You’re Connor McDavid
Picture it: you’re Connor McDavid.
You’re the most highly touted prospect in the sport of hockey since Sidney Crosby a decade ago in 2005, and some scouts are saying your upside is even higher than Sid the Kid’s. You are as much of a lock to be drafted first overall as anyone ever has been, and that’s in a draft year where some are calling Jack Eichel the best American-born amateur hockey player in history and Noah Hanifin being one of the top defense prospects of the decade.
You are breaking scoring records for the Erie Otters all over the Ontario Hockey League and that’s even with taking time off to be a key factor in Team Canada winning the gold medal at the 2014-15 World Junior Championship tournament. You are so good that bottom-dwelling teams all over the NHL landscape have spent much of the year defending accusations of tanking the season in order to get a better shot to win the draft lottery, thus gaining the right to ordain you as their franchise savior.
Though you are still only 17 years old, the 2015 NHL deadline was virtually defined by you. The worst teams in the NHL — Buffalo, Edmonton, Arizona and Toronto — traded off key players with exceptional “tankumen”. Despite all proclamations to the contrary, they are in a race to out-bad each other with all the subtlety of a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs.
But the question must be asked: where do you want to play in the NHL?
Actually, You’re Not Connor McDavid
In the modern NHL draft age (post merger with the WHL in 1979), there have been four players coronated as “generational” entering the draft. Fittingly, one has come along in each decade. Crosby in 2005 was the latest example preceding McDavid in 2015. Like Crosby, the primary generational draft star would also find his way to Pittsburgh.
In 1984, Mario Lemieux was shattering every imaginable scoring record in the QMJHL. With the Devils at the bottom of the NHL standings, the financially strapped and perpetually struggling Pittsburgh Penguins did everything in their power to tank the season, jettisoning their better players to the AHL and icing as poor of a team as possible. They plummeted to the bottom of the NHL standings and wound up with Lemieux, who virtually and literally saved their floundering franchise.
The 1990’s generational draft star was Eric Lindros. Considered a franchise-changing mega-talent and compared in size and skill to the great Mario Lemieux, Lindros was tabbed by the Quebec Nordiques with the first overall pick of the 1991 NHL draft. And famously, Lindros said he would not play for Quebec.
There were a multitude of reasons. Quebec was a small city, which would limit his exposure and endorsement capabilities. There was the language barrier. There was the idea of playing for an awful franchise. There was his father Carl’s dislike of the French Canadian market. Perhaps it was the combination of this which led Lindros to refuse to report to the Nordiques and instead return to his OHL team, the Oshawa Generals, for another season despite clearly having the skills to succeed at the NHL level. Prior to the next season, Lindros’ ploy worked. Faced with the prospect of losing Lindros for nothing, Quebec dealt him in a blockbuster deal to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Fast forward almost a quarter of a century and here we are in 2015. Connor McDavid stands to be the biggest superstar in the NHL. His power entering the draft rivals that of Lemieux, Crosby and Lindros before him. The candidates to land him are all desirable landing places… except perhaps for one.
The McCandidates For McDavid
McDavid’s dream scenario would have to be if the Toronto Maple Leafs won the rights to the first overall pick in June and hence, the right to select him. McDavid would immediately rival Crosby as the biggest name in the Canadian sports world. All across the Great White North, endorsement deals would flood in. He would be so huge, the sports market in the United States would be forced to take notice. ESPN would begrudgingly have to highlight him on a Sportscenter broadcast which has tried to make hockey as ancillary as water polo despite filling American arenas to a greater average capacity than its beloved NBA. Simply put, McDavid would become a national Canadian hero simply by putting on a Leafs jersey at the draft podium.
McDavid would also be thrilled to find himself with the Buffalo Sabres, a team located just south of the border with a rabid and devoted fan base. Out of all the teams vying for his dynamic services, the Sabres likely have the best on-ice future: a pair of future franchise defensemen in Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen, a pair of other exceptionally talented centers in Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons, a cache of gifted young wingers such as Evander Kane, Tyler Ennis and Hudson Fasching and likely three picks in the first 32 of the upcoming draft.
The Edmonton Oilers would also represent an intriguing landing spot. McDavid would immediately be coronated as the air to Wayne Gretzky‘s long-vacant throne. Although a smaller market than Toronto, McDavid would still vault to the utmost echelons of Canadian superstardom. Though the Oilers’ front office has been unable to build a winner on the ice for quite some time, McDavid would have the opportunity to turn those fortunes around, surrounded by a talented collection of wingers like Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Jordan Eberle.
Finally, there is the Arizona Coyotes. An inconsistent sports market which can barely sell out eight games per year for the NFL’s Cardinals. A place with no ice, and no hockey history. An arena traditionally with more empty seats than full ones. A city where most of the hockey team could walk down Main Street without being recognized by the hockey-oblivious Phoenix natives. McDavid’s endorsement value would take a huge hit, his superstar status would be jeopardized. Though possible in time, it would take years of successful play and hard work to ultimately legitimize Arizona as credible hockey market.
With all the Lindros-like power McDavid wields going into June’s entry draft, would it be possible for him just to say he did not want to go to Arizona? To force a trade to a more credible franchise?
You bet it would.
What GM Don Maloney Did To Make Arizona a McPossibility
Perhaps the biggest trade of the March 2 NHL trade deadline was Arizona’s shipping of all-star defenseman Keith Yandle to the New York Rangers. In return, GM Don Maloney demanded not just a first-round draft pick among other picks, but also speedy left wing prospect Anthony Duclair.
As soon as I read Duclair’s name in the trade return, a bell rung in my head.
Back to the 2014-15 WJC tournament when Team Canada won gold. Perhaps their top line in the tournament was the line McDavid centered between Anthony Duclair and 2013 Coyotes’ first-round pick, right wing Max Domi. The threesome tore up the tourney, displaying outstanding chemistry and skill and seemingly improving together with each shift they dominated on the ice.
Well, Coyotes’ mastermind Maloney now has two out of those three. The big prize, of course, is Connor McDavid.
Maloney had to know that, of all his possible destinations in the NHL, Arizona had to be among the bottom of McDavid’s list, if not at the very pit of it. Winning the draft lottery and then having McDavid, a la Lindros, refuse to play for them would be a disaster for the franchise of incalculable magnitudes.
When Lindros refused to play for the Nordiques in 1992, it all but wiped out the struggling Quebec market as a viable one in the NHL landscape. McDavid refusing to suit up and skate in the desert would likely be a similar eventual death-knell for the Arizona Coyotes. And Don Maloney made a shrewd pre-emptive strike against this occurrence.
Maloney has worked his magic to acquire McDavid’s two line-mates from Team Canada’s gold-medal winning WJC squad. He clearly believes the promise of that trio playing together for several seasons to come at the NHL level makes the beleaguered Arizona market a more desirable one for the young, generational star. If the Coyotes are fortunate enough to win the draft lottery for the right to draft McDavid, their very future might be hinged on Maloney’s wise gamble.