In response to a couple of missed penalty calls in the game between the Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins on Thursday night, former NHL coach and now television analyst John Tortorella spoke on the ESPN panel about Connor McDavid‘s frustration over the non-calls. Suggesting McDavid “shut up” and just play through it, Tortorella also said the Oilers’ captain needs to change his game if the team he’s leading is going to be successful in the postseason.
As entertaining as Torts’ rants can be (and this really wasn’t much of a rant, so to speak), this was a strange take when you consider the topic of conversation, how good McDavid has been, one of the major problems with the NHL and what led to Tortorella’s lack of employment in the first place.
The McDavid Should “Change His Game Argument”
Acknowledging that he wouldn’t want to turn McDavid into a checker, Tortorella did say, “I do think he has to change his game a bit,” and talked about the importance of playing on the other side of the puck. He noted that the winning culture comes from guys like McDavid altering his style to one that will win playoff hockey games.
In other words, Tortorella is suggesting that McDavid is thinking only about offense and until he starts to focus on the defensive side of his game, the Oilers will never win it all. While Torts did say McDavid is getting better, these comments are wildly inaccurate when you look at how good McDavid has become on both sides of the ice.
According to a trusted source in analytics, Evolving hockey notes, in response to Tortorella’s comments, “Conor McDavid improved defensively by a significant margin last year while continuing to break the charts offensively…watching the games could’ve told you that though.” They’re right in many respects as McDavid has taken massive steps (as has Leon Draisaitl) in improving their two-way game.
In terms of takeaways, McDavid is top-ten in the NHL this season with 14. During the 2020-21 season, Draisaitl finished second with 56. It’s clear the two best players on this Oilers roster have shown a desire to improve in that regard. Both back-check, both hustle, but both are given free rein by their coach to create. It’s led to some shots against, but a fairly strong record for the Oilers so far this season.
Tortorella Tells McDavid to “Shut Up”
First of all, telling Connor McDavid, a player who rarely complains about anything, to “shut up” is beyond wrong. This is especially hypocritical coming from Tortorella whose reputation is such that he’s notorious for complaining and moaning as a coach.
Second, just look at two plays from the Bruins’ game on Thursday night and you’ll see evidence of something that has been happening McDavid’s entire career and only seems to be getting worse: he doesn’t get the calls he should get. McDavid isn’t in the top 50 for penalties drawn this season yet he finished last season in second with 29 drawn over 56 games. Ironically, many who watched the Oilers closely realized McDavid wasn’t getting a lot of the calls last season either and the officials simply put their whistles away in the playoffs where an entire series went by without one single call on the Winnipeg Jets against McDavid.
This isn’t something McDavid should keep quiet about, nor should the Oilers.
If McDavid had a reputation as a whiner, that would be one thing. He doesn’t. Even on Thursday after a blatant non-call where McDavid looked at the official as if to suggest, ‘What the heck?’, he came right back, unphased, and made an incredible play to create a high-danger scoring chance (one could argue he was even slashed when he rang the puck off the post).
McDavid absolutely has the mentality to move on from one play to another in a second and not let it phase him.
So too, the NHL is simply wrong when it comes to allowing these obvious infractions to go unchecked. There’s long been an argument that the league has no idea how to properly promote its star players and in every other professional sports association, if the best in the league is fouled, the calls are made. Tortorella’s comments simply urge the NHL not to change for the better.
McDavid and the Oilers should be speaking up and preparing the NHL to make the right calls in the postseason. The best player in the game and the team that employs him shouldn’t sit idly by and wait for the league to get it wrong again. Frankly, the league should change to McDavid, not McDavid to the league.
Tortorella Proving He’s No Longer a Coach for a Reason
What’s perhaps most interesting about Tortorella’s comments is that it offers up an explanation as to why he might be out of the league as an NHL coach. Tortorella has a history of stifling the most skilled and talented players on his teams. Patrik Laine is bouncing back after a disastrous year under Tortorella in Columbus. Pierre-Luc Dubois is a point-per-game player in Winnipeg this season. When Torts was booted as coach of the New York Rangers, top players wanted him out then too.
He’s not the right coach for today’s NHL.
Tortorella isn’t wrong that the best players can’t just be thinking goals all the time and trying to outscore their opponents. In the Oilers’ case, they’ll need to shut other teams down. But to say that McDavid should change his game knowing that: 1) he has 24 points 12 games 2) it’s clear he’s not getting the calls and the NHL is wrong 3) the Oilers are 10-2 on the season, Tortorella is making a case that GMs shouldn’t consider him as a coach unless they want to play shutdown, no-offense hockey.
What Tortorella should be saying is that the NHL needs to get this right and currently they’re not. Candidly, Tortorella took aim at the wrong target.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”