Pittsburgh running some camps. He is happy, despite an early retirement, and after watching him wheel around the ice in the Alzheimers Faceoff tournament, you can see his skill level is still very high.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • freelancer

    If the Western Final ends up being Jets vs Golden Knights I don’t know who to cheer for. Would be great to see a Canadian team win but the Knights are just so entertaining and such an unbelievable story.

    One has to wonder if Kekäläinen is watching at home at kicking himself every time Karlsson does something great.

        • puckle-head

          I’m curious… explain how you measure grit. And what is that going to bring to his Game?

          “McDavid passes to Lucic, and- Oh no Bob! McDavid’s pass was a perfect tape to tape saucer pass, but he didn’t pass it with enough grit, so Lucic immediately gave it away! If only McDavid would increase his grit level!”

      • Spydyr

        Connor is a wonderful player but all players even Gretzky could improve aspects of their game. Connor could be better in the defensive zone. The great players never stop trying to be better and Connor is a great player. It does not mean he does not have room to improve his game.

        • Redbird62

          I don’t think anyone was suggested that McDavid can’t get better, including at scoring and other facets of the game and since he is only 21, I highly expect he will continue to improve. The question is more is his gap over other players at what he is already clearly the best at sufficiently high that he can be regarded as the best in the game despite others currently holding a gap over him in other areas. In the 100 meter dash, despite a few others being quicker out of the blocks than Usain Bolt at the start, he was clearly the best overall sprinter, though he was always trying to improve his start. Sprinting is easy to measure though. In hockey, it is a much more subjective question regarding how people value various attributes of what a player brings to the game so who is the best is pretty much opinion. But if anyone is going to argue about Connor’s deficiencies, they should back it up with legitimate evidence to give their opinion merit.

    • Jordan88

      Connor is the fastest player. He has the hands of Kane. A shot like Kessels, passes like Giroux and sees the game like Gretzky. He makes something happen out of nothing all the time.

      2 back to back art rosses at 21?

      There is no contest he is the best. I don’t care what anyone has to say. To dominate like that in the cap era on a crap team. We may never see this again enjoy the ride.

      • Serious Gord

        His shot is not that great. His vision is a excellent but not near the same level as Gretz (is anyone?). He does not have a 200ft game – yet. And there are nights where he doesn’t play 100% (Crosby does for example) Also there are nights when he is effectively checked.

        He’s a generational player – probably top ten all time – time will tell.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I love how Vegas is feeding the entire league their lunch right now. A team of cast-offs and also-rans are making the other clubs look like morons on the ice, and the Knight’s PR/media department is making their counterparts on those same clubs look like a bunch of out of touch fossils. How can OEG members watch Vegas home games and think “yep, our presentations stand shoulder to shoulder with this”? The contrast between a club that actually cares about their fans and the Oilers’ method of doing things is staggering.

    At this point, I hope the other owners corner Katz and put the boots to him until he agrees to reshape the Oilers into an organization worthy of Connor. This kid is the most electric player in the world, he should be scoring 120+ every year, playing in the playoffs, forcing non-hockey fans to take notice.

    • puckle-head

      Totally agree. I keep arguing we need to stop giving GMs the benefit of the doubt just because they’re GMs. If a potential champion can be crafted from the 10th most valued player (with at least 2 years experience) from every team, then there’s something seriously wrong with the way this league evaluates talent.

      • crabman

        To be fair many of the players left exposed during the expansion draft weren’t the 10th best player on their team. Some players were exposed because they only had 1 year left on a contract and the team they played for weren’t going to be resigning them for a variety of reasons. Some older players were left available to keep younger players a team could count on having around more longterm. And some teams were just so deep good players were available and just didn’t get the opportunity on their original club. Not to take anything away from Vagas, they did an amazing job building this team but it isn’t an expansion team of old where it is made up of NHL fringe players and 4th liners.

    • I agree 100%. Vegas is having these crazy pre game shows while we have the same boring intro video every home game and fans are literally told to sit down and be quiet. I remember when I went to the game against St.Louis in December how awkward it felt just because how quiet it was.

  • Rob...

    Hey Jason, for #3 your comment completely disregards the myriad of stats that have been talked about on your radio station regarding why McDavid deserved to be at least a finalist for the Hart. His ‘contributions to’/’impact on’ his team can not be matched by any other player in the NHL this year. Though it shouldn’t impact a person’s vote, it’s difficult to comprehend what he could have accomplished had he been healthy for the full year too.

    If this is how the voting is going to be across the league, then the Hart should be changed to ‘Player who did the most to get his team to the playoffs.’

    • I’m fine with McD not being a finalist, and I’m fine with Hall, MacKinnon or Kopitar winning. They’re all very good players. But yeah, I agree with you. I think a lot of people lose sight of the fact that hockey is a team sport. Did the Avs and NJD make the playoffs heavily because of MacKinnon and Hall, respectively? It most likely helped a lot. Did the Oilers miss the playoffs because McDavid wasn’t good enough? I think people really need to give their head a shake if they think that. We had Hall, he didn’t get this team into the playoffs. He has improved as a player since going to Jersey, but I still think you have to think about that fact. A really good player can’t do it all on his own. Just like Jason mentions in the article.. Crosby has had a better supporting cast, and that’s why the Pens have beaten the Caps in the previous playoff matchups. McDavid has a terrible supporting cast. You look at stats, standard regular-person stats or advanced stats, and you’ll see that the difference between McDavid and any Oilers player is massive. Even Draisaitl. That’s why we missed the playoffs.

