Former Oiler O’Sullivan Calls Out McDavid as Captain

When Connor McDavid was named captain of the Edmonton Oilers, he was given the title knowing he’d be the youngest player in the NHL to ever carry that honor. With almost any other player and on any other team, this might have been a questionable decision. Yet with McDavid, this young 19-year-old kid seemed to have the blessing of just about every great hockey mind there is and was in the NHL.

On Sunday, the Oilers lost a stinker of a game to the Buffalo Sabres. After defeating the Calgary Flames in their first two games of the season, Edmonton was a set for a matchup against a Sabres squad the Oilers were 5-1 against the last three years. Buffalo was riddled with injuries, playing on the road and 0-1 on the season. The Oilers should have won this game. The problem was, some tremendously bad missteps by Edmonton cost them the victory and now people — including former Oilers’ forward Patrick O’Sullivan — are looking for someone to blame.

The Problem With Being Captain

When you win, as the captain you have to talk about it being a team win. When you lose, even though it’s a team loss, the captain is the first one to face the fire. Most understand that Edmonton’s first loss of the year wasn’t McDavid’s fault. In fact, Edmonton outshot the Sabres by a tally of 33-23, but Edmonton ran into a hot goaltender in Robin Lehner and the Oilers were backstopped by Cam Talbot, who brought with him a performance he’d just as soon like to forget about.

Despite this loss not being personally on McDavid, that didn’t stop former Oiler and now TSN Analyst Patrick O’Sullivan from essentially calling out the youngest captain in NHL history.

What exactly is O’Sullivan suggesting here? That Oilers’ coach Todd McLellan is upset and altered a day off because his captain can’t reel in his team? Is he suggesting that McDavid’s age is the reason he failed to do so? Is he saying that because Edmonton’s captain is a 19-year-old kid, the team can’t possibly understand the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and how to follow it? There are a lot of ways to interpret — correctly or incorrectly — this tweet.

Yes, Edmonton was scheduled to have a mandated day off on Monday. Now they are not. The NHLPA might even be looking into it, which if deemed an inappropriate change to a mandated schedule, could cost the Oilers a fine. Somehow, O’Sullivan has determined that this “catastrophe” should fall at the feet of McDavid. For the life of me, I cannot understand why.

O’Sullivan’s Take

O’Sullivan has had a rough go of it. I wish upon no person the pain and torment that comes from being abused. In “Breaking Away: A Harrowing True Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph,” O’Sullivan writes about growing up in an environment of physical abuse and emotional cruelty. His hope is that people start talking about what happens with parents and their young hockey kids and learn from what happened to him. For that I commend him.

However, since retiring from the NHL, O’Sullivan has been known to speak freely about many topics, using social media outlets like Twitter to share his take on hockey, the NHL, its players and the games as he sees them. In many cases, he’s been known to stir up quite the debate.

I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand where O’Sullivan is coming from with his latest tweet about McDavid. TSN 1260’s Jason Gregor took offense as well.

McDavid is Taking a Bullet

I don’t agree with what O’Sullivan is attempting to suggest here. It’s potentially an issue that this mandatory day off has now been adjusted, but it’s more a sign that McDavid isn’t to blame, but is trying to do the right thing (if he’s even remotely behind this change).

As any good captain would, McDavid is taking a bullet for his goaltender. Cam Talbot knows how bad a night the loss to Buffalo was for him in the Oilers net. His team knows it too. Had Talbot posted better than a .739 save percentage, Edmonton might have won this game. No team can win with this type of goaltending regardless of what the offense does in front of it.

Maybe McDavid is taking a bullet for Benoit Pouliot. Over the course of a couple games, Pouliot has taken penalty after penalty in the offensive zone and his blunders have been a direct cause of goals-against. It’s highly possible the Oilers don’t lose this game if Pouliot doesn’t drain the life out the team before they have a chance to get going.

But, like McDavid has done before with other teammates, he won’t let Talbot or Pouliot sink in this ship alone. McDavid and the entire Oilers team are going to suffer — perhaps in a different way than Talbot and Pouliot — and take their lumps as a team.

The CBA Ruling

It sounds as though O’Sullivan is suggesting the players canceled this day off to appease their upset head coach. Rightfully, McLellan should be upset. That said, the decision to hold a practice on a day off would need to be made by both coaches and players. That day off is not then lost, but, merely moved to a different date.

According to the current collective bargaining agreement, players will receive no fewer than four days off per calendar month (two on the road and two at home). Players are to be notified of those dates prior to the beginning of every month and a team calendar “should not be altered absent compelling circumstances.”

A team captain would not have the authority on his own to change the schedule in this way. Sure, it’s not uncommon for teams to hold players only meetings. This is something a captain might organize. It’s also not uncommon for a team captain to come out and say “I have to be better.” McDavid was the first to admit that Sunday after posting no points and only one shot on net.

The reality is, this decision was made by a number of people in that locker room. They made it because the way they feel they performed was not up to the standards of where they should be as a team. This may be an issue according to the NHLPA and the Oilers will soon find out.

Complete Oilers Coverage From THW

But to blame a 19-year-old captain on a rule made by the CBA is unfair. It doesn’t make sense and as Jason Gregor points out, it’s laughable. O’Sullivan may have a point when it comes to the reason to move a mandated day off, but he’s wrong when it comes to suggesting people hold the captain responsible.