Oilers’ McDavid Shows New Level of Leadership in All-Star Interview

For as exhilarating as he can be soaring up and down the ice, Connor McDavid has been anything but that away from the rink.

Outspoken is not a word used to describe the Edmonton Oilers captain, who managed to go the first six years of his NHL career without saying anything interesting, let alone inflammatory, until last month, when, unlike any other time since the Oilers drafted him in 2015, McDavid had to address an uncomfortable subject with no clear right response.

Asked about the possibility of Edmonton signing Evander Kane, a controversial move given Kane’s troubled past that includes run-ins with teammates, faking proof of vaccination, as well as allegations of sexual assault, domestic battery, and gambling on hockey, McDavid struggled with what best to say, regrettably concluding, “I’m not really here to discuss optic issues. If fans don’t like it, or the media doesn’t like it, or whatever. It is what it is.”

There’s an adage that if you don’t stand for something, you can fall for anything, and after years of sailing along by being unopinionated, this was one time McDavid needed to have an opinion. Fairly or not, the two-time Hart Trophy recipient was slammed for his comments, roundly criticized on talk radio and social media for failing to take a moral stance and not caring about fans’ feelings.

Related: McDavid Brushes Off Fans, Says “Whatever” to Optics Of Kane Deal

McDavid was dealt his first significant PR hit, and the fallout didn’t make life any easier for his beleaguered team that was already dealing with a dreadful slump. But what it also did was make clear that, as captain of the Oilers and face of the NHL, he needed to open up.

McDavid Takes Advantage of All-Star Weekend

The 2022 NHL All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas provided the perfect platform, and with all of the hockey world looking on, a subtly different side of McDavid began to emerge.

There were hints of it earlier Friday (Feb. 4) when McDavid went through his media availability without switching into autopilot. But it was during an appearance on Tim & Friends broadcast nationally on Sportsnet leading into the evening’s All-Star Skills coverage that McDavid was at his most candid.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Responding to questions about Edmonton’s 2-11-2 stretch that spanned all of December and the first half of January, coinciding with the infamous “optic issues” media availability, McDavid let his guard down. The 25-year-old’s expansive answer provided a glimpse of what it’s like to be the biggest inhabitant in the fishbowl of a hockey-obsessed city on edge.

“We’re not making excuses, but (it was) just a weird six weeks there, and obviously tensions run a little hot when things aren’t going well, so you’re going to get things like that (in) the media,” McDavid said in part. “We’re passionate people, and we want to win, and we want to put together a good team for the people of Edmonton and the fans of Edmonton, and when we can’t do that, it can be frustrating.”

Host Tim McAulliffe then asked about the frustration of waiting for success to come in Edmonton, where the Oilers have won just one playoff series in McDavid’s six years, arguably due to management’s inability to build a winner around McDavid and fellow Art Ross Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl. But McDavid shouldered responsibility and then went further out of his way to seemingly address the growing fear in Oil Country that he’s running out of patience and won’t wait much longer before asking to be traded somewhere that won’t squander generational talents’ prime years.

“I’m a part of that,” said McDavid. “When our team wasn’t playing well, I wasn’t playing my best hockey, and I’ve got to take ownership of that as well. I’m just as much a part of this as anybody else, and we’ve got to figure this thing out all together. I want to be in Edmonton, and I want to win in Edmonton, and that’s my focus, and that’s what I work to do each and every day.”

McDavid Addresses Oilers’ Addition of Kane

Finally, the topic turned to Kane, whom Edmonton general manager Ken Holland came to terms with on a one-year contract on Jan. 27. The powerful forward has played three games for the Oilers, scoring twice and adding an assist while Edmonton has gone 2-0-1.

“I think it’s a balancing act with wanting to put together the best team possible on the ice but also be respectful off the ice,” McDavid said. “Kenny (Holland) made a decision and brought him in, and we fully support Kenny. And Kaner’s come in, and he’s done everything that’s been asked to of him so far, and he’s been a good guy in the room, and he’s played well on the ice, and you can’t ask for more than that.”

Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Not everyone is a naturally born leader. And being given the ‘C’ doesn’t suddenly bestow one with the traits of a Mark Messier. There are, however, learning experiences and transformational opportunities.

That’s what this is for McDavid, who had the weight of a franchise thrust upon his back in 2016 when at age 19, he became the youngest captain in NHL history. He doesn’t have a galvanizing personality like Messier or the calming nature of a Wayne Gretzky that instills confidence to all around him. But there are other ways to lead a team to the promised land, and McDavid may finally now be discovering his.

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