    • Jason Gregor

      No, I said he deserved to be a finalist. I said explain why he deserved to be the winner. Big difference. MacKinnon had same points per game. Hall had no supporting cast. He was 42 points better than rest of his team. It isn’t a knock on McDavid, but looking at his season and saying no player impacted team same as him, is simply you being an Oilers fans and having a bias. It doesn’t mean he isn’t the best player. The award isn’t for who is best player.

      • Fire Woodcroft!

        You could make the same argument about McDavid that you made against Hall. Draisitl was the closest to Connor in points.

        Yeah – the Hart isn’t for the best player but rather for the player most valuable to their club. You look at the Oilers roster this year and let us know how they don’t finish in the bottom three in the league without McDavid. He was instrumental in most of the W’s they pegged to the board.

        The only reason folks call it a two-way race between Hall and McKinnon is because their teams made the playoffs. Which is a standard that is nowhere in the description of the award. Sad.

        I’m not saying Connor should have won – but to have been left out the three options is indefensible.

      • Rob...

        I’ve re-read point number 3, and I don’t think you wrote that he deserved to be a finalist, just that you understood why fans would think he deserved to be. However, you also didn’t say the opposite, so my accusation wasn’t fair.

  • Redbird62

    Part of the vote count can be explained because prior to 1996, votes were only 1st thru 3rd instead of 1st thru 5th. Also Gretzky was 8th in the league in even strength points and was -25 (half his points were on the power play that year) and the Kings missed the playoffs by a mile – the season after they were in the final. However, you would think at least one LA reporter would have thrown him a 3rd.

  • Fire Woodcroft!

    Weak-sauce defence behind the snubbing of Connor. It makes no difference that twenty-odd years ago Gretz was snubbed worse.

    But that’s pretty much what you have to expect from someone belonging to the hockey-writers association right now. Anyone who had a vote on the Hart finalists should be embarrassed.

    Sure – I don’t trust the fans to be objective enough to nominate the league MVP… but based on this years results you can’t trust the so-called professional hockey-writers either.

    Gregor – you’re probably one of the better ones but the fact you felt compelled to defend this BS doesn’t look good on you.

      • Redbird62

        Like when the players chose Mike Liut as the most outstanding player in 1981, even though Gretzky had just shattered Espo’s record with 164 points. There are a number of other years where their choices were questionable as well. Popularity and other factors influence their votes quite often too, or they sometimes just vote for change. Professional writers are far from perfect, but they tend to be more objective and balanced than your average fan or player. Besides, the press has been voting on the Hart for over 90 years, and the MVPs in the MLB, NBA and NFL are also chosen by the press.

    • Jason Gregor

      I didn’t defend it. I said, Kopitar, Giroux and McDavid could all have been finalists, but I don’t see them being in same category of MacKinnon/Hall this year. Giroux had 102 points, career year, and his team made playoffs and he didn’t make it. Is McDavid’s six points that clearly more valuable? I don’t think it is that obvious.

      There is no debate who is the best player; McDavid, but this award isn’t about who is best player.

      • ed from edmonton

        I really don;t get why youy (or anyone else) considers Mackinnon/Hall above Giroux. Giroux had the better season and led his team back into the playoffs as well. On what basis do you rate Mackinnon and Hall above Giroux?

  • Sean17

    I disagree about the fan experience in Vegas. I went to a game and for the most part the in-house production is very similar to an Oilers game, yes, even the songs the DJ plays and shots of the crowd on the Jumbotron. The opening thing with the siren is good and they do have an Drumline group that performs about twice, BUT the main difference is the FANS. The fans are nuts. They are pumped about everything. Every almost chance that I was like, “That’s not even close” – and they were excited. They would randomly start chants of Let’s Go Knights. And if you weren’t into it you got the look like what is wrong with you from other fans. By the end of the game I was cheering and more into it (4 doubles also helps). Basically, the game was like a playoff game in Edmonton but, instead it was a late season “battle” against Arizona. Also, let’s face it, going to a game in shorts a and t-shirt makes it easier to cheer than trying to stuff your down filled parka into an already too small seat at Rogers. Sure the production crew could come up with a few new things, but to be honest, if the seals in the crowd only clap their hands when told to, that’s all you will get. Anyone that went to a playoff game last year knows how loud it can be without prompting.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Good stuff, Jason.

    It’s been fun witnessing your writing improve over the years. I like the “Elliotte Friedman 31 Thoughts-ish” style you’ve used here. It’s easy to digest.

    I used to really enjoy Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts when his audience was smaller because he didn’t hold much back, but nowadays he’s a bit of a shill for the NHL/Sportsnet and his “31 Thoughts” are watered down. Your voice is a bit more genuine and honest so if you wanted to continue this as a recurring feature I’m sure it would find a dedicated audience (not just among Oilers fans).

  • madjam

    Ask yourself who contributes more to their team fortunes than league standings , that is what the Hart trophy is . Not an easy decision to make with the likes of Crosby and McDavid being probably the best overall players in the league and very important to their clubs fortunes . The Hart trophy does not categorize how bad each of their teams would perform without them in the lineup, just how they enhance it that season. Nor do they give much credence to mitigating factors like injury time , suspensions , etc .. Snubbing Connor over the season he had seems illogical none the less , considering the rest of Oilers fortunes .

  • Icouldnit

    Crosby over here come mcdavid flying pass Crosby . im just sixk of all the hypertension over all this . we are missing the point . it hockey Canada greatest pass .time the game is meant to be palyed….

  • Big Nuggets

    personally I couldn’t care less about a pat on the back from the league. There is only one real measure of success and that is winning. I’m sure McDavid cares more about Lord Stanley than he does the Hart trophy. By the end of his career McDavid’s trophy case will be full enough. No point in getting bent out of shape over this percieved slight. McDavid is the best, some other hockey players are pretty good too, and some of them had good seasons.