On Thursday afternoon, Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse jumped on a Zoom call with reporters to talk about the NHL’s return to ice plan, the 24-team playoff format, and what it was like to be involved in that process.
As we all know, Connor McDavid is one of the most well known and marketable faces the league has in its stables, so it was no surprise to see the 23-year-old captain included in the NHL’s return to play committee alongside John Tavares, Ron Hainsey, Mark Scheifele and James van Riemsdyk. Now that the league and players have voted in favour of proceeding with the 24-team playoff format, I was excited to hear his thoughts about how everything came together.
To state the obvious, joining in on discussions about how the NHL could safely resume play during a global pandemic isn’t something that McDavid could have ever expected in his career, but it was a process and a responsibility that he took very seriously.
“It was definitely exciting to be part of the process. There was lots of back and forth. I can’t say that everyone agreed on everything, but that was the point of the committee, to debate stuff and take it to a larger sample size. I feel like we’ve done our job in putting together a format. I’m not sure where it goes from here, whether that same committee stays together and we see it through or not. But it was definitely exciting to be a part of it, a mix of veteran guys and younger guys, and guys that I know a little bit. It was fun to be a part of it for sure.”
One thing I was wondering about was how McDavid managed to balance his duty to the committee and consider the greater good of the game while also thinking of his own team. As we all know, the Oilers went from being in second place in the Pacific Division — a likely lock for the playoffs — to going up against the Chicago Blackhawks in a best-of-five play-in series, and I was intrigued to hear his answer about how that worked out from a league and personal standpoint.
“We (the Edmonton Oilers) were in a position where we were going to be included in any format, so that was a positive. There are going to be teams that aren’t thrilled with it, and teams that are ecstatic with it. We’ve got a lot of guys to please, and you can’t please them all. Unfortunately, we were one of those teams that were on the bubble of being in the top four, or being in the play-ins. We’re not in the top four, and Dallas probably deserves to be there (based on winning percentage). So we’ll get the job done, and hopefully, move on to an exciting playoff.”
McDavid further explained that even though the format is far from perfect and some teams were upset about the way it played out, he believes that the 24-team tournament was the best option they had for finding a fair resolution to the season.
“Ultimately, we beat this thing to death, and if a team like Montreal beats Pittsburgh and does go on to win the Stanley Cup, if they win five rounds and go through some really good teams, then maybe they do deserve it. There’s never going to be a perfect scenario. There’s never going to be a perfect format. This just seems to check off most of the boxes for most teams and we just have to live with that and play the games and see what happens.”
Despite the NHL and players agreeing on the format, that doesn’t mean that the league is necessarily a lock to get back on the ice, a fact that was quickly acknowledged by Darnell Nurse.
“There are a lot of hurdles that we have to overcome to get it going, but it’s exciting that we’re even having this discussion right now, and as a hockey player I just want to get back to playing.”
As for getting back on the ice, both players acknowledged that testing will be key. For Darnell Nurse, he truly seemed like he just wants to do whatever it takes to get back on the ice.
“If we’re getting tested every day, it begins to limit the potential of getting the virus, so if that what it takes… then that’s the way you have to go.”
Always a reasonable voice, Connor McDavid admitted that there are plenty of serious discussions that have to take place regarding health and quarantines before the players sign off on anything.
“Obviously, that’s a huge part of it and I think those are questions that we’ll start to need answers to. The safety of players and of everyone involved is paramount. That’s the main issue that’s got to get solved right now. The first step was putting the format together, and now we’ve got to start to connect the dots and start putting answers to those types of questions.”
And in regards to having an advantage should the league choose Edmonton as a hub city, McDavid had this to say:
“I would say probably not. It’s gonna feel weird in that building no matter where you play, no matter if you’ve played there a hundred times — it doesn’t matter if you’ve never played there. The building is going to feel weird with no fans being there and whatnot, so I would say probably not. That’s just my opinion.”
Regardless of where the NHL decides to play, I think we can all agree that our fingers are crossed in the hopes of watching this season play out. All in good time, my friends.
THE FULL VIDEO
If you’re interested in watching the entire discussion, McDavid and Nurse spoke for just over 20 minutes so there was plenty that I didn’t transcribe for this recap but is still worth the time if you have it.