McDavid Taking a Hit to Reputation After Kempe Boarding Hit

It’s important to get a few facts out of the way before going into the topic of Connor McDavid‘s reputation as a clean or dirty player in the NHL.

Fact 1: McDavid avoided supplementary discipline after his boarding hit on Adrian Kempe in Sunday’s game versus the Los Angeles Kings. That was probably the correct call as the hit wasn’t malicious.

Fact 2: McDavid doesn’t get nearly the amount of calls when players impede him as he should. This isn’t up for debate, it’s a fact.

Fact 3: Much of what gets said about him as a player these days concentrates on those penalties (for and against).

That the talk surrounding McDavid being a “dirty player” or that he whines or gets frustrated about non-calls and takes bad penalties as a result are not good things. This is not the type of focus that should be placed on a player as skilled, gifted, and important as McDavid is to both his team and the NHL.

Fixing this is on the Oilers, the league, and the officials because McDavid’s reputation is taking a bit of a hit.

The Oilers Need to Be Better

McDavid doesn’t have as many issues and this hit doesn’t happen if the Oilers don’t put themselves in the position they did Sunday evening in the third period. Down in the game, the Oilers have a tendency to not show up for the first period of most of their contests and the result is often being behind and trying to mount a comeback in the third. Sometimes they are able to pull it off, sometimes they aren’t. McDavid is as guilty as anyone for not getting the games off to a good start.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Bad things happen when the team is consistently playing without the lead. McDavid is over-shifted, line juggling becomes a regular occurrence and the Oilers are pushing with a different frame of mind as they try to earn two points in the final minutes of a game. They say nothing good happens after 2 am, so stay home. This is kind of like that, but as it relates to hockey. When you’re down in the third and you’re forced to constantly mount a comeback, things go off the rails.

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Putting McDavid in the position to have to double shift or play more minutes than he should at the end of games is the start of the problems. That the Oilers are constantly putting him in a position to have to save the day means he’s often blamed when he doesn’t.

The Officials Need to Be Better

Sunday’s game against the Kings wasn’t the only game where NHL officials messed up. The Winnipeg Jets versus the Toronto Maple Leafs was a mess as well, with numerous missed calls where players were trying to police themselves and things got out of hand. Three players will be hit with supplementary discipline out of the game. Jason Spezza — who has no history of dirty play – is about to get leveled with a five-game suspension. This doesn’t happen if that game doesn’t get out of hand.

Jason Spezza Toronto Maple Leafs
Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the Oilers versus Kings game, there were regular instances and one where Kempe should have been penalized before the hit from McDavid. This is not to excuse McDavid’s hit — it was dirty — but the point is to argue that boarding hit never happens if the original and correct call is made. As Ken Campbell writes:

The bottom line is if the officials make a kneeing call on Neal Pionk, the subsequent knee by Jason Spezza to Pionk’s head doesn’t happen. If they call Kempe for hauling McDavid down in the neutral zone, McDavid doesn’t end up taking a major for his hit from behind.

McDavid is clearly growing frustrated by a lack of calls and every now and then, he tries to make things even. He went too far and took a bad penalty at a terrible time in the third. McDavid essentially made the game unwinnable and that’s not good when it comes to how he looks as a leader.

The NHL Needs to Be Better

McDavid is one of many players who aren’t being protected by the NHL. The league is doing a lousy job of looking after its stars and what comes of that is a debate about calling penalties against stars when they do what McDavid did on Sunday.

His hit was a penalty. He shouldn’t have done it. That said, fans are having a hard time separating the calls against McDavid from the ones that are missed when the rest of the league seemingly gets away with murder. It shouldn’t affect McDavid’s reputation, but it does. He gets labeled a whiner because the calls aren’t even. He gets labeled dirty because he’s standing up for himself. He gets labeled a bad leader because he gets annoyed. It’s only natural that he reacts this way, but he gets tagged with a misconstrued in the media as a player where different rules should apply.

None of this happens if McDavid even feels remotely comfortable in the fact the NHL cares about him not getting injured or letting players take liberties with him. He’s not alone on this island, but because he’s the best player in the world, the spotlight shines a whole lot brighter.

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