McDavid Hit on Pionk Offers Glimpse of What a Frustrated Star Looks Like

There’s been continued talk surrounding the John Tortorella comments made in respect to Connor McDavid not getting penalty calls in games and the line McDavid needs to “shut up” has been dissected at great length, especially when it comes to complaining about calls. There are opinions on both sides. Some are saying Tortorella is right and that McDavid does need to change his game if the Oilers are going to win in the postseason. Others suggest Torts is out of line and that it’s clear McDavid doesn’t draw the calls he should.

The McDavid Drawing Penalties Debate

I wrote a piece last week where I suggested Tortorella was showing his old-school mentality by saying what he said. I agree with the former coach that McDavid probably won’t get the calls in the playoffs, but not with Tortorella when he argues that this is just acceptable and McDavid should keep quiet about it. That the NHL has such a vastly different standard of officiating between the regular season and the playoffs is a problem. It’s as big a problem that the officials simply don’t make the calls they should, at any point in the season.

Related: Tortorella Proves Why He’s No Longer an NHL Coach, Calls Out McDavid

The debate shouldn’t be about whether McDavid is not getting calls. That’s obvious. He’s not. Since I wrote that piece, there were at least four or five more blatantly missed penalties that the officials ignored. It’s reached the point of being an embarrassment for the NHL and readers can suggest I’ve got my Oilers’ goggles on, but anyone who watches the games should be able to see it.

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Just this week, more analysts and insiders weighed in on the discussion. Steve Dangle writes, “McDavid doesn’t deserve special treatment. Correct! He deserves *average* treatment and right now he doesn’t even get that.” He adds that people are arguing that he’ll draw more penalties than everyone else, to which he responds, “K. I dunno. Get good? What do you want? Special treatment?”

This comes after Elliotte Friedman wrote in his 32 Thoughts column, “When it comes to Connor McDavid and John Tortorella, I completely disagree with Tortorella’s position on the issue.” He adds, “I’ve said it many times, I think McDavid deserves many, many more calls against him than he gets. He’s a mugging victim every night.” Friedman goes on to note that the NHL is having attendance issues and if the league wants to get the numbers up, promote the stars and showcase their talent. That means officials should make the calls on the ice when the penalties occur, especially the obvious ones.

McDavid’s Reactions on the Ice

A number of the comments on the piece I wrote about Tortorella suggested McDavid was a whiner. One person even noted he was among the dirtiest players in the NHL, likely in reference to McDavid’s elbow on Jesperi Kotkaniemi last season. While that take is, frankly, laughable, there was another example of McDavid’s frustrations boiling over which is bound to give McDavid-haters something else to chew on.

On Tuesday night, McDavid got called for a roughing penalty on Neal Pionk. While there was a little acting going on from Pionk’s side, it was a bad penalty to take by McDavid and at a bad time. It pretty much halted any possible comeback the Oilers might have tried to make while down 4-2 in the third period.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

McDavid hitting Pionk with his shoulder is the kind of move some Oilers’ fans and McDavid supporters suggested when they said McDavid needs to react to the non-calls. The idea was that if the NHL and the officials won’t help, McDavid needs to take matters into his own hands. I don’t agree. Whether it was a reaction to frustrations by McDavid because Pionk is somewhat of an arch-nemesis to him or it was a series of missed calls that saw McDavid act out and get caught, this is the kind of thing the NHL shouldn’t want.

Long gone are the 1980s where Mark Messier could just get a stick up or an elbow high on an on-rushing player. Messier certainly sent a message that he wasn’t to be messed with, but in today’s NHL, players are looking for McDavid to lose his cool. Guys like Pionk will take the trade-off every time. McDavid can’t fall into that trap and more often than not, he’s incredibly controlled. Still, the NHL should be seeing a play like this and realizing this is more evidence there’s a problem.

I’m not at all arguing McDavid was in the right, but not recognizing the issue suggests McDavid simply went out there as the Oilers were trying to make a comeback and maliciously attempted to hurt another player. A logical person would ask why? He knows what’s on the line in that scenario and if there’s one thing he wants to do more than perhaps anything else, it’s to win.

The McDavid Gets Favorable Calls Too Argument

There’s a bit of a narrative on social media after that Pionk play that the hit to the head by McDavid should warrant a suspension. Those who are in the corner of Tortorella and others like him who say that McDavid needs to change to the NHL officials and not the game to the stars are using the hit as ammunition to suggest the non-calls go both ways.

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The argument seems to be that McDavid might not draw the penalties he should, but it evens itself out when he only gets two minutes on a play like the one on Tuesday night. Many of those same fans are using Sidney Crosby throwing Martin Fehervary into the boards in a game versus the Washington Capitals to suggest other stars get special treatment too. Crosby wasn’t penalized or fined for the play, which was questionable.

The reality is, those plays will never even out. McDavid will be impeded far more frequently than when he loses his cool or takes a bad penalty. This shouldn’t be about who gets more ticks and on what side of the ledger. This should be about making the proper calls as often as possible and perhaps the total result of these incidences will go down.

When McDavid is impeded, call it. When he takes a bad penalty, call that too. The Oilers will gladly take that trade-off.